Israel irrelevant in campaign – as it should be

By Gil Troy , THE JERUSALEM POST, Nov. 3, 2008

A JPost.com exclusive blog

If we could devise some kind of objective “Friend of Israel” test, all but the most blindly partisan Democrats would agree that Senator John McCain has a longer, deeper, more meaningful relationship with Israel than does Senator Barack Obama – and fewer advisers who seem very critical of Israel. Even controlling for the difference in age or Senatorial tenure, it is clear that McCain has been a more consistent and enthusiastic Israel supporter.

This does not negate Obama’s pro-Israel record or even mean that McCain would necessarily be a “better” president for Israel. Determining what kind of president is good for Israel is an even more complicated matter than quantifying different levels of friendship. But it seems quite clear that John McCain has been a steadfast friend who has stood up for Israel repeatedly.

Moreover, most fair observers can imagine that if McCain’s church contemplated a boycott of Israel or if his pastor had denounced Israel, McCain would have been more likely to take a stand, whereas Obama was silent in both situations, which he actually faced.

Still, American Jews and America’s many non-Jewish Zionists should not vote for McCain because of his Israel stand. There are many other valid reasons to vote McCain – and many valid reasons to vote Obama. But there are many other bigger issues in this election than support for Israel, especially considering that both candidates have vied to emphasize their respective pro-Israel stands.

The first thing I wrote about this election back in 2007 still holds true: ultimately, especially during these difficult times, the best president for Israel – is the best president for America.

All the hand-wringing about Israel’s irrelevance in the American election is inappropriate. There are many other more valid indicators reflecting the disturbing distance growing between American Jews and the Jewish state. In this election, even the most ardent Zionist should take a broader perspective.

The general debate about whether or not to carry on with George W. Bush’s policies, the financial meltdown of the markets, the continuing war against terror and the specific questions about what to do regarding Iraq and Iran are much bigger issues than America’s continuing support for Israel, which seems assured with both a Democratic and Republican administration.

As – let’s be honest – America’s controversial but reliable client state – what Israel most needs now is an effective, thriving, America. Canadians used to say that when the American economy sneezes, Canada catches a cold; with Israel, if America is fighting a cold, Israel risks a serious illness.

Israel will do best with an America that can solve its economic problems, improve its diplomatic standing, and stay dominant militarily. Americans need reassurance. They need a plan to avoid a prolonged recession. They need effective leadership able to fight Islamic terror, stabilize Iraq, restrain Iran – and manage North Korea, Russia, China, and a host of other unanticipated world hotspots.

Let us play out the fears bluntly. If Barack Obama is a great president, it will be great for Israel, whether or not he squeezes Israel to make more territorial concessions than most Israelis like (but some Israelis believe are absolutely necessary).

And if John McCain is a terrible president, he will be disastrous for the world, including Israel, even if he never pressures Israel on anything. Of course, the McCaniacs’ fear is that Barack Obama will be Jimmy Carter redux, and will be a terrible president who proves hostile to Israel. The Republicans also paint the most optimistic scenario, a great president McCain who also proves to be a great friend to Israel.

Given the sobering conditions America faces it will be hard for the next president to achieve greatness – although the contrast with George W. Bush may give him a great boost. And the dynamics of the American-Israel friendship will be more driven by other events than presidential prerogatives. Besides, this business of predicting friendship and support is a tricky one. George W. Bush entered the White House with a minimal track record regarding Israel. Few can question his obvious, enthusiastic support for the Jewish state as president, but there is a raging debate in the United States and Israel about whether Bush’s friendship was good for Israel or not.

Of course, many pro-Israel oriented voters argue that support for Israel is a test case, that a candidate’s stand on Israel reflects his approach to foreign policy. That too, however, is very different than basing one’s decision on the candidate’s Israel stand. In fact, this election offers an opportunity for yet another repudiation of the Walt-Mearsheimer anti-Israel lies.

Polls suggest that the American Jewish community will vote three to one in favor of the Democrat with a more limited pro-Israel track record than his opponent. As we watch American Jews and non-Jewish Zionists choose the president who is best for America, we can once again refute the libels that Israel somehow holds American foreign policy hostage or that Jews vote their narrow parochial interests rather than fulfilling their broader patriotic duty to vote for the best president possible on all fronts.

