’16 Candidates & Israel

Beyond the swagger and machismo about carpeting bombing the s**t out of ISIS and making what already is the strongest military in the world the strongest military in the world, there's been little substantive discussion of foreign and defense policy in this campaign beyond staff-written position papers posted on the candidates' web sites. 

And to see those documents you often have to give your name and email address so you can be deluged with press releases and appeals for contributions.

Most Jewish voters want to know where the candidates stand on Israel, particularly peace and security, even if that is not – and polls repeatedly show – anywhere near the top issue on their agenda. 

The responses of GOP candidates when asked about Israel generally center on four elements: declarations of undying love, trashing Barack Obama, silence on substance of policy and promises they can't fulfill.

They conveniently overlook that even Bibi Netanyahu concedes that security and intelligence cooperation between the two allies has never been stronger or more productive than under Barack Obama, despite the personal antagonism between the two leaders. 

Both Democratic candidates embrace Obama's contributions, although one, Hillary Clinton, says she can restore warmth and friendliness at the top, although she doesn't explain how. 

Her rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, just became the first Jew ever to win a presidential primary. In addition to being Jewish he is the only one who ever lived in Israel, albeit briefly in his 20s at Sha'ar Ha'amakim, a socialist kibbutz. That, and his calling himself a socialist, has set off an ugly burst of red-baiting. Most specious was a New York Post headline calling him a "diehard communist" in a story that would make Joe McCarthy drool.

For most GOP candidates, foreign policy means talking tough, threatening wider military action, using more torture, filling the empty cells at Gitmo and doing the opposite of anything Obama did.

Sanders and Clinton have embraced the two-state approach to peace between Israel and the Palestinians, something the Republican candidates are loathe to do. 

The GOP approach resembles the laissez-faire one taken four years ago by Mitt Romney.  When the parties are ready, they can call us, but what they really are saying is ' only when the Israelis are ready.' Any call from the Palestinians will go directly to voice mail.

Jeb Bush quickly dumped Jim Baker as an advisor after hawkish Israel supporters were outraged when his father's secretary of state expressed frustration with Netanyahu's reluctance to make peace.

When Netanyahu, on the eve of his election last March, said there would be no Palestinian state on his watch, Ted Cruz declared the United States should "stand unshakably" with the Israeli leader, a position that contradicts longstanding U.S. policy.

It's no coincidence that the hawkish positions of Republican contenders track those of the Jewish multi-millionaires and billionaires whose backing they seek.

A in the White House is likely be more proactive when it comes to peacemaking, although it's doubtful any president will want to invest much diplomatic capital in what will continue to be futile mediation as long as Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas are in office.

And once again we'll likely see this Israeli prime minister actively campaigning for a Republican candidate that an overwhelming majority of Jews will reject at the polls in November.  Given the tenor of the GOP primary battles, that number may well be even more overwhelming than usual.

For more on this topic, see my Washington Watch column.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.