Thursday, August 27, 2020

By Daled Amos

In a 2004 article he wrote for the Jewish Press, Rick Richman describes an experiment to evaluate John Kerry's support for Israel, in response to a reader who commented that he was going to vote for Kerry because his record on Israel was "second to none."

Intrigued by the idea of how to quantify "second to none" support of Israel, Richman got a list of Kerry's Israel voting record on 60 bills and resolutions -- and applied the following methodology:
I disregarded the 17 measures that passed with 90 or more votes (out of a possible 100), on grounds that these were not exactly profile-in-courage moments.
...Then I discounted the 18 measures that garnered between 82 and 89 votes. You don`t get a "second to none" rating by simply hanging around with the 80-plus percent crowd.
I decided the best indicator of the depth of Kerry`s support would be the instances where the pro-Israel position got 60 votes or less -- by definition the most controversial situations, the ones where Kerry's vote mattered most.
That left 10 bills, of which Kerry voted pro-Israel in six instances.

The measures Kerry did not support were:
the pro-Israel position in the FY 2000 Foreign Aid Conference Report
o  a bill calling on the president not to recognize a unilaterally declared Palestinian state
o  the pro-Israel "Peace Through Negotiations Act,"
o  a letter to the State Department, demanding they include Hamas in its annual report on terrorism.
That gave Kerry a 60% rating -- more 'nuanced' than Kerry's own boast that
I have a 100 percent record -- not a 99, a 100 percent record -- of sustaining the special relationship, the friendship that we have with Israel.
I was reminded of Richman's experiment while writing the first draft of this post, examining the Joe Biden/Kamala Harris record on Israel. I had written something like that on Biden last year, and thought I would update it and add details about Harris as well.

But the issue is larger than political statements of support for Israel.

These days, others have co-opted Jewish issues and grant themselves the authority to define Jewish identity (White supremacy), what qualifies as antisemitism (very little, unless the right-wing does it) and what Zionism is (evil).

And now, with the 2020 presidential election just a few months off, who is the better supporter of Israel -- Biden or Trump?

The answer is probably only academic anyway. Jews vote for Democrats. Period. Besides, while polls indicate that the vast majority of Jews claim to support Israel, Israel is not one of the top issues Jews consider when voting.

One of Biden's major selling points as a 'friend of Israel' is that his long term as senator has given him the opportunity to know various Israeli leaders and lots of stories. Those may be entertaining, but are not much of an indicator, especially when Israel is such a lightning rod for controversy and outright smears.

On the other hand, when discussing Biden it is easy to point to his gaffes and misstatements of fact -- just as easily as one can point to Trump's over-the-top statements and tweets.

There is plenty in the general behavior of both candidates to question and criticize -- their character flaws are not unknown. Having established that both Biden and Trump are human, what each of them says is not as important as what each has done -- not on the campaign trail, but while in office.

As vice president, Biden supported Obama's policies, not all of which were beneficial to Israel.

The Iran deal comes to mind. Biden not only went along with it and supported it, but has also expressed his willingness to resurrect the deal as president. Last year Biden said:
If Iran moves back into compliance with its nuclear obligations, I would re-enter the JCPOA as a starting point to work alongside our allies in Europe and other world powers to extend the deal’s nuclear constraints.
That raises a second issue -- Biden's role in the UN vote on Resolution 2334 at the end of Obama's term, declaring all Jewish settlements in the West Bank -- including the Old City of Jerusalem -- to be in violation of international law. The resolution passed by 14-0, with the US deliberately abstaining.

An article in Tablet Magazine indicates that as part of the Obama administration plan against Israel, Biden called the Ukrainian president in order to ensure that their UN representative voted for the resolution and did not merely abstain:
Tablet has confirmed that one tangible consequence of the high-level U.S. campaign was a phone call from Vice President Joseph Biden to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, which succeeded in changing Ukraine’s vote from an expected abstention to a “yes.” According to one U.S. national security source, the Obama Administration needed a 14-0 vote to justify what the source called “the optics” of its own abstention.

“Did Biden put pressure on the Ukrainians? Categorically yes,” said a highly-placed figure within the Israeli government with strong connections to Ukrainian government sources, who confirmed to Tablet that the Americans had put direct pressure on both the Ukrainian delegation—and on Poroshenko personally in Kiev. “That Biden told them to do it is 1000% true,” the source affirmed.
Even if one could claim Biden was merely "following orders," and would not consider opposing Israel so aggressively as president, it is not hard to imagine Biden being guided into doing something similar by his advisors.

Another concern is the decidedly radical change in the Democratic Party against Israel.

Last week, during the Democratic National Convention’s virtual caucus meeting for the Muslim Delegates and Allies Assembly, Linda Sarsour spoke -- confirming that the Democratic Party was their party.

When complaints were made about Sarsour, a Biden spokesman made a statement:
“Joe Biden has been a strong supporter of Israel and a vehement opponent of anti-Semitism his entire life, and he obviously condemns her views and opposes BDS, as does the Democratic platform … She has no role in the Biden campaign whatsoever.”
That was what was said publicly, but apparently, the Biden campaign apologized to Sarsour privately for that statement, as reported by Middle East Eye this past Sunday.