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Essay: Polarized Jews in a depressing election

By GIL TROY , THE JERUSALEM POST, Oct. 23, 2008

Political campaigns are like social stress tests, regularly scheduled exercises that add enough extra pressure on the system to expose weaknesses – and strengths. The long 2008 election has uncovered certain American fault lines. Within the Jewish community, the results of the 2008 electoral stress test have been equally sobering. Partisans from both sides have behaved abominably, demonstrating a growing hysteria and close-mindedness.

Perhaps the most infamous Jewish contribution to this campaign is unproven. Many reporters have claimed the various e-mails accusing Barack Obama of being a Muslim targeted Jews or originated with Jews. There is no solid proof of this. Internet hoaxes, like most urban legends, are hard to track. But anytime I have written anything remotely positive about Obama in the Jewish media, many bloggers have charged that “Barack HUSSEIN Obama” is secretly a Muslim and I am helping this Manchurian candidate deceive America.

The prevalence of this belief in a community supposedly known for its intelligence is dismaying. That neither Obama nor his supporters have eloquently repudiated the use of the accusation of being a Muslim as a slur is depressing. And the charge itself is distracting. More worrying than Obama’s fictional status as a Muslim are his actual actions as a Christian – staying so loyal to the demagogic, unpatriotic, anti-Zionist Reverend Jeremiah Wright for so long. John McCain has refused to mention Obama’s wrongheaded Wright connection, fearing accusations of racism. But Obama’s deep ties to a pastor who trashed America regularly, including in his first sermon after 9/11, remain unexplained and unacceptable.

BEYOND CHOOSING to libel the Democratic nominee for ties he lacks that should not be so damning anyway, many pro-McCain activists have helped perpetuate the stereotype of pro-Israeli Jews as superficial, narrow-minded, right-leaning Johnny One-Notes swooning for any conservative pol who genuflects toward Israel. McCain is a thoughtful friend of Israel who understands the Islamicist and Iranian threats. People who care about Israel – and America – have many legitimate reasons for supporting him.

But the fact that so many fell in line with his vice presidential choice, despite Sarah Palin’s stunning lack of foreign policy experience, is disconcerting. Even if she does display an Israeli flag in her office, trusting such an amateur during these treacherous times was irresponsible. Being an effective pro-Israel politician requires more than waving the blue-and-white flag. It requires a subtle, sophisticated approach to international politics that by serving America’s best interests will also protect the Jewish state. Choosing Palin cleverly energized the conservative base, but it undermined McCain’s argument that experience counts, especially in foreign policy.

Unfortunately, many Obama supporters have behaved equally poorly. Many Jews have mimicked Obama’s undemocratic tendency to treat any criticisms of him as smears. The attempts of the new J-Street lobby to ban anti-Obama advertisements in Jewish papers are just the latest illustrations of the left’s disturbingly illiberal tendency to squelch debate. It is one thing to condemn the false reports about Obama’s religion. But Republicans have the right to raise questions about issues, including the many emissaries from the Democratic Party’s loony anti-Zionist left who have advised Obama, especially on foreign policy and were jettisoned one by one as controversy arose.

MOREOVER, THOSE Jewish Democrats who discouraged Senator Hillary Clinton from attending the anti-Iran rally in September, then helped get Sarah Palin disinvited, did a disservice to America and Israel. The absurd claim that Palin’s presence would have made the rally “political” revealed a childish understanding of American politics. Had Clinton and Palin stood together as two of America’s most prominent women politicians temporarily suspending their jousting to unite against a nuclear Iran, the rally could have been far more effective. The behavior of Clinton – and of too many Jewish Democrats – suggested they hated Palin and the Republicans more than they hated Ahmadinejad and his genocidal threats against Israel and America.

A more consistently disturbing distortion once again emerged in this campaign. Although, as with so many trends, this position is difficult to quantify, many pro-Obama Jews indicated that they support abortion much more intensely than they support Israel. Many statements from prominent Jews justifying their support for Obama first mentioned choice – despite the slim chances of overturning the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. Liberalism has long been the reigning American Jewish theology. But this campaign confirmed the centrality of the pro-abortion stance within that liberalism.

