As we move into the serious part of the election campaign that typically begins after Labor Day, Jews will be debating which candidate is likely to be best not only for America, but for Israel. Not all Jews are single issue voters, but for many the answer to this question will decide their vote.
Listening to the debate, Jews fall into at least five categories:
True believers in Hillary Clinton — This is the largest category of Jews. They support her because they are liberal Democrats and have faith she will support Israel based on her knowledge of the region, track record and the influence of Bill.
Nose Holders — This category has some Democrats but consists mainly of Jewish Republicans who can’t stand Hillary but are frightened by Trump’s isolationism, ignorance of foreign policy, bigoted statements and uncertainty whether they can trust anything he says, including his declarations of support for Israel. They believe the nation can survive four years of Clinton and then, they desperately hope, a sane Republican candidate will emerge who they can support.
True believers in Donald Trump — Not many Jews fall into this category. Some do, however, appreciate his tough language regarding radical Islam and what they see as his genuine commitment to Israel.
ABHers — These are people who so despise Hillary (a population primarily made up of non-Jews) they will vote for anyone else, including Trump. The Trump equivalent are essentially the nose holders.
Non-Voters — Probably a small percentage of Jews who can’t stand Hillary and are afraid of Trump and can’t bring themselves to vote for either even if their friends tell them their non-vote is a vote.
Americans are conditioned from an early age to believe in democracy and the importance of their right to vote. Not so many people want to acknowledge that people also have a right not to vote. Practically, though we don’t like to say it aloud, many votes don’t count. For example, in overwhelmingly Democratic states like Maryland, where I live, my vote will not make a difference because Hillary will win by virtue of the political demographics. The response to this logic is always, “But what if everyone felt that way?” The practical answer is that very few people actually do feel that way so there’s no danger of the system coming unglued if some Jews decide not to vote for president (most will vote for Congress and local offices).
When Jews try to evaluate whether a president is pro-Israel or not, what are some of the criteria? Let me suggest the following:
- Close consultation — The president should not spring any diplomatic surprises on Israel, such as Obama’s call for a settlement freeze that included Jerusalem. The relationship is most effective when both countries are in close, constant contact.
- Criticism that is private rather than public — If the president has a problem with Israeli policy, he knows the prime minister’s phone number and can express concern directly. Public criticism creates the perception of tension in the relationship, which raises the hopes of Israel’s enemies that a wedge can be driven between the two allies. Bill Clinton was a model for this policy; Obama the antithesis.
- Commitment to Israel’s security — Israel’s enemies must have no doubt the United States has Israel’s back and will provide assistance if needed. The United States must remain faithful to the longstanding promise to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge. This means providing Israel top-of-the-line weapons systems and denying them to others in the region. The president should support long-term military aid, intelligence sharing, joint research and development of missile defense and other weapons, and joint exercises.
- Understanding of Israel’s neighborhood — As Prime Minister Netanyahu frequently reminds Americans, Israel is in the Middle East, not the Middle West. It is vital that the president recognize the threat posed to Israel by terrorism, radical Islam and Iran’s nuclear ambitions, as well as the differences in religion, culture and values.
- Recognition of risks associated with Israeli concessions — Israelis desperately want peace with their neighbors and have consistently and persistently offered compromises in an effort to achieve this objective. Israel cannot, and will not, give in to pressure to capitulate to Palestinian demands just so the rest of the world can wash its hands of the dispute. The president must also understand that Israel can only take risks for peace if he or she meet criteria 3 and 4.
- Recognition that peace cannot be made in Washington — As the leader of the one country with influence on both Israel and the Palestinians, and the only party Israel trusts, the president can play a vital role as a mediator in face-to-face negotiations. Every president feels the need to offer a peace plan, but they have all failed, and are doomed to fail, because the Palestinians and Israelis must sit together to reach an agreement. If the president meets criterion 4, he or she will understand that the Palestinians have to accept a Jewish state and that incitement and terrorism must stop to have any hope for peace.
- Support at the UN — Israel faces an automatic majority that promotes the Palestinian agenda and condemns Israeli policies. The president has little influence in the General Assembly besides ensuring the United States stands beside Israel and strenuously objects to the annual cavalcade of anti-Israel resolutions. With its veto, the U.S. has great power in the Security Council, and Israel and the rest of the world should know the president will not hesitate to use that power to prevent the adoption of resolutions unfairly singling Israel out for condemnation, attempting to impose a particular settlement on Israel or recognizing a Palestinian state in the absence of a bilateral peace treaty.
- Condemnation of terrorism — The president must condemn incitement and terrorism directed at Israel or Jews no matter what the source — Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS or any other terrorist organization or terror sponsoring state. Israel and the United States should stand shoulder to shoulder in an uncompromising fight against radical Islam and other sources of terror. The president must not be afraid to acknowledge a religious war is taking place and that tens of thousands of Muslims believe they are required by their faith to engage in a jihad against apostate Muslims and non-Muslim infidels.
- Empathy from the kishkas, ideology and/or faith — The president cannot see Israel as just another country. The relationship with Israel is a special one that dates back to before the establishment of the state. To appreciate this special relationship, the president must feel a connection with the Israeli people in their kishkas like Ronald Reagan, on the basis of their ideology like George W. Bush or because of their faith like Harry Truman.
Presidential candidates typically pander to Jewish voters so it is not easy to determine their authenticity. Both Clinton and Trump have said what the pro-Israel community wants to hear. Clinton has a track record from her days in the Senate and Obama administration. Voters will have to decide how to weigh her support for Israel in the Senate and her role in the Obama administration’s often ill-advised Middle East policies. Trump has no track record and it is difficult to see him meeting all nine criteria given his isolationist views on foreign policy; nevertheless, he does see eye-to-eye with Israel on the threat of radical Islam and the disastrous nuclear deal with Iran.
Sadly, we have been left with the philosopher John Stuart Mill referred to as the “Hobson’s choice of either voting for the person brought forward by their local leaders, or not voting at all.”
Dr. Mitchell Bard is the author/editor of 24 books including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.