But that was not the end of the matter either:
On Monday, the Biden campaign disputed that the call was an apology for its reaction to Sarsour.

“We met to affirm [former] Vice President Biden’s unshakeable commitment to working with Arab, Palestinian and Muslim Americans, and to standing up against anti-Muslim prejudice, and to make clear that we regretted any hurt that was caused to these communities,” Biden campaign senior adviser Symone Sanders told JNS. “We continue to reject the views that Linda Sarsour has expressed.”
At this point, who even knows anymore where Biden stands on the issue.

But if he is going to condemn antisemites and reject their views, Biden may as well go all the way...

Biden and Sharpton. Screengrab from Facebook

And that is where Kamala Harris comes in.

Last year, Harris defended Ilhan Omar against criticism of her attack on AIPAC and accusations of Jewish dual loyalty

Harris came to Omar's defense:
We all have a responsibility to speak out against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and all forms of hatred and bigotry.

But like some of my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, I am concerned that the spotlight being put on Congresswoman Omar may put her at risk. [emphasis added]
Harris also joined Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in defending Omar, saying
“I also believe there is a difference between criticism of policy or political leaders, and anti-Semitism,
Daniel Greenfield questions how it is that Harris did not see Omar's comments as a threat to Jews, but saw the protests against those statements to be a threat against Omar.

For that matter, how is accusing people of dual loyalty to Israel a criticism of policy?

Greenfield points out that Harris's choice of chief of staff is also problematic:
Karine Jean-Pierre, was the national spokeswoman and senior adviser for MoveOn. The radical group has a long history of trafficking in anti-Semitism and attacking the Jewish state. It even opposed New York Sen. Chuck Schumer because, in its own words, “our country doesn’t need another Joe Lieberman.”
So it is not surprising that Jean-Pierre claimed:
under [Netanyahu's] leadership of Israel, according to the United Nations, Israel may have committed war crimes in its attacks on Gazan protesters.
This in addition to bashing AIPAC.
And this is Harris's chief of staff.

Putting aside that Harris's step-children call her "momalah" or that as a kid she used to collect money to plant trees in Israel, Harris appears to be part of the radicalizing trend in the Democratic party against Israel. Keep in mind that Kamala Harris has not boycotted AIPAC, has not supported BDS and co-sponsored legislation opposing UN Resolution 2334.

So why does she have a chief of staff who says Israel is guilty of war crimes?

How long can she straddle the widening chasm in the Democratic Party between those who support Israel and those who want to weaken it?

And what would 4 years of Biden, with the pressure to resurrect negotiations for a 2 state solution, mean for Israel against the backdrop of an increasingly 'progressive' Democratic Party?

As for Trump, last year, in a letter to Nancy Pelosi before the impeachment hearings, Trump listed what he considered his pro-Israel accomplishments:
o  The US recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,
o  The American Embassy was opened in Jerusalem,
o  The US recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
o  Secretary of State Pompeo announced the new US position that "the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law."
o  Pompeo also gave Israel clear support for its operations against Iran’s presence in Syria and elsewhere
We can throw into the mix that this year Trump came out with his new peace plan, which broke away from the 2 state solution model -- and he played a key role in the new peace agreement between Israel and the UAE.

And of course, Trump pulled the US out of Obama's (and Biden's) Iran nuclear deal.

Accomplishment, no matter how many, are not in and of themselves proof that they are successful and beneficial -- and Jews are still not running from the Democratic camp to vote for Trump.

But compared with where Obama -- and Biden -- left Israel at the end of 2016, Israel is in a better position, and not because aid is being thrown at it to buy US arms to protect itself from enemies like Iran that the previous administration strengthened.

Some, like The Wall Street Journal, think that Trump has made a positive difference in the Middle East in general and for Israel in particular.

The Wall Street Journal's Editor-At-Large, Gerry Baker, writes
For those of you with deficient memories, let’s review this strategic record of the two decades before President Trump took office: the ascent of al Qaeda and 9/11; the catastrophe of Iraq and the messy, bloody stalemate of Afghanistan; the collapse of U.S. authority in the Middle East in the face of civil war in Syria and Libya; the rise of Islamic State; a resurgent Russia gorging itself on Eastern Europe; and the inexorable, unchallenged rise to superpower status of China.

Part of the problem the foreign policy establishment has with Mr. Trump is that it’s hard to stomach that a dilettante has been so effective. Whatever you think of the president, his inconsistencies, his curious taste for the world’s autocrats and his bombast, his efforts have proved more consequential than those of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment that came before him. On the three biggest strategic challenges the U.S. confronts—the Middle East, China and the Western alliance—the president has radically reoriented U.S. policy.

...The Trump administration dispensed with it all: no enforced rapprochement for Israel with recalcitrant Palestinians, no American blood shed to build neoconservative sandcastles of democracy, no illusory engagement with the mullahs.
But Baker is not saying that Trump's policies are an unmitigated success -- or necessarily a success at all, (yet):
It’s too soon to assert with confidence that this Trumpian tripod of strategic innovation has irrevocably advanced America’s objectives. But at the very least it represents a sharp break from years of bipartisan failure.
It would be interesting to see what another 4 years of Trump could bring.

Who knows, maybe Trump might even avoid getting impeached a second time.


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