FINALLY, THE “Great Schlep” showdown between the comedians Sarah Silverman and Jackie Mason added another level of absurdity to the Jewish role in 2008. The ethnic stereotyping underlying this debate – while funny – was more suited to our grandparents’ Jewish community in the 1950s. Silverman’s assumption that young, right-thinking (meaning left-leaning) Jews had to “schlep” their “bubbies and zaides” in Florida to vote Democratic, reflected a misreading of most Florida Jews’ pro-Obama tendencies. Jackie Mason’s response was equally simplistic and maddening. In America’s celebrity-besotted culture, both videos were taken far too seriously, generating numerous YouTube viewings and media reports.

On one level, it is unrealistic during the campaign to expect Republicans to criticize McCain’s vice presidential choice or mainstream Democrats to confront their party’s Jimmy Carter wing. But the campaign uncovered an underlying intolerance laced with nastiness rooted in a growing polarization dividing American Jews.

Increasingly, the divisions are multiple and reinforcing. A vocal minority of Jews are more religious, more pro-Israel and more Republican. These “red” Jews are as different and as distant from the “blue Jews” as “red state” Americans are from “blue staters.”

Just as America will need to heal after the election, the Jewish community must heal too. We need to learn how to disagree without being disagreeable – and how to recognize common interests even within a big, broad, diverse and disputatious community.

The writer is professor of history at McGill University and a visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, DC. He is the author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. His Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents was just published by Basic Books.

A bipartisan, multilateral, muscular approach to Iran

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 10-16-08

Although conflict fuels political campaigns, election contests also illuminate the political consensus. It is as important to understand where candidates agree as to see where they disagree. In the second, foreign-policy-oriented debate between the two presidential nominees, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama demonstrated that they both agree that Iran threatens America and the world.

“And our challenge right now is the Iranians continue on the path to acquiring nuclear weapons, and it’s a great threat,” one of the nominees said. : “It’s not just a threat — threat to the state of Israel. It’s a threat to the stability of the entire Middle East.” His rival proclaimed: “We cannot allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. It would be a game-changer in the region. Not only would it threaten Israel, our strongest ally in the region and one of our strongest allies in the world, but it would also create a possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists.” Only the most devoted partisans could identify which nominee made which statement – and only the most devoted partisans could find a basis anywhere in those statements for them to clash. Obama’s earlier stated willingness to negotiate without preconditions haunts him. But this question of preconditions is a skirmish about tactics not a war about fundamentals.

Tragically, this broad American consensus against Iran’s going nuclear is undermined by European ambivalence – and cravenness. The latest reminder came from Germany’s Ambassador to Iran who allowed his military attaché to attend an Iranian military parade in Teheran last month. The parade featured the usual calls to destroy Israel – and America.

Anticipating November 5, the day AFTER the election, Americans must start emphasizing these points of bipartisan agreement, to accelerate what will be a necessary healing process. Anticipating January 20, 2009, Inauguration Day, Americans must start thinking about the consensus the new president can count on – along with the strategic threats he will face.

The Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C. just released a noteworthy report offering a blueprint for the next president to follow in approaching Iran. (Full disclosure – I am a Visiting Scholar at the Center but did not work on the report). Available here the report is essential reading for the two candidates, their advisors, and every concerned Westerner. Deeming a nuclear weapons-capable Iran “strategically untenable,” the report says that, whoever wins the presidential election will have the “formidable task” of forging an effective bipartisan policy within the United States – along with a muscular multilateral policy abroad.

Balancing adeptly between scholarship and strategy, the report analyzes Iran’s past and present while presenting a thoughtful, integrated approach to nudge that country toward a more peaceful future. The new president will have to mix diplomatic, informational, and economic strategies, reinforced by possible military options. The task force, headed by former Senators Chuck Robb and Dan Coats, guided by the project director Dr. Michael Makovsky, advocates European cooperation, predetermined timetables for negotiation, and formidable, effective sanctions. Oil remains at the heart of the issue. America will have to consider blockading first Iran’s gasoline imports, then its oil exports, if negotiations fail. Calling for a “comprehensive strategy” and “vigorous execution” – both of which have been sorely lacking – these experts deem the military option “feasible” but a “last resort.” To be strong enough to avoid going military, and ready to launch if necessary, America has to build better alliances and pre-position military assets in the region immediately.

