Hassan Barari
Arab News (Opinion)
October 26, 2012 - 12:00am

For decades, Israel has occupied a central place in American elections. It is hard to believe, but neither candidate for American presidential elections can afford to ignore assuring Israel of unqualified American support. Even when Israel’s policies in the region embarrass Washington, Israel gets away in time of elections.
In his article published in Haaretz a few days ago, Zvi Bar’el says, “Its menacing madness, its ongoing occupation, its threat of an attack on Iran and its violations of civil rights should have not only smashed its image to pieces, but have led the candidates to outdo each other in the abhorrence they feel for it. And yet, paradoxically, Israel has become the electoral slogan to which both sides of the American contest are trying to claim the copyright.” This quote cannot be more accurate in describing the place of Israel in American political thinking.
When the Cold War came to an end in 1989, many scholars debated whether Israel was a liability or an asset for the United States. The Iraqi-Kuwaiti crisis gave those who argued that Israel was a liability a further ammunitions. They felt vindicated. And yet, when Bill Clinton became a president, he adopted a very friendly attitude toward Israel.
Unquestionably, domestic politics in the United States explains much of the centrality of Israel for those bidding to become masters of the White House. The American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) — the most effective pro-Israel lobby — holds annual conferences. In elections time, the annual conference becomes a very important stop for candidates. They take the stage to confirm their pro-Israel credentials and to tell the audience that Israel’s survival and security are sacred matters. Moreover, some candidates go as far as warning the AIPAC of other candidates. The Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, said: “We’ve heard a lot of words from the administration. Its clear message has been to warn Israel to consider the costs of military action against Iran. I don’t believe we should be issuing public warnings.” The fact that Mitt Romney tried to paint President Obama as an erratic partner for Israel is a proof that Israel is an election slogan.
A few years ago, two prominent professor- John Mearsheimer and Stephan Walt- published a book arguing that the Israel lobby had informed American foreign policy in directions that hurt American strategic interests. Regardless of the criticisms that this book generated, it demonstrates the strength of pro-Israel forces in framing the administration’s vision in the Middle East. The inability of the American administration to adopt an even-handed approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict has — in part — its root in the fear of American presidents to get in an open clash with pro-Israeli forces in Washington.
Not surprisingly, the Mideast peace process was almost absent from the final debate between Obama and Romney. The Palestinians question was not mentioned at all. According to Hanan Ashrawi: “It was a sin of omission, and it was clearly the elephant in the room… They are talking about peace, stability, democracy, freedom and human rights, and they both didn’t touch the Palestinian question, which is the main issue in the region that’s the key to peace and embodies the need for human rights and role of law and justice.”
The focus on and the support for Israel in elections season should not be surprising. By and large, Israel has become a political slogan designed to first and foremost as a means of gaining the Jewish vote and financial contribution of this wealthy segment of the American society. That said, many American strategists argue that Israel is a strategic asset for the United States and therefore should not be abandoned in a changing and volatile environment in the Middle East.


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