Putting Politics Above Israel

Opinion

By Mel Levine

Published October 02, 2008, issue of October 10, 2008.
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Policies that endure require bipartisan political support. And because Israel’s American supporters historically have placed its security ahead of partisan politics, Israel has enjoyed strong bipartisan backing in the United States.

During the 10 years in which I served as a member of the United States Congress, I often introduced bills that were described by analysts as “pro-Israel” legislation. I did so because they were good for America as well as for Israel.

I regularly asked senior Republican colleagues, such as Jack Kemp and Vin Weber, to work with me and other Democrats as prominent co-sponsors of those bills. Together, we obtained support for higher levels of aid to Israel, opposed risky arms sales to Israel’s enemies and encouraged a range of cooperative American-Israeli efforts that benefited both countries. Often, we would speak at the same events, explaining the importance of bipartisan support for Israel. I recall one such occasion when then-congressman John McCain and I traveled to Las Vegas to deliver that message.

Unfortunately, the Republican Jewish Coalition recently has placed divisive partisanship above Israel’s long-term interests by engaging in reckless assaults against two proven friends of Israel — Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Obama believes Israel’s security is “sacrosanct,” and he has stressed that America’s commitment to it is “non-negotiable.” Biden, for his part, has a long record of leadership in supporting Israel on Capitol Hill. Yet because Obama and Biden are the Democratic nominees for president and vice president of the United States, the RJC has engaged in a relentless series of unfair attacks against them.

Traditionally, analysts who care about Israel evaluate the record of public officials and provide a fair assessment, based on facts. Instead, the RJC has distorted the records of the Democratic nominees.

The RJC has engaged in what it claims is an honest telephone poll, but which others have more accurately described as a “push poll.” The RJC has refused to release a list of the questions it is asking in its poll, but several recipients of the phone calls have stepped forward to reveal its contents. The questions appear aimed at fueling false notions that Hamas supports Obama and that Obama’s Middle East advisers are anti-Israel, among other smears that have been thrown at the Democratic nominee.

On September 29, the RJC released an ad alleging that Obama’s advisers are “pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel, and even hostile to America.” In fact, Senator Obama’s actual Middle East advisers are a respected group of pro-Israel Middle East experts.

Other ads by the RJC attacking Obama have used similar scare tactics. They have prominently featured photos of Patrick Buchanan, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and even the late Ayatollah Khomeini.

On August 26, the RJC issued a press release attacking Senator Biden’s record on Israel, calling it “inconsistent.” Such an assertion would be laughable for anyone familiar with the senator’s record. In 1987, Senator Biden and I introduced legislation, commonly known then as “Biden-Levine,” which would have made it substantially easier for Congress to block weapons sales deemed harmful to Israel. I worked closely with him during my time in Congress and learned first-hand how deeply and consistently committed he is to Israel’s security and survival.

I believe that John McCain is committed to Israel’s security. I also suspect Senator McCain knows that Obama and Biden are, too. If McCain wishes to reclaim any credibility for “straight talk,” he should repudiate the RJC’s dishonest and dishonorable tactics. These ads and claims not only distort the records and views of proven friends of Israel, they are also inconsistent with the Jewish ethic of telling the truth.

Israel’s supporters still have too many important battles to fight to allow ourselves to be diverted by partisan mendacity. When Israel faces the type of serious challenges presented by a resurgent Iran, Hamas controlling Gaza and Hezbollah gaining strength, those of us who care deeply about Israel’s security should be working together to find real solutions to these challenges. Israel continues to need bipartisan support on a range of issues, including maintaining appropriate levels of American financial support for Israel, working to deepen American-Israeli defense cooperation and developing collaborative approaches to find real alternatives to our dependence on fossil fuels.

We should be thanking our friends, not vilifying them — and deepening the bipartisan heritage of leaders like Jacob Javits and Abe Ribicoff, who would have repudiated the disreputable tactics employed in this election cycle by the RJC.

Mel Levine serves as a Middle East policy adviser to Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama. He is a former member of Congress from California and a former board member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.


As the race for the White House continues, the Forward presents the views of policy makers, opinion-shapers and even a politician or two in a non-partisan forum offering a balanced range of opinion. The views expressed are not endorsed by the Forward, which does not support or oppose candidates for public office. This series is intended to help our readers educate themselves on the issues surrounding the quadrennial November Dilemma.


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