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Campaign 2012: Playing the Israel Card

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2012's presidential contest took another weird turn when Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, appeared on America's Sunday talk shows to complain the Obama Administration wasn't doing enough to stop Iran from making an atomic bomb.  Netanyahu's orchestrated appearance was another Republican ploy to corner the US Jewish vote.

On September 16th Netanyahu said, "the only way to stop Iran [is] for the United States to draw a distinct "red line' on that country's nuclear activity and declare that crossing it would trigger military intervention."  The implication was that President Obama hasn't drawn that "red line."  But Obama has with his vow that the US will not allow Iran to acquire an atomic bomb.  (The President hasn't made public the process he would use to determine Iran has crossed the "red line," but Obama shouldn't have to reveal this, as it would compromise the US intelligence process.)

Netanyahu's calculated attempt to help his friend, Mitt Romney, was part of the long-term Republican strategy to win over Jewish voters. 

When Karl Rove ran the Bush political machine, Republicans strove to diminish four historic Democratic constituencies: voters of color, Union families, trial lawyers, and Jews.  Rove thought the key to winning over greater numbers of Jewish voters was portraying the Bush Administration as Israel's unwavering advocate.  His strategy had modest success: Bush captured 22 percent of the Jewish vote in 2004, up from 19 percent in 2000.  (McCain got 21 percent in 2008.)  For Rove, the faux pro-Israel stance was a political "twofer": it not only worked well with Jewish voters who saw Israel as their top issue, but it was also effective with conservative Christian voters who saw the sanctification of Israel as a pre-requisite for the Rapture.  Republicans have continued down the same path.  In June, Rove penned a Wall Street Journal column predicting Obama would lose in 2012 because, "Jewish voters are upset with his policy toward Israel."

The second part of the GOP strategy seeks to bolster Romney's credibility on foreign policy.  Romney has tried to portray himself as more aggressive than the President, claiming,"Obama has thrown Israel under the bus."  However, the latest New York Times/CBS News poll shows that foreign policy is not a big concern for most voters and 50 percent of poll respondents are satisfied with President Obama's handling of foreign policy versus 36 percent who are not.  (A recent CBS News poll found that Obama had a significant edge over Romney when voters were asked which candidate that had confidence in to handle an international crisis.)

The third part of the Republican strategy is to attract wealthy Jewish donors.  Although Jews constitute only two percent of the American population, they have a disproportionate political impact: "Pro-Israel interests have contributed $56.8 million in individual, group and soft money donations to federal candidates and party committees since 1990...In contrast, Arab-American and Muslim PACs contributed slightly less than $800,000 during the same (1990-2006) period." In 2008, Jewish sources accounted for 40-60 percent of Democratic fundraising and 20-35 percent of Republican.  That's shifted in 2012.  Romney has been particularly successful attracting Jewish contributors to his super PAC.   The most notable Jewish Romney donor is billionaire Sheldon Adelson; Forbes magazine reported that Adelson's contributions to the Republican nominee "could top $100 million."

Netanyahu and Romney have been friends since the seventies when they worked together at Boston Consulting Group.  But the Israeli Prime Minister is far from a pawn in the GOP game.  Netanyahu's Likud Party has long benefited from Republican policy.

In 1996, Netanyahu was Prime Minister of Israel and Ariel Sharon was a powerful ally -- Sharon served as Prime Minister from 2001-2006.  Netanyahu and Sharon permitted Israeli settlements on the West Bank to more than double -- the settler population grew from 140,000 to more than 300,000.  The bulk of this growth occurred during the Bush years and Republicans did nothing to stop it.

During the last week of May, 2011, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Washington, and rejected long-standing policy about Israel's borders with Palestine and Jordan, "it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949." Republicans applauded this position.  Mitt Romney has endorsed it and Netanyahu's claim that "Jerusalem must be the capitol of Israel."

In Romney's secret donor speech, he repeated another Netanyahu line, "The Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace."

 A dangerous situation has developed and it's surprising that it hasn't gotten more notice.  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to influence the 2012 presidential election by garnering votes for his friend, Mitt Romney.  And, Republicans have become staunch supporters of Israel's conservative Likud Party. As a result, the GOP has abandoned the long-term Israel policy of the United States and its allies -- policy that until 2000 was bi-partisan.

 

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.

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