It’s nearly over, and one could reasonably argue that the American presidential election has been at least as bad for Americans—in terms of ulcers, family arguments, and meme overdose—as it’s been good for democracy.
Which, you know: Ha ha! Jokes! But I would argue in all sincerity that the election has, in fact, been truly bad for at least one group of Americans: American Jews.
How so? You ask, and not unreasonably. Here’s a brief list:
On more than one occasion, both candidates gave the impression that “foreign policy” was synonymous with “supporting Israel’s government at all costs.” At the third presidential debate, the word “Israel” was uttered more than 30 times, often in a sentence that started with “and of course we’ll consult with…” Why is this bad news for the Jews? Because it goes a really long way toward helping the liars, hatemongers and anti-Semites who want to believe that Israel runs (a) America and (b) the world. Dear Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama: You’re not helping.
On frequent occasion, both candidates talked about their support for the Israeli government and its policies as if these are the single most important issue in the American Jewish community, and as if their shot at the presidency depended on the pandering. Why is this bad news for the Jews? Because it misrepresents us to our fellow Americans—we’re only 2 percent of the electorate, and well less than 10 percent of us say that Israel is our most important election issue—and it also goes a really long way toward supporting the liars, hatemongers and anti-Semites who want to believe that “the Jews” run (a) America and (b) the world. Dear Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama: Can we cut that out now?
Also on frequent occasion, the specter of a nuclear Iran was raised largely in order to burnish the candidate’s bona fides as a tough guy in the region (though, it must be admitted, this was worse on Romney’s side than on Obama’s). Why is this bad news for the Jews? Because the specter of a nuclear Iran is a genuine concern to Israel and thus to the American Jewish community, and the best way to keep any country from being a threat is not to use it as a rhetorical prop, but to do our best to engage that country and find diplomatic ways around war.
On virtually no occasion did either candidate say so much as a single serious word about Israel’s actual most pressing existential threat: its unresolved conflict with the Palestinian people. Obama entered the Oval Office full of good ideas and good intentions to try to restart negotiations toward a two-state solution, and at every turn, allowed himself to be turned away from the effort by the Israeli government and its American supporters. Mitt Romney pledged to do “the opposite” of what Obama has done in the region, but given that he told supporters that he’s just going to let the problem be kicked down the road “and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it,” he seems to be pretty attached to the President’s actual approach to the issue.
Now, anyone who’s in any way acquainted with me or my work knows who I’ll be voting for (or, in fact, who I’ve already voted for). I’m a big Obama supporter, for all the usual reasons that a Democrat likes this incumbent: his positions on women’s equality and reproductive choice, the steps he’s taken for LGBTQ rights, Obamacare, Pell Grants, saving the American economy from the abyss, etc.
But I cannot say—despite all the protestations from all sides of the Democratic map that he really, really loves Israel, just look at how much military aid he’s given!—that he’s done much good for Israel. On the contrary: In allowing the conflict to drag on for four more bloody, settlement-heavy years, President Obama has done an active disservice to American security interests, American foreign policy goals, Israel’s long-term viability, and (it bears mentioning) the Palestinian people.
It may be all the rage to talk about a “one-state solution” now, but the simple truth is that there is no way to achieve a single state without even more massive suffering along the way, because there is no way to force the sides to play nice with each other. If Israelis and Palestinians are going to learn to stop wanting to kill each other, they’re going to have to learn how to live next to each other first. And that means the two-state solution to which President Obama is nominally dedicated.
I’m under no illusion that a President Romney would do a better job on this front. As an American-Israeli Jew who loves both of her countries very much, I live in hope that in Obama’s second term, the President will be freed up by the lack of a re-election campaign to find the kind of boldness he promised at the start of his first term.
But if he doesn’t, I’m pretty sure we can just go ahead and bury the two-state solution and sit shiva.
And that will be very bad news for the Jews, indeed.