I'm in a transit lounge in Paris, heading for hotter places, but I wanted to put down a few thoughts about the presidential election and the Middle East. Forgive the choppiness; I have to get on a plane shortly. Maybe I'll write more when I arrive. Or maybe I'll just collapse in an Ambien heap.
Last week, in a dialogue with the sometimes-dyspeptic but always thoughtful Yossi Klein Halevi, I argued that Israel's bipartisan support in America is under threat:
If Romney wins, and if Benjamin Netanyahu stays in power in Israel, I can almost guarantee you that you will see a melting away of whatever Democratic support there is for tough action against Iran, and a melting away of whatever liberal support there still remains for a strong America-Israel relationship. American support is a pillar of Israeli national security policy. Israel cannot thrive - and maybe it can't survive - in a Middle East dominated by a nuclear Iran. But it will also have difficulty surviving without American support, and I'm telling you, medium- to long-term, Israel could be in trouble in the U.S.
I believe I was somewhat hyperbolic in asserting that a "melting away" of liberal support for a strong America-Israel relationship is almost guaranteed (Yossi can get me going), but I think the underlying truth remains: Republicans have had a good deal of success turning Israel into a partisan issue, mainly by misrepresenting President Obama's record (but also helped by certain Obama missteps), and if they continue to press their case, many Democrats will find supporting Israel distasteful -- they will lump supporters of Israel in the same category they reserve for climate-change-denying anti-choice Obamacare haters. This would be very dangerous for Israel.
Maybe it's all going to happen anyway: Israel, after all, is moving rightward (it has a foreign minister, the second-most powerful man in Israel, who would be a more appropriate office-holder in Putin's Russia than in a liberal democracy), and there is no hope on the horizon for a two-state solution. Forty-five years of occupation has had a cumulative effect on Israel's reputation among progressive-minded people. The narrative long-ago shifted -- when I was a kid, the Israel Day parade in New York was a carnival of liberalism: unions and civil rights groups and secular people of all shapes and colors, standing up for plucky little Israel. Now, it's more and more an Orthodox parade, and support for Israel is strongest among conservative evangelicals, many of whom do not know actual Jews but have a theological vision of what Jews are, and what they should be.
A few months ago, I interviewed my friend Kurt Andersen, the novelist, here on Goldblog, about his latest book, "True Believers," in which Israel plays a small but highly symbolic role. In 1967, Kurt's very not-Jewish family in Nebraska threw a party to celebrate Israel's victory in the Six-Day War. The feeling that inspired that party, he said, has dissipated:
For sure Israel remains vastly more popular among Americans than any country in its part of the world. But that's a very low bar. A few years ago at a swank Manhattan dinner party I got in a serious shouting argument with a Brit who'd said that Israel was a worse country than its neighbors. Americans have not yet become reflexive Euro-style anti-Israelites in significant numbers. But the country has gone in my lifetime from being our bestest non-European buddy, our spunky amazing inspiring heroic pal, to being...a friend, a friend who's in a tragic and terrible tight spot, a friend most Americans these days would prefer not to think too much about.
I think it is true that Israel remains popular across a large swath of America. I also think it's true that this could change, as it already has among many liberals, including among some liberal American Jews. Barack Obama, who is pro-Israel -- let me repeat that: Barack Obama, who is pro-Israel -- has done a lousy job managing the peace process, and a lousy job understanding, and manipulating, Benjamin Netanyahu, but he has done a stellar job defending Israel's fundamental rights against many foes -- including from the podium of the U.N. General Assembly -- and he has done an outstanding job making sure that Israel receives the highest-level military cooperation with the U.S. possible. Mainly what he has done is try, quite strenuously, to remind Democrats why their party has traditionally supported a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.