An election year can only serve to rock the boat at a time when the Middle East is already the center of a storm.-
By JPOST EDITORIAL
The United States is careening toward possibly one of its most divisive and chaotic elections in decades.
In a country that is increasingly divided, with a crescendo of anger at US President Donald Trump on the Left and deep support for him on the Right, it is clear that every issue in the US is today being politicized. Everyone is being asked to choose sides.
This is also unfortunately true of Israel’s place in US politics. It is inevitable that Israel will be forced into the spotlight during the election. Trump has made support for Israel a cornerstone of his policies. From moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem to recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan and changing policy on the West Bank, this has changed fundamental aspects of US-Israel relations and how the US relates to the Palestinians.
It is widely understood that some of these policies might be reversed by a future administration. Israel’s interests are to preserve the big policies, such as the embassy move, while being open to more US engagement with the Palestinians. Israel’s interests are in the big issues, like how to confront Iran, sharing intelligence, joint training partnering in tech development, and ensuring the continued military aid for systems like Iron Dome, the F-35 and more.
Many of these are consensus issues in Congress, where support for Israel has historically been broad and deep. However, the more Israel is forced to be an election-year issue, the more that support will be eroded.
Moderate and inspirational voices such as the late congressman John Lewis are leaving Capitol Hill, and a new generation is rising. There are rising voices on the radical Left who want the US Democratic Party to be more critical of Israel.
They want, for instance, to the Palestinian struggle to be seen as akin to the African-American civil rights struggle in the US, despite the lack of commonalities between these two realities.
Similarly, on the radical Right, there is a chorus of voices from people who too often skirt into racism and anti-Islamic views, which they then pair with their ostensible support for Israel. These voices are not helpful because they are so unpalatable to mainstream and left-leaning Americans that they tar Israel with their brush.
Israel must therefore be careful about who is embracing it and why. It also needs to be sensitive to rising “intersectionality” concepts on the Left that try to turn Black Lives Matter into an anti-Israel crusade by claiming, as one example, that Israel trains US police in how to use brutal tactics against black Americans.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Israeli police tactics, insofar as they may sometimes share discussions with US police, have been designed to reduce incidents of harm to protesters, not the opposite.
While Jewish Republicans are angling to learn from Israel and Jewish Democrats are gearing up for Joe Biden’s campaign, it is important to have a message of unity on Israel. Biden is a historic friend of Israel, as are many on his team. Israel must be careful not to become a partisan issue. Short-term political victories over who is more pro-Israel and who has done what for Israel do not help the long-term stability of the US-Israel relationship.
A message of unity can be found in congressional bipartisan support for more defense cooperation. It can be found in the joint drills that Israel and the US conduct and frequent meetings at all levels between Israeli and American officials.
With US politics becoming increasingly toxic, it is essential that Israel be seen as a unifier, not a divider. We don’t need people who want to make Israel a controversial issue in Washington.
Israel is in a difficult position when it comes to Iran, as well as other issues in the region – from China’s efforts to build more of Israel’s critical infrastructure to relations with Moscow over the threats emanating from Syria. All of this calls for sensitive handling.
An election year can only serve to rock that boat at a time when the Middle East is already the center of a storm.