Magazine article The Christian Century

The Unasked Question

Magazine article The Christian Century

The Unasked Question

Article excerpt

BY MID-MARCH, Democratic presidential candidates will have participated in 20 debates, while the Republican candidates will have debated 21 times. None of these debates offered any substantive discussion of Israel and Palestine.

In a recent forum on the U.S. presidential elections, published by Bitterlemons, an international organization based in Jerusalem, Mark Perry of the think tank Conflicts Forum wrote:

   None of the candidates has said a word about the
   Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would ruffle any feathers ("We're
   not even going to talk about the issue during the campaign," a
   senior campaign official told me) and all have expressed their
   uncompromising support for Israel, their unyielding condemnation of
   terror and their disdain for the irrational shortsightedness of
   Israel's enemies.

American politicians do not reach the presidential Super Bowl by offending the strong pro-Israel lobby groups in the U.S. Politicians see what happens to academics, former presidents, journalists, archbishops and just plain ordinary citizens who forget to abide by the mantra-like question: "Is it good for Israel?"

This caution, however, does not prevail in Israel. The mantra is the same there, but there is more willingness to explore different answers to the question.

In a Bitterlemons online forum, Alon Pinkas, former consul-general of Israel in New York, explained how different segments of Israeli society view the U.S. presidential elections. Some Israelis, Pinkas says, believe that "every four years Americans are privileged to cast a vote on the omnipresent question of 'who will be the best president for Israel.'" This group expects every U.S. president to focus on the Middle East, and on "every issue that Israel cannot or will not deal with alone."

Within this group, Pinkas continues, some want an American president who is a "true friend," meaning a president who "profoundly dislikes and distrusts Arabs, [a president] who will look the other way when Israel deceives and cheats on dismantling illegal outposts and who will forever support 'the only democracy in the Middle East.'"

Others in Israel are more pragmatic. They want the U.S. to "save Israel from itself" by exerting pressure on Israel's government and by demanding the removal of settlements.

Another view comes from Haaretz senior editor Akiva Eldar, who calls Israel's settlement policy a failure that has "undermined Zionism. …

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