Too Much Israel Focus ?

Too Much Israel Focus ?

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

There continues to be incredible interest in Israel in this year’ election campaign.  It is by no means clear that at the end of this interminable election cycle it will have been good for the Jews or for Israel. Without doing a precise check of the clock, it seems that more than 60% of the foreign policy debate addressed various questions involving the Middle East in all its guises. Foci included the Arab Spring, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and the U.S.-Israel relationship. (Curiously, of course, not word was mentioned about the Israel-Palestinian peace process or violence in Gaza!)
This extensive interest in the Middle East is understandable at this time, but it has been central to the campaign discussions since the Republican primary debate season which began almost a year ago. Perhaps the absolute nadir of the debates in fact occurred during the pandering for Jewish votes over discussions between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney and others as to who would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem faster.  All parties knowing full well—as do most American Jews—that while this has been a well-intentioned desire of most Presidents and aspirants from the days when Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan championed this issue on the floor of the Senate, nothing is happening with regard to moving the embassy until there are direct and final status talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians about the future of Jerusalem.

The excellent question that Bob Schieffer did ask directly about the U.S.-Israel relationship was precisely an effort to move both candidates to push the envelope of the tightness of the U.S. Israel relationship just a bit further into a treaty; something neither of the men did bite.  In a marvelous dance by both candidates they answered Schieffer without answering the question and without answering each other. Thus, both men saw the need and interest to protect and not jeopardize their position with the Jewish community without attacking their opponent; hoping the other would slip.

This campaign also has seen Jewish money prominently displayed and bandied about in the hands of first and foremost Sheldon Adelson, but equally so—albeit with a bit more subtlety—by Jewish Democratic givers.  Given the 2.5% the population that Jews constitute, this type of public display of Jewish giving while exciting, is also re-enforcing in the eyes of some voters of the classic, not very positive images, of Jews.

Finally, there is one other theme that I have been asked more often and increasingly coming both from the States and from Israel: whether Bibi Netanyahu has been too publically engaged and involved in America’s election. Leaving aside any personality issues which certainly exist between Obama and Bibi, the relevant question being posed is whether Israeli leadership helps Israel and American Jews by appearing to be so engaged in the American election.  Has this style of behavior been good or bad for the American Jewish community—in the long run?  It may have been helpful for the moment, but it could have negative consequences later and serious costs as well.

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