Meddling In American Elections

Meddling In American Elections

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Already at least from the time when Yitzchak Rabin was the Israeli Ambassador in Washington, from 1968-1973, Israeli officials have inveigled themselves into the midst of American politics and U.S. elections. No Israeli politician has done it more often, more consistently, more transparently, and more blatantly than has Bibi Netanyahu.

In 1972, Rabin made no secret of his support for President Richard Nixon. Since then other Israeli diplomats including, most recently American born and educated Michael Oren, Israel’s previous ambassador in Washington. As he mentions in his own memoir, Ally, he had to be pushed by the Prime Minister to enmesh himself not only of course in the substance of U.S.-Israel relations, but in American politics itself.  The current Ambassador, Ron Dermer—like Oren, American born and educated–spent time early in his working career here, before making aliyah working with Frank Luntz, a conservative, Republican political consultant. Dermer is even more sensitive and attuned to Republican politics than was Oren.

Israeli leaders have always been concerned about the attitudes and direction of American political leaders at all levels in their support for Israel, yet it appears to have grown particularly intense especially during the extended tenure of Netanyahu as Prime Minister. (Based on the fact that Netanyahu spent a considerable time in the States as a youngster and in University as well as a diplomat, he considers himself skilled in the subtleties of American politics.) It is clear from Bibi’s behavior that he is indeed consumed by the need to support any and all of the  current Republican aspirants, whom he believes–should they win in November–would be a stronger friend, ally, and protector of Israel’s interests in the years ahead.  This despite the fact that the likelihood on their winning the general election—at this point grows dimmer by the day.

On the eve of the JSt gala which occurs tomorrow night in Washington and the New York primary on Tuesday, rarely has there been as much attention and political interest focused on Israel-U.S. relations already in the presidential primary season. In addition, following the Democratic debate last Thursday, where Clinton and Sanders expressed their support for Israel through very different lenses, the reaction of American Jews was not singular and monolithic.

Support for Israel and its policies is not united, although the largest portion of the Jewish community has not moved to support Senator Sanders’ more nuanced position on the conflict. Who lines up where and why the splits are developing is a much longer discussion, but some things are evident to most observers.

As Israel does not appear to be in immediate crisis, the varied levels of support for Israel is largely a function of Jewish affiliation. The Jewish community is more divided today than ever. Leaving aside the growing number of charedim, the community today consists of the following groupings: modern orthodox in numerous guises; active conservative and reform synagogue members; conservative and reform affiliated but only nominally engaged members; and secular, largely unaffiliated, and/or three-day a year Jews, as well as Israeli-Americans Jews.

All of this suggest, perhaps, a different approach by the Israeli governmental leaders might be much more constructive. It might behoove them to spend less time trying to influence American elections or the way Americans vote and more time trying to bring Israeli policies on domestic as well as global issues to a more constructive and compassionate stance. This is especially true at the present time where Israel—despite the chaos in the region–holds a very strong position on security considerations vis-à-vis the Palestinians and all her neighbors.

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