The U.S. presidential candidate who seems to have an opinion about everything has decided to remain “neutral” when it comes to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
“Let me be sort of a neutral guy,” Republican front-runner Donald Trump told an MSNBC town hall in Charleston, S.C., on February 17.
“You understand a lot of people have gone down in flames trying to make that (peace) deal. So I don’t want to say whose fault it is – I don’t think that helps.”
These latest pronouncements seem out of character for Trump, who has a record of defending Israel’s interests.
But, even if Trump starts championing Israel, how many voters can accept his misogyny and his rabid anti-Muslim and anti-immigration stances?
That’s the key question for pro-Israel American voters. How do they weigh a candidate’s stance on Israel with his or her views on other important issues, including civil liberties?
Republican contenders Senator Ted Cruz and Senator Marco Rubio are particularly vocal supporters of Israel, and Ohio Governor John Kasich is trying to establish his pro-Israel credentials.
But all three would defund Planned Parenthood and severely limit access to abortion.
And even members of his own party consider Cruz to be too right-wing on most issues. But he says all the right things about Israel.
“There is a qualitative difference between antics of Palestinian terrorists murdering innocent women and children in response to the relentless incitement from Hamas, from the PA (Palestinian Authority) … and the IDF defending the safety and security of the nation of Israel,” he told the Jerusalem Post.
But Cruz is a Neanderthal when it comes to anything remotely progressive.
He has even praised anti-choice leader Troy Newman, who advocates the killing of those who perform abortions. And he denies that climate change is a reality.
Rubio is supported by U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a fellow Cuban-American and a strong champion of Israel.
He has been a vocal critic of the Obama administration’s stance on Israel, particularly its attempts to blame both sides for the violence, “as if the Israeli victims were themselves somehow culpable.”
He’s considered somewhat more moderate than Cruz, but it’s hard to find many substantive differences. Like Cruz, he would defund Planned Parenthood, and would allow abortion only in cases of rape or incest. He supports same-sex unions, but not same-sex marriages.
Although he has virtually no foreign policy experience, Kasich was front and centre at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial address to Congress on March 3, 2015.
On the Democratic side, one would think that Senator Bernie Sanders would be a natural ally for Israel. He’s Jewish, and spent several months volunteering at Kibbutz Sha’ar HaAmakim in the 1960s.
But he is no fan of Netanyahu’s, and appears determined to downplay any connection to Israel.
When asked last summer by Vox’s Ezra Klein if he identifies as a Zionist, Sanders was ambivalent, responding, “A Zionist? What does that mean? Do I think Israel has the right to exist? Yeah, I do. Do I believe that the United States should be playing an evenhanded role in terms of its dealings with the Palestinian community in Israel? Absolutely I do.”
But Sanders – a self-described “democratic socialist” – has such progressive views on such issues as reproductive rights, gay marriage and fighting global climate change that many consider him unelectable if he gets the Democratic nomination.
This brings us to former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the candidate with the most foreign policy experience. A masterful politician, she seems determined to flaunt her pro-Israel credentials while trying not to alienate Democrats who support the Obama administration’s tough stance on Israel.
I met Clinton twice during my years with Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), and can attest that she really “got it” when it came to the issues of incitement and hate education by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.
Indeed, she held a news conference in the Senate to release PMW’s 2007 report on hate indoctrination in Palestinian Authority textbooks.
“We cannot build a peaceful, stable, safe future on such a hate-filled violent and radical foundation,” she said.
But, like President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, she accepts the PA and President Mahmoud Abbas as legitimate partners for peace. There would definitely be a thaw in relations with the Netanyahu regime under her leadership, but probably no radical change in U.S. policy towards Israel.
Does strong support for Israel have to mean reactionary views on everything else? Or is there an acceptable balance?
I don’t envy U.S. voters.