Opinions & Commentary

Candidates’ commitment to Israel shouldn’t sway voters

Rabbi Amy Bardack

As we enter the final stretch of the election season, some in the Jewish community express concerns about which candidate would be more pro-Israel. Many say they would vote for Obama were it not for their concern about his support for Israel.

I find this concern truly baffling.

By all measures, President Obama has maintained strong ties with Israel. Over the last four years, the Obama administration has given the largest amount of military assistance to Israel ever. The cooperation, coordination, and links between the two countries’ military and intelligence have never been stronger.

Ehud Barak, Israel’s deputy prime minister and minister of defense, said in a CNN interview in June that what the Obama administration is doing regarding Israel’s security is better than any administration he can recall. This is from a man with decades of experience in the highest levels of Israeli government.

Shlomo Brom, retired brigadier general with 30 years in the Israeli military, elaborated on Ehud Barak’s comment in a recent interview, “The level of cooperation, technological and financial assistance that the US is supplying Israel with is far above anything that we had with previous administrations.” Regarding intelligence cooperation around the Iranian nuclear program, he added that “never in the past was there such an intimate connection between the intelligence communities of the two parties, as the result of direction given by the president.”

Indeed, one would be hardpressed to find a statement, policy, or pronouncement of President Obama’s that could be construed as anything but pro-Israel.

To be sure, Obama’s statement last year about returning to pre-1967 borders was alarming to some. Indeed those borders would compromise Israel’s security significantly. However, the president referred to the pre-1967 borders as a starting point of negotiations, not a prescription for an end-point. And many analysts understood those remarks not as an actual strategy, but as a tactic for luring Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

In terms of Obama’s deeds as president, the record is clear. One would be hard-pressed to find an actual policy or action that could be construed as anti- Israel.

But is this even the right question?

A candidate’s perceived commitment to Israel should not be the primary factor in determining which presidential candidate to support.

In truth, there is little measurable difference in support for Israel between the candidates. Historically, the American people and our presidents, have maintained very positive relations with Israel. A Gallup poll conducted in March showed that a large majority of Americans – Democrats, Republicans and independents alike – view Israel favorably. In the newly published book, “The Elected and the Chosen: Why American Presidents Have Supported Jews and Israel,” Dennis Brian examines each US president’s views on Jews and Israel and seeks to explain why, almost without exception, our presidents have been strong supporters of Jewish interests, including Israel.

No matter who wins the White House, then, it is unlikely that support for Israel will diminish.

But perhaps more importantly, committed Jews should note that supporting Israel is not a supreme Jewish value above all others. Mitzvot such as feeding the hungry, saving a life, and rescuing captives are also primary Jewish obligations. In evaluating a candidate it is just as important to analyze how his policies would impact the poor and needy as it is to assess his pro-Israel credentials.

The choice we face this November is crucial. The outcome of the presidential election will impact the lives of all Americans in significant and long-lasting ways. But it is unlikely that U.S. support for Israel will waver. As Jews, we should look to our tradition’s emphasis on the welfare of the poor and needy, and let those supreme values guide our decision when we vote.

Rabbi Amy Bardack is the Judaic Studies curriculum director at Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston. This article reflects her own personal views and not those of her employer.


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