By Amanda Walgrove
Last week, Sarah Palin visited Israel and met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and other members of Israel’s right-wing coalition, including Likud Chairman, Danny Danon. Many have questioned whether or not this was an early campaign move; many GOP members who may throw their hats into the Presidential ring—Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, and Haley Barbour—have recently made visits to Israel as well. “It’s not the Ames straw poll, but I do think a visit to Israel is an important stop for folks who are running for president,” Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matthew Brooks told Politico. “So much of what our commander-in-chief will deal with in the White House is rooted in this part of the world.” Besides being a shiny credential on the checklist for candidacy, Palin’s visit also serves to put another face to the name of what has become an increasingly conservative stance on what it means to be “pro-Israel.”
Tea Partiers have been split between what Walter Russell Mead has deemed the “Palinite” and “Paulite” approaches to foreign policy. The “proactive” tactics Palin endorses call for maintaining a tight alliance with Israel. Garnering significantly less support from the GOP is Ron Paul’s “passive” approach, which suggests that America distance itself from the Israeli-Palestine conflict and avoid supporting one over the other. Speaking out about the need to condemn Palestine for attacks on Israel, Republican House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, responded to the recent bombing in Jerusalem by saying, “The White House must do more to tamp down anti-Israel incitement in the Palestinian territories. That’s why I support bipartisan efforts in the House and Senate that call on the White House to put an end to anti-Israel incitement in the Palestinian territories.” But how has the median Jewish American constituency reacted, considering the latest tragedies that Israel has faced?
Dominating the American Jewish landscape, the right-leaning AIPAC fully supports the policies of any Israeli government, including the current one, stating on its website, “AIPAC works to secure vital U.S. foreign aid for Israel to help ensure Israel remains strong and secure.” Jeremy Ben-Ami, creator of the three-year-old J Street, felt that this conservative domination left a gap for American Jews who wanted to commune and raise money for a more peaceful solution to conflicts between Israel and Palestine. While a tagline of “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” has a positive ring to it, the controversy lies in the idea that Palestine should not be reprimanded for attacks on Israel, but rather, they must be persuaded to make a peace agreement. For supporters of J Street, questions arise such as: Is someone anti-Israel if he or she believes that the Palestinians deserve the same rights as the Jews? Can someone be pro-Israel without fully supporting the Israeli government’s decisions?
Israeli lawmakers held a hearing on Wednesday to decide the answers to these questions, discerning what role Jews living outside the country should have in Israeli policymaking. A recent poll showed that only 14% of Israelis had ever heard of J Street and only 19% believed that the American Jewish community should provide unconditional support for Israeli politics. However, right-wing Israeli politicians, believing America’s support to be crucial, think that J Street verges upon treason by not backing the decisions of the Israeli government. Lawmaker Otniel Schneller, a member of the centrist Kadima party, said at the hearing, “J Street is not a Zionist organization. It cannot be pro-Israel,” suggesting that J Street’s display of love for Israel “has strings attached.” While extreme critics of J Street have labeled the lobby group “anti-Israel,” Danon said he would call for a committee vote to have J Street labeled a pro-Palestinian rather than a pro-Israeli group, a move Ben-Ami said could compromise J Street’s appeal in the United States.
Without having to label any group or belief as the “anti,” it’s easy to see that there are different definitions of what people consider to be “pro-Israel.” After the recent brutal murder of the Fogel family in Israel, representatives from the left and right sent letters to President Obama, advising him on how to stand with Israel in the conflict with Palestine. Obama’s dedication to the “Pro-Peace” sentiment is supported by J Street and its passionate followers, but remains neglected by Netanyahu’s administration. Meanwhile, Republicans have been accusing Obama of taking a weak stance in supporting Israel, especially after his reluctance to veto a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s settlement policy.
Ahead of Palin’s visit to Israel last week, an Obama official reportedly joked that the Netanyahu was “waiting for President Palin.” But preoccupation with American campaign strategies, lobbyists, and party lines seems increasingly distracting during a time of violent unrest in the Middle East. The real problem is that powerful stances on foreign policy are becoming dangerously polarized, to a point where disingenuous jabs will be made from each side. AIPAC was recently condemned for using the recent bombing in Jerusalem in its fund-raising and J Street has been accused of criticizing other organizations in order to promote a more leftist standing. Instead of figuring out who is centrist, hypocritical, leftist, or conservative, the focus should be put back on a practical strategy for the safety of Israeli citizens and the ways in which America can use its resources to help.