In Foreign Policy, David Rothkopf includes this among “The 14 biggest lies of 2011″:
14. “I love Israel.”
Everybody in U.S. politics says it. Most of those who say it however, mean, “I want American Jews to think I love Israel enough to vote for me and give me money.” Think we will move the embassy? That they’ll make their first trip there? That the U.S. will stand loyally by Israel under any circumstances, even if Israel continues to complicate matters with its settlements policy and the rest of the region creeps toward something like democracy? Ha. This is right up there with “the check is in the mail,” “I’ll respect you in the morning” and that other one.
There is something both accurate and wildly off base about this assertion, just like there was something accurate and wildly off base in Tom Friedman’s “bought and sold” column.
It’s true that politicians court pro-Israel donors, a loyal and generous constituency that will reward a friend with campaign contributions and vote. And it is true that politicians sometimes overstate their degree of support, especially when it comes to moving that embassy.
But as for the suggestion that a candidate will no longer stand with Israel should it “complicate matters with its settlements policy” — where exactly is the precedent for that? For all the talk of Obama’s “pressure” on Israel, such pressure has boiled down to a tepid request for a settlement freeze (essentially rejected, with no consequences for Israel) and some rhetorical pique that meant nothing in terms of U.S. policy. If anything, Israel has been rewarded with a generous military assistance package and the government’s 100% support at the U.N. over the unilateral Palestinian statehood bid.
You have to go back to George H.W. Bush to find a president who was willing to put real pressure on Israel — and even then, the man who appointed James Baker as his secretary of state didn’t exactly run on a warm pro-Israel platform.
There is an echo of Friedman in Rothkopf’s paragraph — that U.S. politicians are insincere in their support for Israel, which would dry up if not for Jewish money.
But the truth remains that Israel remains a popular cause among voters across the country, in red states and blue. A politician risks little and gains much by expressing his or her love for Israel. A lot of Lefties would love to agree with Rothkopf — that candidates, once elected, will “betray” their pro-Israel constituents. But it ain’t happening — and groups like J Street, who would like politicians who profess to be pro-Israel to show a little tough love, will still be speaking for and of a minority of elected officials.