The Israel Factor 1

There is little argument that a “special” relationship exists between the US and Israel. Whether this relationship is a good thing or bad for the US and/or Israel is something that can (and will) be debated. At present, this supposed friendly relationship is a monochromatic, rejectionist Likudnik version that overwhelms the US political process making real discussion all but impossible.

This relationship is not mysterious in some ways – Israel exists on a sea of US money and military support (many ask why this support continues unabated but we will leave that to another day). The relationship is consciously studied, nurtured and cultivated in ways that I leave (dare) others on this site to find the equal of internationally.

In an explicit nod to how important this process is for Israel, Haaretz now has a special feature tracking/measuring “Israel friendliness” for each US presidential candidate. Apparently all the US presidential candidates are aware of this poll and most likely, doing there best to stay high in the average rankings. For some strange reason, the same poll being done in El Salvador or Indonesia just doesn’t seem to have the same effect on the candidates. The Haaretz effort is a semi-“scientific” monthly poll using a panel of judges gathered allegedly from the left and the right from Israeli politics and academia. They are · Avi Ben-Tzvi · Eitan Gilboa · Dore Gold · Dan Halperin · Alon Pinkas · Tzvi Rafiah · Ron Robin · Yossi Shain

(Its hard to know how wide this spectrum actually is, most of those on the list are relatively known in established circles). Obvious lefties like Ilan Pappe or righties like Moshe Arons are conspicuously absent. I will be writing about this more in the future. Continuing, each panelist is asked a series of 5 questions, these are tallied and an overall score is calculated. The “friend-of-Israel” monthly index will ultimately result in a massive amount of data over the time period of the entire campaign. The good news is that this is not some obviously naďve setting out of what is a friend of Israel, indeed, the head of the project Shmuel Rosner (of Rosner’s domain at Haaretz) writes:

By now, you are clearly asking yourselves the crucial question: how does one define “friendly toward Israel.” For some, Bill Clinton’s intense involvement in efforts to secure an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement was evidence of his “friendliness” towards Israel. For others, it was evidence of an over-meddling president trying to ram a dangerous agreement down the throats of Israelis.

What about Jewish settlements? Is a president who opposes settlement in the West Bank a friend or foe of Israel? Is a president who opposes dialogue between Jerusalem and Damascus serving Israel‘s best interests? What about a president who promotes democratization in the Middle East? Or a president who supports military action against Iran? Or, for that matter, one who opposes military action against Iran, preferring the diplomatic option? And what of a president who supports a future unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank?

These questions on what constitutes a friend to Israel (FTI) are extremely pertinent to the whole enterprise yet hardly discussed in the US. The bad news, however, is that almost all the candidates are ranked relatively highly, with none reporting even the slightest critique of Israeli actions. It seems the candidates get the highest rankings by trying to out-do each other in denouncing Israel’s apparent enemies (there is no downside to this in US politics at the moment) and never saying anything about how the occupation might have some little bit to do with what is happening in the Middle East generally. Ultimately this type of “friendliness” will benefit neither country. Just as real friends don’t let friends drive drunk, the US should promote an even handed policy that is in the best interest of everyone-not a right-wing (and immoral and ineffective) Jabotinskyite “Iron Wall” dream of winning though pounding Palestinians to the ground.

We will be following this Israel factor poll and its associated analysis. We will probably not be covering similar polls out of Mongolia and Mali, although, no doubt worthy.