NEWS: JERUSALEM NOTES

Your elections should not be about Israel

Israel and its American supporters strive to keep U.S. support for the Jewish State a matter of bipartisan agreement. The "special relationship" between the two countries transcends party politics, and should not become part of the debate. In the past few months of the present U.S. election campaign, however, Israel has been injected by some in both parties in ways that could undermine Israel's bipartisan standing. 

Meanwhile, some Members of Knesset have injected their own partisan views of the election while visiting the U.S., and some Americans think that the Prime Minister himself has approached- if not crossed-that line as well.   

The "special relationship" between the U.S. and Israel goes back decades and transcends Presidents and administrations. Through good times as well as challenges, our alliance has always been solid. Even in times of disagreement over policy, no U.S. administration, Republican or Democrat, has ever allowed our close relationship to be anything less than intimate and all-encompassing.

Our alliance is based on shared values: democracy, individual freedoms, respect for human rights and the rule of law. This bond is neither a Republican nor a Democrat invention. It connects our two countries in a network of common interests that transcend party politics. Both parties have placed Israel at the top of their agenda whenever they were in power, at the White House or in Congress.  

Opinion polls conducted over the years in the United States confirm that Americans, in vast numbers, stand with Israel. That trend is rising constantly, with a sharp increase following the tragedy of 9/11, when Americans were suddenly made aware of the common enemy facing the United States. Polls in Israel similarly have shown a consistent support for the U.S., vastly considered by Israelis as our best ally in the world.

At no time has our special alliance been more important than when we faced common dangers. The present turmoil in the Middle East (wrongly labeled "the Arab Spring"), the horrific civil war taking place in Syria and its possible ramifications in Lebanon where Hizballah is arming for its next offensive against Israel, and above all, Iran, are one big powder keg threatening us all.

Radicalism is a growing threat. To the radical, there is no distinction between Israeli and American. On 9/11, Israelis mourned with America. In the streets of Gaza and Arab capitals, there was rejoicing. When U.S. Embassies were recently attacked in Egypt and in Yemen, and when American diplomats were massacred in Libya, Israelis wept together with America. When American flags were burned in Cairo and in Benghazi, Israeli flags were burned along with them. We are the "Small Satan" to your "Great Satan." For the radicals who fight  us both, there is no distinction between American and Israeli. And they make no distinction between Republican and Democrat.

Lively and sometimes animated discussion of all issues is legitimate and even healthy in a vibrant democracy, giving our societies strength by exercising our systems of checks and balances, honing messages and clarifying messages Israel, however, has almost always stayed above that debate. Presidents from both parties have always stood by Israel, not because it appealed to one specific party voter base but because it is in the American national interest. Our shared values and our closeness have kept Israel as a rare issue absent from U.S. politics.

By using Israel as a wedge issue in U.S. elections, Israel loses its bipartisan place and becomes "another election topic." By debating Israel, it ceases being a bipartisan point of consensus, it becomes a tool in a battle for votes and in the long run, as part of a political debate, Israel might lose some of the support it now enjoys with both parties. The danger is that Israel might become closely associated with one party or the other. Never mind a presidential term of four years, we can't even afford to be in the political wilderness for one session of congress.

Bipartisan support for ever-strengthening American-Israeli relations is also cardinal if we wish to strengthen deterrence against our common enemies. They need to understand that no President and no party are "anti-Israel," that all parties and all candidates stand strongly on the side of Israeli-U.S. relations as a matter of national interest.

No matter who Americans vote for in the coming elections, Israelis know that the U.S. and Israel will stand firmly together. Let us hope that support for Israel is kept in everyone's heart-and out of the political debate.

Ofer Bavly is the director general of the JUF Israel office.

Posted: 10/4/2012 3:36:05 PM
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