It is perhaps no surprise that the media and chattering class in Israel are following the U.S. presidential nominating process with an intensity not to be seen anywhere else. The interest is somewhat odd, given that no fundamental shift in the U.S.-Israel relationship appears possible. Apart from Ron Paul, who has no chance to be nominated, no candidate is likely to challenge the “special relationship.” Some critics of Middle Eastern policy have been hopeful that Barack Obama, who has less baggage on the issue than the other candidates, might approach the Israel-Palestine conundrum with a more open mind. Such hopes are fleeting, as Obama has adopted an increasingly strident pro-Israel line to make himself more electable. This line was apparently crafted by his key adviser on the region, Dennis Ross, a former State Department official who was the key negotiator between Palestinians and Israelis under President Bill Clinton. Ross has invariably tilted in the Israeli direction by defining most regional problems in terms of Israeli security concerns. When he is not advising Obama, Ross is now a “distinguished fellow” at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), the strongly pro-Israeli Washington think tank that was founded by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). He is also a Middle East analyst for Fox News.
Israeli interest in the outcome of the election is legitimate, because the billions of dollars in U.S. economic and military aid are seen by most Israelis as crucial to their country’s prosperity. For this same reason, it is worthwhile for Americans to note just how the Israeli media evaluates the various candidates’ pro-Israel credentials. The Israeli national interest is clearly not identical to that of the United States, except possibly to AIPAC, but it would be difficult to discern the difference based on the comments being made by American presidential candidates. Indeed, many of the candidates sometimes seem as if they are actually running for office in Israel.
Ha’aretz, the more liberal of the two Israeli English language newspapers, assesses the presidential candidates in a monthly feature called “The Israel Factor: Ranking the Presidential Candidates,” which rates the candidates from 1 to 10, with 10 being “best for Israel” and 1 being worst. The most recent “Israel Factor” appeared on Jan. 17. It should be noted that Republican Congressman Ron Paul is not included in the rankings because the Israeli panelists believe that to do so would be a “waste of time.”
Rudy Giuliani is, not surprisingly, Tel Aviv’s favorite son. He rates an 8.37 based on stirring rhetoric such as “Israel is the only outpost of freedom and democracy in the Middle East and the only absolutely reliable friend of the United States” and “the people of Jerusalem and the people of New York City are shoulder-to-shoulder; and the people of America and the people of Israel are shoulder-to-shoulder in the fight against terrorism.” While in New York, Rudy picked up valuable points for having Yasser Arafat thrown out of a concert at Lincoln Center in 1995 and for turning down $10 million in post-9/11 aid from a Saudi prince when the prince had the temerity to question U.S. policy in the Middle East. Giuliani reiterated his anecdotes about Arafat and the Saudi prince in the most recent Republican debate, but it is not clear whether dissing the same Arabs twice with the same story is good for extra points or not. Giuliani had an 8.75 in last month’s ranking, so he clearly is slipping and has to come up with some new material to regain his edge.
Hillary Clinton is a surprise number two in the Ha’aretz ranking, with a 7.62. She gets top grades for demanding that the U.S. embassy be shifted from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and also for some of her effusive affirmations of Israeli exceptionalism, calling it a “beacon of what democracy can and should mean.” Hillary is apparently not familiar with the face of democracy in the West Bank territories that are still occupied. Nor is she shy about suborning U.S. interests to any old scheme for regional domination dreamed up by Israeli politicians, as she has also said that “the security and freedom of Israel must be decisive and remain at the core of any American approach to the Middle East.” Hillary is a strong supporter of keeping Arabs out of Israel: “The top priority of any government is to ensure the safety and security of its citizens, and that is why I have been a strong supporter of Israel’s right to build a security barrier to keep terrorists out. I have taken the International Court of Justice to task for questioning Israel’s right to build the fence.” (Note: A fence is about five feet high and is designed to keep horses and cattle from straying. Most people call Israel’s 20-ft.-high solid masonry construction a wall, and large segments of it are built on Arab land.) Hillary apparently has not encouraged Chelsea to enlist in either the IDF or the U.S. armed forces, but she has no problem pounding on America’s traditional European allies to make them do Israel’s bidding. Addressing AIPAC in 2005, she said, “A nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable, but it is not just unacceptable to Israel and the United States. It must be unacceptable to the entire world, starting with the European governments and people.”
John McCain, once the neocons’ anointed as the candidate best equipped to light the flame of freedom in the Middle East, rates a strong but disappointing 7.12. Never having met an Israeli he couldn’t admire and an Arab he couldn’t disdain, he has said, “There can be no comprehensive peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians until the Palestinians recognize Israel, forswear forever the use of violence, recognize their previous agreements, and reform their internal institutions.” “Between” would appear to imply a certain reciprocity, but John probably skipped his English classes at the Naval Academy. Like Hillary, he believes that good fences make good neighbors, and he is happy to help steal someone else’s land to help out a friend: “The Oslo accord failed because it was based on the premise that the Palestinian and Israeli peoples could live peacefully together. The security fence will test whether they can live peacefully apart.” He is also more than generous with American taxpayers’ money: “America must provide Israel with whatever military equipment and technology she requires to defend herself, above and beyond what we supply today if necessary.”
Mitt Romney only rates a 6.5 in spite of his courageous refusal to provide Massachusetts state troopers to protect former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami during his visit to the U.S. in 2006. As he put it at the time, “State taxpayers should not be providing special treatment to an individual who supports violent jihad and the destruction of Israel.” Mitt, a self-described deep thinker, apparently was unaware that Khatami is a moderate who was in the U.S. in an attempt to establish dialogue to avert war. Khatami has never advocated jihad or the elimination of Israel. In the latest presidential debate, Romney called for “good schools” in the Arab world that are not “Wahhabi schools,” a generalization that left some observers who actually know about the Middle East gasping.
Former candidate Fred Thompson, also at 6.5, scored some points in the Republican debate when he gave sage advice to the Iranians harassing U.S. naval vessels: “One more step and they would have been introduced to those virgins that they’re looking forward to seeing.” And then there is poor Mike Huckabee at a pathetic 6, an also-ran among stalwart Republicans seeking to kick Arab butt and go toe-to-toe with the hated mullahs. Mike is all for sending Iranians molesting U.S. ships to see the “gates of Hell” and is noted for his willingness to consider a Palestinian state located somewhere in the Arab world but not anywhere on the West Bank, which he considers part of Israel. He has visited Israel nine times, but apparently his standing around waiting for the Second Coming so he can be Raptured up to heaven doesn’t impress the Ha’aretz panel.
At the bottom of the heap? Yes, it’s Barack Obama with a 5. He has tried to demonstrate that he is true blue when it comes to Israel by manfully supporting last year’s invasion of Lebanon, which killed more than 1,000 civilians and caused billions of dollars worth of damage: “I don’t think there is any nation that would not have reacted the way Israel did after two soldiers had been snatched. I support Israel’s response to take some action in protecting themselves.” I suppose that, in spite of the bad grammar, that came off a bit too eggheaded, not to mention mealy-mouthed. Obama lived for a while in Indonesia, which is known to be overrun with Muslims. He could himself be some kind of crypto-Islamofascist, and a few years ago he had some nice things to say about Palestinians. You lose, Barack.