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September 19, 2012

COUNTER-POINT: Romney vs. Obama vis-à-vis Israel

http://www.jewishjournal.com/opinion/article/con_romney_vs._obama_vis_a_vis_israel

The presidential candidates pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem; Obama visited Israel in 2008, Romney in 2012. Obama photo by Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP, Romney photo by Dan Balilty/AP

The presidential candidates pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem; Obama visited Israel in 2008, Romney in 2012. Obama photo by Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP, Romney photo by Dan Balilty/AP

[Read the counter-point here]

In his strongly stated piece “Romney vs. Obama vis-à-vis Israel,” Daniel Pipes uses partisan posturing and highly misleading, discredited assertions to distort President Barack Obama’s strong support for Israel — and to suggest that former Gov. Mitt Romney would somehow be a better friend to Israel. This, despite effusive praise of Obama by Israeli leaders across the political spectrum — and despite the fact that Romney, for all his platitudes, has failed to offer a single tangible area where he would provide better support for Israel’s security.

Pipes’ article echoes other partisan Republican missives that have chosen to ignore what Israel’s leaders say about Obama’s strong support for Israel, in order to distort that record. These distortions, which mischaracterize the actions of a friend, do Israel no favors.

One could spill endless amounts of ink on the fact that Pipes’ arguments are backed up mainly by his opinions, dubious anecdotes and outright dishonest photo “captions.”  Those claims, in contrast to the Obama record, seem appropriate for a Romney campaign that has remained almost entirely devoid of substantive policy prescriptions when it comes to Israel and its greatest nemesis, Iran.

But it is probably better to focus on  Obama’s actions to enhance the security of America’s ally Israel, rather than dignify Pipes’ spurious attempt to bolster Romney’s virtually nonexistent foreign credentials. And I would prefer to hear what top Israeli leaders have to say about these issues than another round of partisan attacks.

Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said that this president has done more than any other American president in history to enhance Israel’s security, raising the level of U.S.-Israel security cooperation to unprecedented levels. In 2010, Obama personally requested that Congress grant $205 million to Israel to help fund Iron Dome, which has successfully intercepted close to 80% of the short-range rockets fired from Gaza. This past May, the president granted an additional $70 million in immediate assistance to expand the Iron Dome program.

In addition, the president more than doubled funding from the previous administration’s levels (from $52 million in 2008 to more than $110 million this year) for David’s Sling, Israel’s missile defense program. Finally, in the midst of these challenging economic times, the president has requested $3.1 billion in military aid to Israel in 2013, the most aid ever sent to Israel.

Against Iran, the president has enforced the toughest sanctions ever passed in an effort to thwart the nuclear program of Israel’s greatest enemy. His deft political maneuvering has brought about an international sanctions regime that includes Russia and China, two states that under the prior U.S. administration had refused to take part in efforts to isolate Iran. In addition, this president has signed into law the most stringent unilateral sanctions against Iran in history, including sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank.

Most importantly, the president has vowed that he will use any means necessary to prevent Iran from achieving its nuclear goals. As the president declared earlier this year:  “Iran’s leaders know that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” 

At a time when the Middle East is experiencing seismic unrest and the Iranian threat is becoming even more dire, this president understands that Israel’s security is its primary asset, and he has done more than any other president to ensure that Israel remains secure

While the president’s record of defending Israel’s security speaks to his commitment to Israel’s safety, his diplomatic defense of Israel when it mattered most — reflected in his 100 percent pro-Israel voting record at the U.N. and, most recently, his reported personal insistence on inserting language in the Democratic Party platform that declares Jerusalem the capital of Israel — speaks to his personal commitment to the Jewish state and has won him the much-expressed gratitude of Israel’s leaders.

The president’s impassioned defense of Israel last September at the U.N. against the Palestinian Authority’s unilateral statehood bid earned him a “badge of honor” in the eyes of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And his administration’s veto of a U.N. Security Resolution condemning Israeli settlements won him praise from the prime minister’s office. His immediate intervention to save the lives of six Israelis trapped inside the Israeli Embassy in Cairo was, in the words of former Mossad director Efraim Halevy, “leadership of historic dimensions,” to which Netanyahu added, “We owe [the president] a special measure of gratitude.” Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon summed up these sentiments last year when he said: “I can tell you in a very categoric way, I believe also in a very authoritative way, that we have not had a better friend than President Obama.”   

So despite the partisan jabs from Daniel Pipes and his allies on the far right, whose purpose is gaining Republican votes rather than supporting the bipartisan consensus Israel requires for its ongoing security, I prefer to rely on the comments of Israel’s leaders, whose agenda is Israel’s security, not partisan gain in U.S. politics. Israel’s President Shimon Peres perhaps summarized their views best when he said: “I think he’s a great president and I think he’s a great friend of Israel, and I say that without any hesitations.”


Mel Levine (D-Calif.) was a United States congressman from 1983 to 1993.

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