Does the narrow consideration of which presidential candidate is more “pro-Israel” really serve Israel's interests?
McCain is a friend of Israel, and is often seen as the candidate with stronger ties to Israel. This narrow consideration, however, does not in itself define what is truly in the best interest of either Israel or the United States. Those who truly worry about a strong Israeli-American relationship will want to ensure first and foremost that the United States continues as the world's undisputed superpower.
A weakened America will not be of much assistance to Israel no matter the level of support for Israel expressed by the White House. Obama embodies the best hope of revitalizing the US that in the long term represents the best interest for Israel and the America.
It is clear that during the eight years of the Bush presidency the US has lost much of its leverage worldwide. It is no longer the world's undisputed superpower, but rather, must operate on a world stage with other great powers such as China, Russia, and the European Union, along with emboldened powers like Iran and Venezuela. Its economy, previously the envy of the world, is now threatening to bring on a global financial crisis. The health system is in shambles, Medicare and Social Security are in jeopardy, and unemployment is rising. The US military is overstretched; its ability to respond to another threat (i.e. Iran) is in doubt, and the war on terror has come to a standstill. A famously optimistic nation is mired in self doubt and pessimism.
The next president will face a multitude of challenges, from jump starting the economy to improving America's relationship with both Europe and the Third World, reducing America's energy dependence on unfriendly regimes, yielding American power in a wiser and more sustainable manner, and restoring American prestige and power abroad. These challenges demand a president who not only is willing to try out new approaches, but a president who has a keen understanding of these issues, ranging from the economy and the environment to foreign policy and public diplomacy.
Obama has well defined policies in all of these areas, and his proposed policies give the United States its best chance to regain its lost glory. A revamped tax system would mean higher taxes only for the richest 5% of Americans, helping to balance the federal deficit while lowering taxes for the middle class. Obama refuses to give in to short term populist measures like a federal tax holiday on gas or the allure of off-shore oil drilling. Instead he supports investing in the development of clean alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar, thus weaning America off its dangerous oil addiction.
His foreign policy would engage more of America's allies; focus American military power more on the actual fight against terrorism while demanding more from Iraq's government, and freeing American power to face other potential threats.
When it comes to Israel Obama has left no room for ambiguity regarding his commitment towards Israel's security and prosperity. He has spoken out against the threat posed by Iran's development of nuclear weapons and its support of terrorism; he therefore sponsored the “Iran Sanctions Enabling Act” in the Senate, making it easier for local and state government to divest from companies doing business in Iran.
During the 2006 war in Lebanon Obama was adamant about Israel's right to defend itself, refusing to allow Israel to be pressured into any ceasefire that did not deal with the threat posed by Hizbullah. He has insisted that Hamas recognize Israel and stop all violence, declaring upon a recent visit to Sderot that "The state of Israel faces determined enemies who seek its destruction. But it also has a friend and ally in the United States that will always stand by the people of Israel."
A narrow focus on Israel, making Israel into a prime factor in an election in which both candidates are strongly pro-Israel, risks missing the larger picture and turning consensual support for Israel into yet another partisan issue, to Israel's strong detriment.
The larger picture posits that a strong America is not only an American concern; it is also a paramount Israeli interest. When it comes to Israel McCain's heart may be in the right place, but his policies would just continue America's slow but visible decline. Obama's superior policy proposals together with his support for Israel make for a clear-cut argument in support of an Obama presidency.
Chaim Landau has a Post-graduate degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics. He is an American-Israeli pro-Israel activist living in Jerusalem and has previously worked as a Legacy Heritage Fellow.