The scariest conclusion estimates that once Iran had an “adequate supply of low-enriched uranium” — which it might acquire within a year or possibly sooner — Iran could then enrich 20 kilograms of highly enriched uranium in “four weeks or less,” thus becoming “nuclear-weapons capable.” The most reassuring call is for “leverage building,” the process whereby America and her allies find just the right pressure points to avert this potential strategic disaster. “[I]t is not too late for sanctions and economic coercion to work,” the authors insist. “Despite near record oil prices, Iran’s economy remains weak. While the United States, its European allies, and the United Nations have imposed some sanctions on Teheran, each has a range of more biting economic tools at their disposal.”

Although the authors pull their political punches in true bipartisan spirit, the current administration’s failures haunt the report. The initial mishandling of the Iraq war emboldened Iran and undermined confidence in a military option, if it becomes necessary. Moreover, the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that underestimated Iran’s commitment to going nuclear lessened pressure on this rogue regime. Still, charting a bipartisan and multidimensional approach for the next president is the best way to progress, without bogging down in partisan recriminations.

Israel’s position in this remains awkward. Iran frequently lambastes Israel as the easiest – and closest — Western target. If the United States and Europe negotiated with Iran seriously, substantively, Teheran would try to make Israel’s policies – and Israel’s alleged nuclear capabilities – central issues that would strain an already fragile alliance. And the possibility that Israel will choose to strike Iran remains the “wild card” in this deck – and a compelling incentive for America to solve the problem.

Bipartisanship is easily hailed and just as easily ignored, especially during an increasingly ugly election campaign. This report reminds us that the most serious challenges any nation faces transcend party. All Americans suffer from the stock market woes just as they are equally threatened by a nuclear Iran. Without ignoring partisan differences, without reducing complex issues to apple-pie generalities, America’s leaders have to lead away from partisan recrimination and toward national action. These kinds of bipartisan reports on these kinds of transcendent, existential national issues are helpful reminders of all that unites Americans – and useful roadmaps toward the kinds of strategies needed during this precarious time.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Visiting Scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center. His latest book is Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents.

Where were Obama the dreamer and McCain the war hero?

By GIL TROY, Jerusalem Post, 10-16-08

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama and Republican candidate Sen. John McCain face off during a presidential debate in New York last week.
Photo: AP

Americans want to believe that debates elevate our candidates. As we anticipate each presidential debate, we resurrect the legend of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas nobly debating the great issues of the day in pre-Civil War Illinois. Television, that great modern mythmaking machine, feeds the grandiose expectations, even if the names of Lincoln and Douglas are rarely evoked.

And the sets, drenched as they are in patriotic imagery, festooned as they are with eagles and banners, quite literally set the stage for the candidates to achieve political immortality. Of course, there is a counter “Gotcha” tradition of seeking the knockout blow, the cutting remark, the effective counter-jab. Modern debates have been defined more by quick thrusts of a sharp elbow than by sweeping statesmanlike visions.

What seems so memorable about these three presidential debates in 2008 is that they were simply not memorable, neither grandiose nor cutting. It is hard to identify one central idea, one dramatic moment, one defining soundbite that will be replayed repeatedly – or even remembered. Moreover – and more disturbing for both candidates – the debates seemed to banish both candidates’ better selves. In four-and-a-half hours of debates, it was hard to detect many traces of Barack Obama the dreamer or John McCain the war hero.

By contrast, the national conventions – although often dismissed as anachronistic – allowed the two candidates to present themselves as they hope to be known, and remembered. John McCain ended his rather pedestrian Republican National Convention address with a moving memoir about how his years as a prisoner-of-war helped him discover community, nationalism, the reliance of one individual on another. It was hard to walk away from watching the speech without appreciating McCain’s heroism, humility, and humanity, whether or not you agreed with his policies.

