My readers know that I, as an expatriate American, am primarily concerned with how any prospective president views the Jewish state. There are many candidates running for the US presidency from both parties, all of whom have opinions about Israel and its relationship with America. In my last column I reviewed the Democratic contenders. Now it’s the Republicans’ turn.
The strong support of every American president is vital for Israel, but the relationship is not one-sided. Israel is America’s most stalwart ally in the region, sharing its democratic ethos; it is the only country in the region that allows freedom of religion and tolerance for the LGBT community; its army (IDF) works in close cooperation with the US military; its intelligence services provide invaluable information to America; it has twice stymied the nuclear aspirations of Arab neighbors Iraq and Syria; and much more.
While some people object to billions of dollars spent annually by the US to bolster Israel’s defense, they don’t realize that of the $3-4 billion in military aid (there is no economic aid), about 3/4 of the money must be spent in the US on military equipment, providing thousands of jobs for Americans.
Europe receives much more money from the US than Israel does. Each year, the US spends about $450 billion for NATO, nearly 3/4 of its total cost! For comparison sake, European countries spend an average of 1.5% of their budgets on defense, the US spends nearly 5%, and Israel spends nearly 19% of its total budget on its defense. (NATO figures from BusinessInsider.com.)
Professor Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia Center for Politics has compiled a list of five “tiers” of Republican candidates: Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker (1st tier); Ted Cruz, Ran Paul (2nd tier); John Kasich, Rick Perry, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal (3rd tier); Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Rick Santorum (4th tier); Lindsey Graham, Carly Fiorina, Donald Trump, George Pataki, (5th tier). Eight of these hopefuls are sitting or former governors, five are current or former members of Congress, two are prominent business personalities and the last is a retired surgeon from Johns Hopkins Hospital. Two of the candidates are Hispanic, while a third married an Hispanic. One candidate is a female and one is an African American.
Due to the large field of candidates, just ten of the candidates will be featured on the initial debates at Fox News and CNN, giving an urgency to the campaigning before the August 6 Fox News debate. In no particular order, here are comments by five Republican hopefuls concerning the relationship between Israel and the US.
Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, brother to George W. and son of George H.W. Bush.
“Yet instead of recognizing Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reelection [March 2015] and the achievement of Israel’s multi-party, multi-ethnic democracy, the White House issued half-hearted congratulations. Then Obama threatened to downgrade the U.S.-Israel relationship and permit a series of anti-Israel resolutions to pass the United Nations Security Council without firm American opposition. But this is consistent with a pattern of diplomatic scolding of Israel. The Obama administration has insisted that Israel make concessions just to get the Palestinian leaders to the negotiating table. The Obama administration treats announcements of new apartment buildings in Jerusalem like acts of aggression. The Obama administration anonymously insults Israeli leaders personally and then pretends that such insults were never authorized. This is no way to treat an ally.” (National Review March 2015)
In response to criticism of a foreign policy advisor on Bush’s team, Bush spokesman Tim Miller sent the following statement: “Governor Bush consults with a broad group of advisors, reflecting different views. The Governor’s own record on Israel is one of strong and unwavering support. When it comes to J Street, in particular, he firmly opposes lobbying groups whose actions undermine Israel’s efforts to defend itself.” (freebeacon.com March 2015)
Scott Walker, twice-elected governor of Wisconsin who survived a recall election led by powerful unions
After his first ever trip to Israel in May, Walker said the trip “confirmed my belief that the current administration is not giving Israel the support it needs. Instead of standing with our ally, the president is making bad deals with a country that wishes to wipe Israel off the map. It is very clear to me that now is not the time to dismiss or downplay the threats to their country or ours. Nor is it a time to dismiss the rise of anti-Semitism around the world and an increasing effort in places like Western Europe to delegitimize Israel. Now is the time to work together and restore the ruptured bonds between our two countries.” (USA Today May 2015)
Speaking about the possibility of a two-state solution, Walker told an interviewer:
“And I think ultimately the decision has to be made between the two parties, it can’t be by outside forces. It can’t be forced. But security is a pretty big threat right now.” (JSonline.com May 2015)
Donald Trump, real estate mogul, billionaire, Reality TV star, foremost proponent of the “Trump” brand
“The only [candidate] that’s going to give real support to Israel is me. The rest of them are all talk, no action. They’re politicians. I’ve been loyal to Israel from the day I was born. My father, Fred Trump, was loyal to Israel before me. The only one that’s going to give Israel the kind of support it needs is Donald Trump.”
“I think President Obama is one of the worst things that’s ever happened to Israel. I think he’s set back [Israeli] relations with the United States terribly, and for people and friends of mine who are Jewish, I don’t know how they can support President Obama. He has been very bad for Israel.” (jns.org July 2015)
Marco Rubio, freshman senator from Florida, son of Cuban immigrants
“Allies have differences, but allies like Israel, when you have a difference with them and it is public, it emboldens their enemies to launch more rockets out of southern Lebanon and Gaza, to launch more terrorist attacks, to go to international forums and de-legitimize Israel’s right to exist. And this is what they’re doing.”
Rubio, a potential Republican presidential contender, said he would be “even angrier” if a Republican president were acting the same way, and called Obama’s shift “outrageous,” “irresponsible” and “dangerous.”
“No people on Earth want peace more than the people of Israel. No people have suffered more at the hands of this violence and this terrorism than the people of Israel. And they need America’s support, unconditionally,” he added. (CNN.com March 2015)
In April, Rubio proposed an amendment to the bill mandating Congressional approval of a deal on nuclear weapons with Iran that would require President Obama to be able to certify that Iran has publicly supported Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. The amendment was rejected.
Chris Christie, twice-elected governor of a highly democratic state, known for his brash demeanor
Speaking to a group of Israel supporters in May, Christie “charged that President Barack Obama’s policies have drastically weakened America’s leadership role in the world and that Obama is ‘unwilling to stand up to anyone’ — with the exception of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”
“The President only has the resolve to stand up to our friends and not to stand up to evil. As long as Iran believes that Israel doesn’t have the right to exist and that America should die as well, they are not a part of the civilized world.” (CNN.com May 2015)
New Jersey has a large number of Muslim voters, as do some other states. In 2012, Governor Christie held a festive Muslim Iftar celebration for this group. Nothing wrong with that in principle, but one of the guests was “Imam Mohammed Qatanani, a self-admitted member of Hamas and a defender of a charity that provided funds to children of suicide bombers. Qatanani is also an advocate of Islamic blasphemy laws that criminalize criticism of Islam. Christie referred to Qatanani as ‘a man of great good will’ and the governor defended him when the Department of Homeland Security attempted to deport Qatanani for failing to disclose a 1993 arrest and conviction in Israel for involvement with Hamas.
Additionally, “The New Jersey governor has publicly defended Sohail Mohammed, the lawyer who represented Hamas-affiliate Qatanani as well as dozens of detainees swept up by law enforcement after 9/11. Christie aggressively pushed for Mohammed to become a Superior Court judge.
“Christie has derided anyone who perceives sharia law as a threat in the U.S. In 2012, Governor Christie called for an investigation into the NYPD’s counterterrorism procedures as he objected to their conducting surveillance of mosques…” (freedomoutpost.com Jan. 2014)
Governor Christie’s behavior towards Muslim advocates of Hamas makes his support for Israel questionable. Governor Walker, who has no foreign policy experience, is an unknown quantity. All the others are on the record as established supporters of Israel.
More on other Republican candidates in my next column.