Three months are left until mid-term elections in the US in which all House members (435) and over a third of the Senate seats (36) are up for grabs. However, the campaigns are already in full gear, and the power struggle between the Democrats and the Republicans has become the main issue for discussion on the American political public agenda. Naturally, the fight for Jewish votes and campaign contributions is also well underway.
Both the State of Israel and the American Jewish Community must do all that is in their power to make sure that the question of US support for Israel does not become a central issue for debate in these elections. An internal US debate on American-Israel relations would be detrimental to Israel's interest.
Those who oppose Israel in the US are pushing for just that; they would like “Joe the Plumber” to ask himself if Israel is, indeed, an important strategic ally of the US or is it mainly a burden. Americans have many reasons to choose red over blue this time, starting with the struggling economy and the rising unemployment rate to the controversial healthcare reform. However, contrary to what some American Jews may think, Israel should not become a partisan tool to be used by either party in the fight for election votes.
American Jews that are traditionally conservative voters have a clear interest in placing Israel at the front line in the struggle against Democrats. Historically, an overwhelming majority of American Jews tend to vote for the Democratic Party; therefore, every possible opening for a change would be welcomed by Republicans.
Israel, as well, must do everything that is in its power to stay neutral as the continuing support of both parties is strategically crucial. Israel is currently perceived as an important strategic ally of the US on both sides of the political isle, by members of both parties. Therefore, a situation where Democrats may develop hostility towards Israel for heavily supporting Republicans must be avoided.
Israel cannot take the risk of leaving its relations with the US to be dependent on the party in power in the House, Senate or the White House. A US-Israel bond must stay strong, stable and bi-partisan - no matter who is in control.
Show some restraint
We have been witness in recent years to the growing debate between the hawkish AIPAC and dovish J Street. In the meantime, a new organization has recently emerged, "The Emergency Committee for Israel’s Leadership". This organization consists mainly of two right-wing groups that are known to be supportive of Israel: the neoconservatives and the Evangelical Christians. One of the organization’s board members is Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol.
This new group attempts to target Democratic candidates who are claimed to be insufficient supporters of Israel. For the time being, the new organization declines to report the sources of its funding, but it does have money. A couple of weeks ago, the organization ran its first ad on TV during a Philadelphia Phillies game attacking Rep. Joe Sestak, the Democratic Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, for signing a letter criticizing Israel’s blockade of Gaza while not signing a letter calling for strengthening US-Israel security arrangements, which was circulated by AIPAC.
So, what is there to do? The answer is quite simple: Calm down. The entire Jewish leadership in the US should show some responsibility and restraint, and minimize the importance of the ruling party's identity as long as Israel's security and economic interests are kept. AIPAC and J Street (and any other organization that defines itself as pro-Israel) may disagree on the way the American government should act regarding the peace process, but all of them do share one thing in common: Keep US-Israel relations the same as they were in the last four decades.
Jerusalem, too, should restrain its activities. Over the last year, the prime minister and his inner circle have been putting a lot of pressure on members of Congress to soften the toughness expressed by the Obama Administration. It would be better to minimize this activity because even if it does well in the short run (as evident by Netanyahu's latest successful visit to the US), in the long run, Israel may have to pay a heavy price.
Ben Thein is a former Research Fellow on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He had also worked with Madeleine Albright and Dennis Ross. He is the founder of Israel's Young Professionals Forum on Global Issues.
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