Alas, during the debates, the heroism has been on hold. McCain has been – as he was most notably in this third debate – more prickly than patriotic, more choppy than smooth, more of a worried candidate in search of a persona and a strategy than a centered demigod who knows who he is and what he represents. In his opening remarks on Wednesday tonight, he chose yet again to bash Wall Street and Washington – without at all suggesting that Main Street Americans had also joined in the profligacy. Again and again, his remarks seemed more calculated for political advantage than motivated by a constructive patriotism.

Similarly, despite encouragement to be more down-to-earth and less lofty, Barack Obama delivered an acceptance address at the 2008 Democratic Convention in Denver that was dramatic enough to remind supporters of his extraordinary 2004 Democratic National Convention debut. The grand stadium setting, and the historic nature of his ascension as the first black major party nominee, created another “Yes We Can” moment in a near-miraculous and quite meteoric rise to the top of American society.

Unfortunately, the Barack Obama on display in the debates frequently seemed too sober to dream, too cool to be a poet, too programmed to inspire. To Obama’s good fortune, his calm served his cause – it made him look unruffled, reliable, presidential. But it suggested that if Obama wins, it will feel more like a victory by default than a clear, personal triumph or a mandate for much of anything. He has kept his more electrifying, inspirational self carefully bottled, preferring to let McCain – and the Republicans – stumble. His great achievement in the fall campaign has been his buoyancy, his professionalism, his steadiness. Americans are yearning, however, for some inspiration, some encouragement, some ebullience.

While the first debate did reassure, demonstrating that both these candidates were competent and idealistic men of character, the overall effect after three debates diminished them both. Like weary boxers in the fifteenth round, the two candidates fought each other to a draw – and at this point, the tie helps Obama the front-runner in most polls.

But after weeks now of devastating economic news, with foreign policy challenges in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and elsewhere still looming, it is legitimate to miss Obama the dreamer and McCain the hero.

This campaign, more than most, requires candidates offering vision and reassurance. Still, with any luck – and in keeping with the rhythms of American politics – the buildup from Election Day to Inauguration Day will allow whoever wins to resurrect his better self as Americans rally around their new leader and turn to him to fulfill their dreams ever so heroically.

9/11 and the race for the White House

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, September 10, 2008

A JPost.com exclusive blog

September 11 - 7 years on

September 11 – 7 years on
Photo: AP [file]

While much of the presidential campaign excitement this week stems from John McCain’s Sarah Palin-assisted post-convention surge in popularity, it is worth remembering the seventh anniversary of 9/11 which fell this Thursday.

American politics remains defined by that trauma, for better and worse. For better, because underestimating the danger Islamist terrorists pose endangers all Westerners. The only way to ensure that the nearly three thousand victims of Osama Bin Laden in 2001 did not die in vain, is to remain vigilant, working to prevent future attacks. For worse, because a politics solely defined by 9/11 neglects today’s economic, social, cultural, diplomatic and political challenges. As with all traumas, America’s candidates should remember past horrors without being imprisoned by them.

On this score, the two candidates – and their parties – pose an interesting contrast. Barack Obama and the Democrats seem to risk forgetting the lessons of 9/11. Democrats barely mentioned terrorism or 9/11 during their convention. Moreover, their disgust with George W. Bush’s policy has soured too many on the entire War against Terror while misleading them that Bush somehow triggered the troubles. Democrats must remember that al Qaida declared war on America during Bill Clinton’s enlightened reign, when America was actively seeking peace in the Middle East.

Republicans, on the other hand, cannot use the continuing threat of terrorism as an excuse to justify ignoring America’s economic, energy, and health crises. It is frustrating to watch as Republicans fail to encourage serious alternatives to oil, considering the estimated $700 billion America pumps annually into many oil-saturated, terrorist-friendly regimes. Welcome steps toward energy independence would change the geopolitical conditions that have financed terrorists.

