It is far too easily forgotten that, in 1992, Bill Clinton ran against George H.W. Bush from the right on Israel. Bush had opposed a $10 billion loan guarantee program for Israel on the basis that the money could be used to further continue settlement construction in the West Bank and Gaza, which peaked at 7,750 new homes per annum at the fag end of the hardline Shamir administration. By August 1992, Bush relented. But the damage was done: his share of the Jewish vote collapsed from 35 percent in the victorious 1988 election to an abysmal 12 percent in 1992, a ballot he lost.
Now Mitt Romney – who is due to arrival in Israel on Sunday to fundraise and later dine with Benjamin Netanyahu at the breaking of the fast for Tisha B’Av – is Xeroxing the Clinton playbook, attacking Obama for having “thrown Israel under the bus,” to use his favorite refrain. Romney told the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention in Reno, Nevada on Tuesday that the “people of Israel deserve better than what they have received from the leader of the free world. And the chorus of accusations, threats, and insults at the United Nations should never again include the voice of the President of the United States.”
In his platform, Romney pillories Obama for having “repeatedly and unilaterally created new preconditions for restarting peace talks,” and for believing that “distancing the United States from Israel was a smart move that would earn us credits in the Arab world and somehow bring peace closer.” Rather, he says, the United States “needs a president who will not be a fair-weather friend of Israel” for she is America’s “closest ally in the Middle East and a beacon of democracy and freedom in the region.” The intent is clear: Romney wishes to make Obama appear weak on Israel in order to nibble away at the Jewish vote, one of the latter’s strongest and most steadfast bases of support during his transformative 2008 electoral campaign.
But Romney’s tactics with regard to Israel share with Clinton’s 1992 run against Bush the same need to distort the truth in order to make the case. Bush’s administration on this topic had its faults: his cabinet and inner circle was waspish and Judenrein, and it could never shake off the alleged remark of his Secretary of State, James Baker, “Fuck the Jews; They didn’t vote for us anyway.” But when it came to Israel itself, Bush was a good friend and solid partner. As vice-president to Ronald Reagan, he was pivotal to the success of Operation Solomon, during which 484 Ethiopian Jews were rescued from refugee camps in the Sudan and airlifted to the safety of Israel.
In the Oval Office, Bush arranged the 1991 Madrid peace conference, the precursor to the essential Oslo Accords (1993), which made concrete steps toward peace in the region through the creation of the Palestinian Authority. His administration also successfully lobbied the United Nations regarding the repeal of Resolution 3379, which had determined that Zionism was “a form of racism and racial discrimination.” Heightened tensions in the Middle East related to the Gulf War led to a cementation and heightening of military and security cooperation between Israel and the United States, including the deployment of the MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missiles, necessary to the country’s safety during the liberation of Kuwait, as Saddam Hussein rained Scuds down upon Tel Aviv.
If anything, when it comes to joint military strategy, Israel and the United States are closer how than they were under George H.W. Bush or any other previous administration. As Vice President Biden rightly noted in his riposte to Romney, the United States has an extraordinary close relationship on security, which includes “funding for the Iron Dome missile defence system that intercepted nearly 80% of the rockets recently fired from Gaza, close collaboration on longer range missile defense systems, the largest joint military exercises in history, and the most consistent and comprehensive exchanges ever between our top political, defense, security and intelligence officials.”
And on the subject of peace, Obama’s positions in public and private are a mirror image of those maintained by George W. Bush’s administration. Romney unleashed his tortured and ill-lettered bus analogy after the president declared openly that the border between Israel and future Palestine in any final status agreement “should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” But in 2008, George W. Bush stated that there should indeed be “an end to the occupation that began in 1967” and that any peace accord would require “mutually-agreed adjustments to the armistice lines of 1949 to reflect current realities and to ensure that the Palestinian state is viable and contiguous.”
Romney’s flagrant mendacity on Israel, therefore, is as shocking as it is sickening. It is an Atwater-esque electoral ploy to frighten more conservative elements of the Jewish community into abandoning Obama in favor of his own campaign. American foreign policy toward Israel has remained unchanged for 12 years through the second Bush and Obama administrations. To say that President Obama has “thrown Israel under the bus,” or any other means of public transportation for that matter, is nothing but a cheap lie, and Romney should show some shame for saying it.
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Editor’s note: A pro-Romney response to this piece from blogger Emily Schrader can be found here.