By Robert O. Freedman
12:34 PM EDT, September 10, 2012
During the current presidential election campaign, Republican nominee Mitt Romney, in a clear effort to win Jewish votes, has asserted that President Barack Obama has "thrown Israel under the bus." Some 78 percent of American Jews voted for President Obama in 2008, and Mr. Romney is trying to cut into that margin, particularly in swing states with significant Jewish populations such as Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Given the importance of Israel to the Jewish psyche, Mr. Romney is trying to demonstrate that, because of Mr. Obama's alleged lack of support for Israel, he is not worthy of the Jewish vote.
But is Mr. Romney's charge accurate? In fact, on key issues of Israeli security, Mr. Obama has been the best U.S. president for Israel in history.
In 2007, during a period of economic prosperity in the United States, former President George W. Bush signed into law a bill providing Israel with $30 billion worth of military assistance over a 10 year period, or $3 billion per year. President Obama, at a time of economic stringency in the United States, has not only supported the $3 billion per year in military aid but has actually increased it by $275 million to provide Israel with additional Iron Dome anti-missile systems, which have already protected it from rocket attacks from Gaza.
In addition, in the arena of international diplomacy, President Obama has championed Israel's cause. The U.S. has regularly vetoed anti-Israeli resolutions in the UN Security Council, and it took strong action last fall to prevent Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Authority from using the United Nations as a mechanism to gain Palestinian statehood without having to sign a peace treaty with Israel.
Indeed, President Obama's support for Israel has been so strong that even Israel's hard-line Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman has recently stated: "To the credit of the United States, it is the only country that stood by our side in struggles at the UN, the Security Council, and UNESCO. The U.S. increased funding for Iron Dome. Even if we disagree sometimes, and even if there is commentary that suggests otherwise, we must say we have no better friend than the U.S."
If even Israeli hardliners like Mr. Lieberman recognize President Obama as a genuine friend of Israel, what is the explanation for Mr. Romney's continuing assertions that Mr. Obama has "thrown Israel under the bus"?
There are two factors. The first lies in the less than cordial relationship between Mr. Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This is grounded in the different world views of the two men. Unlike the warm personal ties between George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, which were based, in large part, on a similar conservative worldview, President Obama is a left-of-center liberal, while Prime Minister Netanyahu is a right-of-center conservative. They simply do not see the world in the same way. Consequently, Mr. Romney has sought to exploit the frequent clashes between Messrs. Obama and Netanyahu.
The other basis of Mr. Romney's criticism lies in the two main policy differences between the two presidents. The first deals with Mr. Netanyahu's policy of the expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Mr. Obama — and the vast majority of American Jews — oppose settlement expansion because they see in it a major obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. The other difference lies in the proper time for a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, with Mr. Netanyahu seeing the need to hit Iran as soon as it acquires the capability of producing a nuclear weapon — a time period Mr. Netanyahu sees in months, if not weeks — while Mr. Obama, and most American Jews (and most Israelis, including a significant number of Israel's security establishment) are willing to give economic sanctions and possibly diplomacy more time to operate.
In sum, given President Obama's clear support for Israel, as well as the conservative, if not reactionary Republican platform on social issues such as abortion, it appears that Mr. Romney's effort to win over large numbers of American Jews is not likely to be very successful.
Robert O. Freedman is Peggy Meyerhoff Pearlstone Professor of Political Science Emeritus at Baltimore Hebrew University and is currently visiting professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University. His most recent book is "The United States And Israel: Six Decades Of Relations" (Westview Press, 2012). His email is email@example.com.
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