Republican Presidential Candidates on Israel: Separate and Unequal
In a November 12th interview with The Algemeiner, ADL National Chairman Abraham Foxman declared that when it comes to positions on Israel, “with the exception of Ron Paul, there is not much difference between the parties.” I cannot imagine how he arrived at this conclusion, as in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
It is correct, that in the United States, due to overwhelming popularity among the general populace, Israel as a political issue stands alone. Candidates take sides on every issue, from abortion to gay rights, to the size of government and deficit reduction. However when it comes to Israel, a mainstream American politician that openly champions an anti-Israel stance, more than likely renders himself unelectable.
In order to bypass this inconvenience, many politicians with divergent views on sticky Israeli issues have attempted to redefine what it means to be pro-Israel by formulating their own definitions on what is in Israel’s best interests. If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wanted to run for Congress, he would first proclaim his great love for the Jewish State and then go on to explain that in his well-considered opinion it is in Israel’s best interest to be nuked.
This is precisely the collective point of Republican divergence from Obama Administration positions on Israel. Every single candidate, including Ron Paul (with the exception of his opinion on aid) would look to Israeli government positions as the guide to its interests and for use as a barometer by which to gauge support.
While this is the case, for the sake of clarity and definitive evaluation, I set out to rank the Republican candidates purely in order of ‘how good they would be for Israel.’ Some of their positions on various intricacies have yet to be clarified, and not all relevant information was available to me at the time of publication. As the primary process progresses I suspect that this list will need to be tweaked, but for now, here is my assessment from worst to best:
8. Ron Paul
Paul’s positions on Israel have been almost uniformly derided. Whilst claiming to be non-interventionist on the issue, he has routinely adopted Arab talking points on Israel, even comparing Gaza to ‘a concentration camp.’ His Isolationist mantra may appeal to fiscal conservatives, but in the real world its implementation would create a global power vacuum that would likely be filled by supporters of Israel’s enemies.
7. Jon Huntsman
Although highly critical of Obama administration policies toward Israel, in a recent National Review article, he explained the unilateral Palestinian bid for statehood, saying that “when Israel lost confidence in its ally (the United States), their position understandably hardened. This led to the Palestinian Authority also losing hope in the peace process.” While sympathetic, Huntsman blames PA actions on Israeli positions, representing a fundamental misunderstanding of Israel’s predicament.
6. Herman Cain
At a recent New York fundraiser I heard Herman Cain firmly proclaim “if you’re messing with Israel you’re messing with the U.S.A.” While his sentiments seem to be in the right place, his lack of experience and knowledge of the intricacies may mean that he will leave major decisions in the hands of others, which could prove more risky for Israel. This unfamiliarity was demonstrated when he was recently asked by Fox News host Chris Wallace about the Palestinian Arab ‘right of return’ claim, where he responded “Yes, they should have a right to come back if that is a decision that Israel wants to make.”
5. Rick Perry
At a press conference in New York and earlier Jerusalem Post column, Perry outlined his positions on Israel. He strongly opposed the Obama induced settlement freeze, and called on Palestinian Arab leaders to “publicly affirm Israel’s right to exist, and to exist as a Jewish state.” Like Romney, Perry favors ‘Negotiated Settlement,’ and in the absence of Arab compliance, would refrain from placing the onus of the blame on Israel.
4. Mitt Romney
Famously accusing President Obama of “throwing Israel under the bus,” in his book ‘No Apology’ Romney shows sympathy for and understanding of Israel’s challenges. While still favoring and pledging to support a negotiated two state settlement, based on a position paper posted on his website and his comments in a recent National Review Online article, he would allow Israel to take the lead on security issues and he would fight against unilateral Arab actions and anti-Semitic attacks on the State. At Tuesday’s televised foreign policy debate Romney was the first candidate to pledge that his first foreign trip as president would be to Israel. His policies would likely be most similar to those of George W. Bush.
3. Newt Gingrich
“No country can be expected to conduct peace negotiations with a terrorist organization, or with a Palestinian Governmental Authority that joins forces with such a terrorist organization,” declared Gingrich at a Republican Jewish Coalition event. Like many of the other candidates, he supports the status of Jerusalem as the “undivided capital of the Jewish state.” Widely viewed as the smartest candidate, his views translate into nuanced and comprehensive pro-Israel policy.
2. Michelle Bachmann
A video posted on Bachmann’s website demonstrates a notable understanding on Middle East issues. Her first trip to the Holy Land was in 1974, when, at age 17 she joined a group of Minnesota teens to spend a summer in Israel. At a recent dinner for the Zionist Organization of America she said “if I am President, not one inch of Israel will ever be on the chopping block,” uniquely expressing the view that any territorial concessions are dangerous for Israel.
1. Rick Santorum
In a recent off the cuff campaign trail interview, Santorum broke ranks when he schooled a reporter on Israeli history. Regarding development in the territories of Judea and Samaria, he said, “the bottom line is that that is legitimately Israeli country. And they have a right to do within their country just like we have a right to do within our country.” He also denied the existence of ‘Palestinians’ as a distinct people, thus dismissing calls for the establishment of another hostile Arab state on Israel’s border. He did not clarify what the legal status of West Bank Arabs should be.