While the theme of this year’s policy conference was centered on America and Israel’s shared values, the differences on policies, which have a profound effect on both Israel’s security and U.S.-Israeli relations, could not have been more visible.
The line that every speaker on the podium or at the breakout sessions repeatedly reiterated, was – “Israel’s security is unshakable,” and that “Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.” But the approach that each side took as they brandished their pro-Israel credentials and were applauded by the 13,000 Jewish and pro-Israel attendees, attested to a partisan battle over the degree of American commitment to Israel and its security.
The most noticeable difference between this year and the last was President Obama’s record on Israel with regard to Iran heading into a heated election cycle. On one hand, the Republicans are seizing the opportunity to capitalize on Obama’s perceived weakness in this area, tilting the Jewish vote towards the GOP, while the Democrats are aggressively pushing back the critics and defending the president’s record. In a year where every vote could decide the election in swing states with a larger Jewish population, this places President Obama in a somewhat precarious position.
In an attempt to win over disappointed pro-Israel voters, President Obama sought to bolster his position by emphasizing his commitment to Israel. Anxiously proclaiming that his record over the past three years in office is very noticeable, “at every crucial juncture, at every fork in the road, we have been there for Israel. Every single time,” he noted.
“You don’t just have to count on my words. You can look at my deeds,” he said, noting increased U.S. spending on defense aid to Israel, improved sharing by the two nations on intelligence and military matters, and his administration’s support during diplomatic crises in the Middle East.
Not letting the President set the stage and narrative of the argument, The Republican leaders and presidential candidates clearly dismissed that notion, by suggesting that the Obama administration had abandoned Israel by allowing the Islamic regime to go on enriching uranium as one step ahead before obtaining nuclear capabilities.
“This president not only dawdled in imposing crippling sanctions. He has opposed them,” Romney said in his speech on Tuesday.
“The current administration has distanced itself from Israel and visibly warmed to the Palestinian cause,” Mitt Romney, current Republican front-runner, told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
“As I’ve sat and watched this play out on the world stage, I have seen a president who has been reticent,” Rick Santorum assailed the President. “He says he has Israel’s back. From everything I’ve seen from the conduct of this administration, he has turned his back on the people of Israel.”
The DNC anticipated the Republican claim by releasing an online video to members of the media and specifically Jewish press and activists that shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying, “President Obama spoke about his ironclad commitment to Israel’s security. He rightly said that our security cooperation is unprecedented, and he has backed those words with deeds.” The video aims to quell concerns over Obama’s approach to Iran and his commitment to Israel. “The bond between the U.S. and Israel—it’s always been beyond politics. But now Washington Republicans are breaking that tradition,” the voice-over says. “Launching negative ads that the Associated Press says ‘ignore reality.’ The facts? Under President Obama U.S. funding for Israel is at an all-time high. Billions for Israel’s security.”
Another online video included clips of Obama telling AIPAC on Sunday that he, like Romney, would try to prevent Iran from going nuclear.
Robert Wexler, also on the conference call graded Obama’s record on Israel as an A+ – for simply “being there for Israel, at moment when it was greatly needed”.
Matt Brooks, the Executive Director of the Republican Jewish coalition, when asked to respond to the Democrats defense of the President and their dismissal of the Republican criticism, noted that “there is a degree of concern about Iran, not only among Israelis but also among the American Jewish community, as for the resolve of the President to confront the Iranian issue with an effective approach.”
“Basically, the President in his AIPAC speech was advising Israel to hold back on any military action, in order to allow some more time for diplomacy and sanctions to convince the Iranians to abandon their intentions. This has been going on for 10 year and is not working.” And it’s the sole responsibility of Prime Minister, Brooks points out, noting Netanyahu’s commitment that “Israel is unwilling to outsource their own security to anyone, even to its closest ally.”