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Pandering Won’t Be Enough In ‘08


If there were any doubts about the fact that one-time Tennessee senator and actor Fred Thompson was about to run for the Republican nomination for president, it was not due to his recent tiff with filmmaker Michael Moore, appearances on Fox News or various other public appearances.

It was his radio commentary spot, the text of which was subsequently published at National Review Online, which articulated his stout support for Israeli counterattacks against Palestinian missile attacks on the city of Sderot, his firm opposition to Hamas, and his skepticism about the Palestinian desire for peace.

Good for Thompson for stating such views. But we are all entitled to notice that articulating these positions (which make him hardly unique among presidential contenders) is a function more of his desire to win support from friends of Israel for his presidential ambitions than anything else.

After all, who remembers Thompson ever taking a leadership position on support for Israel during his eight years in the Senate? Not that he was ever counted among Zion’s foes, but there’s something about having your name mentioned as a possible presidential candidate that seems to bring out Zionists in the most unlikely places.

There are many questions yet to be answered about Thompson’s possible run. But his desire for Jewish support and contributions for his campaign is not in doubt.

Election-year conversions are nothing new. Who can forget Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kan.), never previously identified as a friend of Israel, who sought to bolster the appeal of his doomed presidential campaign in 1996 by pushing through legislation to move the U.S. embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?

But with the desperate search for campaign dollars in full swing, it is worthwhile pondering what exactly it is that friends of Israel should be asking the many men and the one woman who stand a chance of actually taking the oath of office on Jan. 21, 2009.

Before answering that question, it should be stipulated that the majority of Jews will never vote for a candidate based on his or her stands on Israel. Many, if not most, of us are as rigidly partisan as any American, with loyalty to the Democratic Party among Jews being second only to that among African-Americans.

But to recognize that is not to discount the possibility that any candidate can win or lose critical campaign funding, as well as eventually some votes, by his or her stands on Middle East issues.

On Israel itself, outside of fringe candidates like Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), there isn’t much daylight between the candidates on support for Israel’s right of self-defense or on their disdain for Hamas.

Democrats have uniformly scorned the Bush administration for its lack of “engagement” in the process. But while bashing Bush is good politics at the moment, nobody in either party can point to what, if anything, could actually be accomplished with a repeat of the kind of close engagement in the peace process that characterized Clinton administration policy.

No amount of encouragement from Washington is going to change the corrupt and violent nature of Fatah. Despite U.S. help, Fatah’s forces were easily routed by Hamas in Gaza. No one – including Republicans like Rudy Giuliani, who endorsed more aid for Fatah – should expect either half of the Palestinian political spectrum to do what needs to be done to end terrorism or to begin to build a rational state.

Some honesty on that from the candidates would be refreshing. But in the meantime, what we should be asking them to do is to avoid falling into the trap of looking to Israel to bail out Hamas with concessions that will only lead inevitably to more terrorism.

Another point on which there is seeming consensus is opposition to the Iranian drive to acquire nuclear weapons. Both Democrats and Republicans have addressed the dangers of such a development and expressed support for a strong policy seeking to head it off.

But the tricky part is not to say you don’t want Ahmadinejad to have his finger on a nuclear button, but how to make sure it doesn’t happen. Most Republicans have been eager to say they won’t take the military option off the table. Is such a threat credible? That’s uncertain given both the military situation in Iraq, as well as the inherent difficulties of such an operation under even the most ideal circumstances.

About the Author: Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor of Commentary magazine and chief political blogger at www.commentarymagazine.com, where this first appeared. He can be reached via e-mail at jtobin@commentarymagazine.com.


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