The Race for the US Senate: Why Should Americans Care What Candidates Think of Israel?

The Georgia Senate run-off has turned into a desperate political gunfight. If Republicans take at least one seat, they retain control of the Senate. If Democrats take both seats, the two parties will be tied and Vice President Kamala Harris, as the body’s presiding officer, will break the deadlock.

The margin will be small in either case, making radical change difficult. Nevertheless, control of the body will yield the ability to shape and pass legislation. Neither party is inclined to allow much of anything to stand between it and victory.

So, the Wall Street Journal recently headlined an article "What Warnock Believes About Israel." Warnock is Raphael Warnock, the Democratic nominee against Sen. Kelly Loeffler. The conclusion was that he was evil incarnate, or close to it, since he was not a reliable friend of Israel’s radical right-wing government.

The question is, who cares? Why should one’s position on Israel matter when voting for a U.S. Senator? At least, why should it matter if one is focusing on issues of importance to America?

After all, publications aren’t running articles asking what the candidates think about Armenia. Or Germany. Or South Africa. Or Saudi Arabia. Or Australia. Or Nigeria. Or Brazil. Or the United Kingdom. Or even Russia and China, the two nations which should loom largest in US foreign policy.

The GOP has created its own version of political correctness. For the last couple decades Republicans believed that they can win votes by running as Israel-first candidates. Nothing else matters. American taxpayers might be mulcted, Palestinians might be oppressed, Arabs might be angered, Mideast Christians might be abandoned. But no matter. Large numbers of evangelicals who perversely care more about a secular nation state than fellow Christian believers will have voted GOP, and that is all that counts.

In the case of Warnock the Journal was horrified that he showed sympathy for Palestinians, rather than backing the Netanyahu government’s colonization project in the West Bank. With the enthusiastic support of the Trump administration, the Israeli authorities have done everything possible to prevent a two-state solution, relying on a system that essentially treats Palestinians as Spartan Helots, providing cheap labor for Israelis without the inconvenience of recognizing workers’ political, civil, and legal rights.

The Trump administration enthusiastically signed onto this approach, without the slightest recognition that Palestinians are people too. In the administration’s "Deal of the Century" they were treated as campaign props to be bought off by money from someone unnamed if they agreed to accept a submissive status, stuck in the Mideast version of South Africa’s old Bantustan states and prepared to work for Israeli settlers.

All that mattered to the administration was assisting the reelection of Netanyahu, who is facing trial for corruption and hoping to force through the Knesset a bill immunizing his conduct. The optics of his maneuvers are even worse than President Donald Trump’s pardons for war criminals, dishonest campaign aides, corrupt congressmen, and the like. But that hasn’t affected the president’s fulsome embrace of Netanyahu.

A similar perspective animated the so-called Abrahamic Accords. Better relations between Israel and the Arab states are positive, but the agreements midwifed by Trump are essentially frauds. To start, these states were not at war. So there was no peace to be forged. Calling them peace deals was a bit of fakery to enhance their perceived significance. The peace that most needs to be forged is between Israel and the Palestinians, and Washington consciously made that nearly impossible.

The pacts are to yield formal recognition, increasing tourism, and direct commerce, which primarily benefit the countries involved, not America. The participants could have made these deals on their own. They didn’t because it wasn’t worth it to them, meaning the Arab states. Their populations remain opposed to having normal relations with a government which treats Palestinians as second-class human beings. So Washington did more than promote negotiations. It paid off several Arab dictatorships.

The United Arab Emirates will receive advanced aircraft, F-35s. This for an oppressive regime which spent years, alongside Saudi Arabia, committing murder and mayhem in Yemen in an unprovoked aggressive war. There the Emiratis supported America’s enemies, including Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and other radical groups, even providing them with US weapons. Abu Dhabi also is directly involved in Libya’s civil war, prolonging that people’s agony almost a decade after the US and Europe helped blow up that country. Among the victims of UAE’s domestic authoritarianism are Western businessmen who often are cheated and sometimes jailed. However, the Emirates is well known for spreading cash generously in Washington to think tanks and lobbyists.

