by The Arab American News
on January 13, 2012
in News Clips
"No Aid to Israel?" wonders a recent Facebook ad sponsored by U.S. President Barack Obama's re-election campaign. "Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich say they would start foreign aid to Israel at zero. Reject their extreme plan now!" the ad implores, directing people to sign a petition to that effect on my.barackobama.com ("Stand against "zeroing out aid to Israel"").
After signing the petition, the caption underneath a beaming photo of the president declares that "Any plan to cut foreign aid to zero across the board is dangerous and ignorant. It's up to us to get the word out about it. Donate now to help us spread the facts about the RRomney-Perry-Gingrich plan to wipe out foreign aid to allies like Israel."
As Salon writer Justin Elliott correctly notes, "the Obama ads are incredibly dishonest. First of all, the Republican candidates were talking about setting foreign aid at zero each year as a starting point in discussions about how much to give, not setting it at zero as a matter of policy" ("Obama's dishonest Israel ads, Salon, 12 December 2011).
However, the Obama campaign is far from unique in employing a breathtakingly simplistic strategy of artifice and vituperation (both against opposing candidates and against Palestinians) to bolster their pro-Israel street cred in a transparent ploy to attract campaign donations and votes. U.S support for Israel, once a carefully nurtured bipartisan consensus, is fast degenerating in the context of the 2012 presidential election into a mud-slinging partisan contest as to which party, in the words of Mitt Romney, who leveled the accusation against Obama, is more guilty of having "thrown Israel under the bus" ("Mitt Romney accuses Obama of "throwing Israel under the bus"," CBS News, 19 May 2011).
Last month's presidential forum organized by the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) managed to ratchet up the rhetoric another notch. Invoking the ghost of Neville Chamberlain, Michele Bachmann accused Obama of having "confused engagement with appeasement." Romney blamed Obama for "immeasurably set[ting] back the prospect of peace in the Middle East." Rick Perry asserted the administration has unleashed a "torrent of hostility towards Israel."
Not to be outdone, Newt Gingrich took to the airwaves the next day to dub Palestinians an "invented people." Unnoticed until recently, Rick Santorum topped all other comers when he stated in November that "all the people who live in the West Bank are Israelis, they're not Palestinians" ("Pro-settler Santorum claims Mexico and the West Bank," Salon, 6 January 2012).
This rhetoric occasioned Arab American Institute founder James Zogby to lament that "all of this goes beyond the normal platitudes offered up in an election year. It was dangerous, shameful and crass pandering, making it clear how far today's GOP has moved from the reality-based foreign policy of the Bush-Baker era" ("GOP candidates discuss Israel-Palestine," 12 December 2011).
Obama's clear legacy of support for Israeli policy
Notwithstanding this political hot air, no political elite, whether in the Democratic or Republican Party, can legitimately be accused of "throwing Israel under the bus," least of all Obama. On behalf of protecting Israeli occupation and apartheid, the president has employed the only U.S veto at the UN during his term to derail a mild condemnation of Israel's illegal settlements and backtracked on his hope to see Palestine admitted as a member of the UN this year, while deploying the full arsenal of U.S diplomacy to block the initiative behind the scenes.
Also lost in the heat of this faux electoral debate is the fact that the Bush and Obama administrations, with a bipartisan rubber stamp in Congress, have tag-teamed to ramp up to unprecedented levels both military aid to Israel and the joint research, development and field testing of anti-missile projects financed separately by the Pentagon. According to the terms of a memorandum of understanding signed by the two countries in 2007, the U.S is scheduled to provide Israel with $30 billion in tax-payer funded weapons between 2009 and 2018, a 25 percent average annual increase over previous levels (Memorandum of understanding, 2007 [PDF]).
While presidential candidates make risible claims that the other party is abandoning support for Israel, this increasing partisan sniping is no laughing matter to those advocating for a strong U.S-Israel relationship. In September, the Center for Strategic and International Studies released a policy paper by Haim Malka, deputy director of its Middle East Program, warning that this "partisan wedge is likely to deepen, posing considerable challenges to Israel and the U.S-Israeli partnership."
This burgeoning fear led two stalwarts of the Israel lobby — the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee — to issue a National Pledge for Unity on Israel, which beseeches "national organizations, elected officials, religious leaders, community groups and individuals to rally around bipartisan support for Israel while preventing the Jewish State from becoming a wedge issue in the upcoming campaign season" ("National pledge for unity on Israel").