Israel was mentioned only three times, almost in passing, in Thursday night's sixth GOP presidential debate — there's one more, in Des Moines, before the February 1 Iowa Caucus. It was a matter of retracing old grounds with nothing new to add.
There was the usual pandering, with an empty promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, repeating of a longstanding bipartisan commitment to Israel's strategic advantage and a passing reference to the Iran nuclear deal.
The comments were aimed at potential Jewish voters and, more likely, wealthy Jewish contributors for whom support of their view of Israel is a top priority. But don't overlook the much larger GOP evangelical voter base, which ranks support for Israel very high, and is especially important in the upcoming voting in Iowa and South Carolina.
The debate was sponsored by Fox Business News (FBN) and held in North Charleston, S.C.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio said that under Barack Obama "we cut deals with our enemies like Iran and we betray our allies like Israel," an apparent reference to the Iran nuclear deal which was unanimously opposed by Congressional Republicans and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
When FBN moderator Neal Cavuto asked Jeb Bush about changes he'd make in foreign policy, the former Florida governor said, "we need to move our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to send a serious signal that we're back in the game with Israel."
His brother, George W. Bush, made a similar promise when was running for president, vowing to move the Embassy on his first day in the Oval Office. He never did. And neither will Jeb. It will stay in Tel Aviv until the Israelis and Palestinians reach a peace agreement, not when a pandering politician of either party promises.
Jeb also said as president he'd "sign an agreement that makes sure that the world knows that [Israel] will have technological superiority," as if he'd just come up with the idea. I guess no one told him there already is such an agreement in place; his brother signed one, and Barack Obama is about to sign 10-year upgraded version. Israel's military superiority has been a bipartisan American policy for many years and presidents of both parties have honored that commitment.
In response to a question on Muslim immigration, Ben Carson said he would look to Israel for advice on "screening" Muslims. He would convene "a group of experts" including "some of our friends from Israel, who have had experience screening these people and come up with new guidelines for immigration, and for visas, for people who are coming into this country," he said.
Bush said he would strengthen relations with "our Arab nations." He and Ohio Governor John Kasich criticized Donald Trump's call to prohibit all Muslims from entering the United States. The ban "makes it impossible to build the coalition necessary to take out ISIS," Bush said. Kasich agreed, pointing as an example the coalition assembled by Jeb's father, George H.W. Bush in the First Gulf War.