Back from break: The issue that dare not speak its name in presidential debates

Hat tip to Philip Weiss for uncovering Mother Jones’ documentation of the obvious: feeling subject to a settler-mentality lobby that is firmly planted in the US, the media and politicians collude in their own “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to US foreign policy in Israel-Palestine. It’s hard not to envision candidates and major league media outlets as the infamous can’t hear-can’t speak-can’t talk monkeys.

Remember back when Howard Dean, running for president with a former president of AIPAC, no less, as his campaign co-chair, had the audacity to suggest a more “evenhanded” policy regarding Israel and Palestine. Within seconds, 34 Democratic members of Congress (and Abe Foxman) rushed to admonish him a warning letter affirming our unique, and anything but even-handed friendship with Israel. How DARE you suggest, well, balance?

Well, now we’ve got a parade of debates between presidential hopefuls, the perfect opportunity to once and for all get some clarity on candidates’ positions on the occupation, on Gaza, on Sderot, on peace negotiations. Right?

Wrong.

Justin Elliott at Mother Jones reports on 11 Democratic debates:

In nine of the 11 debates, the terms Israel, Palestinians, and Gaza were either never uttered or were mentioned once or twice peripherally. For instance, Joe Biden said at the October 30 NBC debate that Pakistan has missiles that can reach Israel. The two exceptions were the November 15 Democratic debate in Las Vegas, where Bill Richardson, unprompted, briefly outlined his ideas for a two-state solution, and the December 4 Democratic radio debate on NPR, in which moderator Robert Siegel posed the single question about Israel of the past 11 debates. Unfortunately, the query was effectively avoided.

What is shocking and new is that any reporter even dared to ask a candidate about these things at all. Even then, NPR’s Robert Siegal hedged his bets, affirming the “rationality” of supporting illegal settlement growth and land grabs in a question presented first to John Edwards:

“When we do things that policymakers in Washington may think are rational, like very strong support of Israel, that also upsets a lot of those 1 billion Muslims you’ve described. How would you, Senator Edwards … answer the complaint that the U.S., in its support of Israel, is so pro-Israeli, it can’t be an evenhanded, honest broker of matters and is anti-Muslim?”

And still, Justin Elliott at Mother Jones writes:

Edwards proceeds to ignore the question, makes a point about Ahmadinejad and says to improve relations with Muslims we must “help make education available to fight global poverty.” He makes no mention of Israel/Palestine. Siegel then turns to Obama. The senator says we need to close Guantanamo and talk not just to our friends but to our enemies. He, like Edwards, doesn’t touch the Israel issue. To their credit, Dodd and Kucinich do a much better job at engaging.

So in the past 11 debates the grand total of references to the Gaza Strip is zero. Considering that Israel is our biggest ally in the Middle East and the biggest recipient of U.S. aid in the world, isn’t it about time the candidates were asked what they think of our ally’s destructive policies in Gaza? Will any moderator have the courage to pose the question?

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