The answer is, yes. And the real issue is how supporters of Israel understand what it means to “support Israel”. Is it a function of pressuring the State of Israel to do what it “should do” from the perspective of those who do not live there? Or is it about supporting the decisions of the only real democracy in the Middle East and our best ally in the region, even if it makes decisions that some of us see as too much to the left or too far to the right? Frankly, I could make a case for going either way, but we should be honest and clear about what we are doing when we make claims about which side in this election would be “better for Israel”.
This situation is further complicated by the fact that the Democratic and Republican candidates have different understandings of what it means to support Israel, as recent comments from each campaign indicate. In fact, it may be that the candidates don’t even agree with their own running mates, let alone those against whom they are running. During last night’s Vice Presidential debate, Sarah Palin said that peace between Israel and the Palestinians would be at the top of the McCain/Palin agenda. But recent comments by top McCain advisors indicate otherwise.
Of course, it’s not like Obama and Biden necessarily agree either. Senator Obama has been clear about both his commitment to bringing peace and to the fact that he has a vision of what that peace would look like. But last night, Senator Biden suggested that the American policy should not insist on specifics about negotiation, but should back Israel. So which is it, senators? Frankly, it probably doesn’t matter and both sides should stop making political hay out of this issue.
Former Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Danny Ayalon writes persuasively about the fact that there is ample reason to believe that both Senator McCain and Senator Obama will continue America’s commitment to Israel’s safety and security. He is almost certainly correct, and not because of lobbying or pressure, but for the only reason that America should i.e. it’s good for America.
So rather than hide behind broad and often meaningless claims about which candidate is better for Israel, I suggest separating the debate about which candidate is likely to support the specific policies we endorse about issues like borders, Jerusalem, negotiating with Syria, etc. from the importance of Israel as one of this country’s most important allies. Confusing those two issues may prove effective at mobilizing one side or the other in the short term, but may actually prove detrimental to the long term relationship between Israel and the United States. I hope that both sides think about that in the coming weeks. Whichever side wins the election, the American-Israel relationship is too strategically, politically, and morally vital to confuse with partisan politics, American or Israeli.