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. Below is a summary of what is known so far.
Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, was also the presumptive candidate in 2008. Therefore, she most likely isn’t taking her status for granted. More than any other candidate, Clinton comes with lots of baggage and history.
A particularly disappointing “moment” for Hillary occurred during her tenure as First Lady during a 1999 meeting with Yasser Arafat’s wife, Suha: Hillary “listened via simultaneous translation to Suha’s prepared script, accusing Israel – in genuine medieval well-poisoning tradition – of resorting to all manner of noxious concoctions to kill Arab women and tots (as distinct, presumably, from adult males)… Hillary listened to the calumny without a hint of displeasure. Indeed, she nodded approval from time to time, and when Suha concluded, Hillary embraced her warmly and planted affectionate kisses on her cheeks.” (Jerusalem Post, Dec. 2011)
While Secretary of State in President Obama’s first term, at a time that Vice President Joe Biden was in Jerusalem, Hillary harangued Israel’s prime minister for an hour on the telephone, complaining that, “Israel’s announcement of new settlement construction in disputed territory [sic] in East Jerusalem [sic], was insulting to the United States.” (CNN, March 2010)
I won’t go into the litany of times that Israel’s leaders have been insulted by the Obama administration, but it’s outrageous that building Jewish homes in our most sacred city is “insulting” to Americans.
There are other candidates for the Democratic nominee at this point: Bernie Sanders, Lincoln Chafee, Martin O’Malley, and Jim Webb. Vermont Senator Sanders, the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland, has been relatively quiet about Israel-related issues during his career. However, during and after the 2014 Gaza conflict, when Israel retaliated after thousands of rockets were indiscriminately fired at Israeli civilians, Sanders put an undated statement on his Senate website. In his statement, Sanders decried the “Israeli attacks that killed hundreds of innocent people – including many women and children,” and called the Israeli bombings “disproportionate and completely unacceptable.”
In mid-July 2014, Sanders was one of just 21 Senators not to co-sponsor a resolution expressing support for Israel in the conflict with Hamas… Months after the conflict, in February 2015, Sanders was the first Senator to announce that he would skip Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress.” (forward.com June, 2015)
Lincoln Chafee, former Rhode Island senator and governor, a former chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the Middle East, “is among a handful of senators who often dissent from measures calling for support of Israel and sanctions against its enemies. Supporters call Chafee a courageous voice of independence from the pro-Israel lobby who is willing to prod Israel to take difficult actions needed for peace… Critics say Chafee’s record puts him outside the mainstream of strong U.S. support for Israel. The senator replied last week that his ‘dogged’ support of the peace process is in Israel’s long-term best interests.” (Providence Journal, April, 2006)
Martin O’Malley, former Baltimore mayor and Maryland senator, takes a middle-of-the-road Democratic position: “I think the relationship between the United States and Israel is strong, will remain strong, and must be strong for our own security,” O’Malley said. “But also, we have to continue to wage peace, and in this context, waging peace means pushing for a two-state solution.” (huffingtonpost.com March 2015)
During a visit to Israel during his 2013 gubernatorial campaign, “A reporter pointed out that on his way into Bethlehem, O’Malley would see the controversial separation barrier Israel has erected in the West Bank. O’Malley said he had seen something similar in Northern Ireland. “They call it the peace wall,” he noted. (nytimes.com April, 2013)
Jim Webb, former Virginian senator, Navy secretary, Marine veteran, and prolific author, is an individualist who doesn’t fit neatly under Democratic Party guidelines. According to Morrie Amitay, former executive director of AIPAC, “Webb’s Israel record ‘has to be the worst’ he’s ever seen ‘in 40 plus years following Congress. Whether it was Iran, Israelis/Palestinians or the US-Israel relationship, Webb was positive only on four of eighteen pro-Israel initiatives…,” Amitay said (22%). (JPupdates.com Nov 2014
According to the Arab American Institute Scorecard, Webb’s voting record in the 112th Congress was positive for the Arab American community in five of the ten pro-Arab initiatives (50%).
Strong support by an 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; 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.
In a future article I will review the attitudes towards Israel of Republican candidates.