Bahrain will benefit from continued American support for one of the most ruthless Sunni dictatorships, which sits atop a Shia majority which was crushed when it began protesting for democracy. The Saudis intervened with troops to back up the monarchy as it jailed activists, legislators, and even doctors who treated injured demonstrators. The Trump administration naturally stood mute as repression continued. Authoritarians have been the president’s best friends.

Sudan received nearly a billion dollars. Moreover, the administration wanted to bestow immunity from liability for past terrorist actions, though Congress demurred. Khartoum was an unlikely candidate for recognizing Israel, but the US kept Sudan on its list of state sponsors of terrorism even though Khartoum’s last terrorist dalliance was decades ago, American intelligence agencies acknowledged its ongoing assistance against terrorism, and the old regime had been overthrown. Sudan illustrated how the terrorism designation is purely political, used to punish and coerce regimes, not to reflect reality.

In this case, the administration manipulated the label to benefit Netanyahu. That is, the Trump administration was willing to sacrifice a potential democracy that finally emerged after decades of dictatorship to help a dishonest political partner. In fact, recognition may never come. Congress refused to approve the promised immunity from additional lawsuits over past terrorist support. Moreover, the agreement is a vote loser in Sudan, yet must be implemented by a legislature that has yet to be created, let alone elected.

Morocco was the final country to agree to recognize Israel. It long has had a good working relationship with Jerusalem, so peace was not an issue. But Rabat saw an opportunity for advantage and seized it. The price Morocco exacted was US recognition of its seizure of Western Sahara from Spain in 1976 when Madrid relinquished control. No other country has done so and hundreds of thousands of Sahrawi people suffer under Moroccan control and in refugee camps waiting for peace and their own state. By rewarding their oppressors, the administration made them the greatest losers in a sordid political deal.

There’s no easy solution to the issue of the Sahrawi but treating them as objects to fuel a sleazy politician’s ambition is outrageous. Or it would be for any other administration. However, almost certainly Trump knows nothing about the issue and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cares nothing about the issue. To them Netanyahu’s electoral fortunes are far more important than the Sahrawis’ future. How would Americans feel being treated with the same callous disdain?

However, there is bad news for Trump’s buddy Netanyahu: a new president will be taking the oath of office in about three weeks. Then President Joe Biden could reverse any or all of these misbegotten gifts to pay for recognition of Israel. Certainly, the F-35 sale should be canceled, unless as part of a process of national emancipation, turning over responsibility for UAE’s defense to its own well-armed military. American personnel should not be treated as mercenaries and royal bodyguards.

Also, Washington should stop ignoring Bahrain’s brutal repression of its Shia majority. It makes a mockery of State Department complaints about human rights violations elsewhere – in Iran, for instance. Crying crocodile tears about the very real repression by Tehran’s Islamist regime is not very persuasive when US officials are kowtowing ever lower to even worse Gulf dictatorships.

Moreover, the incoming Biden administration should reverse its recognition of Morocco’s territorial grab against the wishes of the Sahrawi people. Under normal circumstances, such a flip-flop might hurt America’s reputation. However, that ship sailed early in the Trump administration when it abandoned the JCPOA, or nuclear pact, with Iran. And no other country should treat as sacred last minute "midnight" geopolitical presents like those bestowed by the outgoing administration. Partisan actions so clearly directed at one friendly government – indeed, at one apparently corrupt government leader – were an obvious target for reversal from the start.

Only Sudan deserves something akin to the offered support, but not for recognizing Israel, an unpopular step which actually undermines civilian leaders in the provisional government. The dictator Omar al-Bashir is out and a transition regime is moving unsteadily toward democracy. President Biden should adjust aid levels to fit the circumstances and free Khartoum from any obligation to commit political suicide over an issue of only peripheral interest to America.

There are many foreign policy issues which are important in any national election. However, candidates for the Senate or any other office should not be expected to pledge fealty to other nations irrespective of conduct. Nor should Americans be expected to sacrifice their interests and those of third parties to benefit favored governments and politicians of other nations. President Trump never did understand what it means to really put "America first."

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.