It’s that time of the year, shortly before a presidential election with control of Congress also on the line. The American Jewish community is, as usual, asking a perennially problematic question: Which candidate will be best for Israel? For the last 26 years, as executive director of a Jewish communal relations organization and as someone with a Ph.D. in political science and a particular expertise in the politics of the Middle East and American foreign policy, I have always been able to answer that question relatively easily: As Israel’s only reliable ally, what is best for Israel is what is best for America. A strong, reliable United States reinforces and enhances Israel’s safety and security in a very insecure world.
Hillary Clinton brings years of involvement in dealings with Arab and Israeli leaders. Trump has no such experience and has yet to indicate any real understanding of Middle Eastern history and present problems.
Using that variable as the primary factor in determining voting choice should help alleviate concerns about divided loyalties and/or confused responses from those who may ask the question. But, too often, that is not the case. For example, while Republicans and Democrats are both increasingly concerned about Donald Trump as a serious national security challenge, too many in the Jewish community remain complaisant about Trump’s background and perceived unquestioning support of Israel’s hardline policies regardless of how they may negatively impact American national interests.
Traditionally, when the national security establishment converges on a foreign policy recommendation to the president, we expect them to bring acquired knowledge, empathy, common sense and rational thought to its final shape. For instance, when the primary actor, i.e. the president, brings few of these variables to the table, the process is flawed, and a poor outcome is likely to result.
In fact, following many years of historical research and the conducting of countless interviews with former and contemporary policymakers, I have found no evidence that presidents and/or their senior colleagues act upon these issues in a manner that is — first and foremost — contrary to their perception of American national security.
But, other factors often intrude that can have a major factor in shaping the policy-making process. Be it religiosity, domestic and/or bureaucratic politics or simply a belief in the “righteousness” of the cause, a president’s worldview almost always becomes structured in a manner that can justify action in order to protect the nation’s interests regardless of the many other variables that may actually intrude when making decisions.
While Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Carter, Ford, Bush I and II and Obama rarely shifted from a security-oriented modus operandi as they sought to determine Middle East policy, different presidents were strongly influenced by other significant concerns. With Harry Truman, for example, biblical influences and a sincere “desire to do what’s right,” moved him to find a haven for Jewish refugees from the Holocaust in a newly created and recognized Jewish state. For Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton, personal relationships reinforced their security concerns. In terms of our current presidential candidates, while Hillary Clinton brings years of involvement in dealing with Arab and Israeli leaders. Trump has no such experience and has yet to indicate any real understanding of Middle Eastern history and present problems.
In addition, as the Republican standard bearer, Trump has gone along with his party’s move away from a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians. Now, the Republican Party platform calls for a “one-state” solution that imposes Israeli control over the Palestinians into the future.
While that stand may pander to some in the American Jewish community as ensuring Israel’s security, national security experts in both Israel and the United States would argue otherwise. For them, a one-state solution would create an “apartheid”-like situation in which public support for Israel would diminish by the day, leaving her a pariah state that is increasingly isolated on the world stage. In turn, more regional and localized conflicts would likely arise as Israel’s enemies take advantage of her reduced international support.
So, American Jews (like all Americans) should ponder their choices wisely come election day: Who do they trust to make decisions that are in America’s interests first and foremost, interests that should be guided by policies developed from reasoned thought, a strategic understanding of the world (including the need to maintain American commitments globally) and a recognition that a secure America is a well-led America? That answer should not be difficult to discern.
Arthur C. Abramson is former executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council.