Underlying this division is a tactical debate between Democrats who tend to favor deploying “soft power” and Republicans who favor “hard power.” This clash plays right into the ongoing debate about which candidate is a better friend to Israel. Obama Democrats tend to trust that soft power — diplomacy — will help Israel survive in the longrun. McCain Republicans tend to reverse Winston Churchill’s famous maxim, believing that for the hard-bitten Islamist radicals of al Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran, “war-war” not “Jaw-jaw” is the only alternative. Of course, the best response to terrorism, the best way to support Israel, is with a deft mix of soft and hard power, demonstrating a shrewd diplomatic touch backed up by a willingness and readiness to be tough when necessary.

More broadly, this anniversary should compel both candidates to remember what unites them as Americans – in opposing terror, supporting Israel, and facing other challenges as well. Political campaigns emphasize the differences between candidates, creating a series of false contrasts. Just because John McCain is passionately anti-terror, Barack Obama is not pro-terror. Just because Barack Obama is in favor of preserving civil liberties even amid the terrorist threat, John McCain is not against civil liberties.

Even amid the presidential campaign tensions, both candidates should make sure to affirm their and their country’s consensus against terror and for civil liberties. Barack Obama should give a speech detailing where he agrees with George W. Bush’s anti-terror strategy – before highlighting the disagreements. John McCain should identify what constitutional limitations he accepts when fighting terrorism – before justifying the emergency measures he feels the war warrants. Such statements would shrink the partisan battlefield, emphasizing the consensus Americans share with their two presumptive nominees in abhorring terror and cherishing the Constitution.

Seven years ago, on a beautiful September Tuesday, Osama bin Laden’s terrorists did not distinguish between Democrats and Republicans, blacks and whites, Muslims or non-Muslims, or even Americans and non-Americans. They killed indiscriminately, brutally. Living as we all do in a post 9/11 world, those who aspire to lead Western countries responsibly must reaffirm a common commitment to combating Islamist terrorism – and ensure that the nightmare of 9/11 never recurs.

From the center: Why are Republicans guilty of tokenism – while Democrats produce historic breakthroughs?

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, September 10, 2008

When Barack Obama accepted the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, many Americans cheered his historic breakthrough. For the first time in American history, a major political party had nominated a black man for president. Even many Obama opponents transcended partisanship to celebrate this extraordinary – and hopefully healing – achievement.

Republican vice presidential...

Republican vice presidential candidate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Photo: AP

Yet the next day, when John McCain designated Alaska’s young governor, Sarah Palin, as his running mate, Democrats cried: “tokenism.” Democrats said McCain’s was manipulating the many American women mourning Hillary Clinton’s defeat as a setback in their quest to break the ultimate “glass ceiling” of the White House. Even many Republicans squirmed at McCain’s crassness.

Yet there seems to be a contradiction. Why are Republicans deemed guilty of tokenism when they promote women or blacks, while Democratic “diversity” promotions are hailed as historic breakthroughs? Obamaniacs have a simple answer. They claim that Barack Obama – and Hillary Clinton – are both qualified to be president and Sarah Palin is not. Moreover, Democrats say that Obama did not run on his race, and Clinton did not run on her gender, but that Palin was picked solely because she is female.

BOTH SIDES of the story are more complicated. The 44-year-old Palin, indeed, is a first-term governor of a marginal state, but the 47-year-old Obama is a first-term US senator, so he lacks any serious executive experience. And while Obama did not run on his race alone, he would not have won the primaries without African-Americans’ nearly-unanimous support.

Similarly, Palin’s gender factored into McCain’s equation in choosing her, but so far she has been more useful in solidifying his right-wing evangelical base. Moreover, the older Democratic women who disdain Palin rejoiced in 1984 when Walter Mondale nominated the inexperienced Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate.

Partisanship and ideology feed this hypocrisy. Just as Democrats charged tokenism when President George H.W. Bush appointed Clarence Thomas, an anti-affirmative action African-American to the Supreme Court, Democrats are furious that Palin is pro-life. She is so pro-life she did not abort her fifth child, even though she knew he would be born with Down syndrome. Now Palin seems to be encouraging her pregnant 17-year-old daughter to get married and keep the love child. These anti-abortion bona fides thrilled the Christian right, and have already improved the Republican Convention dynamics for McCain.

Obama has campaigned as a leader of all Americans, not the great black hope. But, inevitably, in multicultural democracies, the lines blur. Whenever an individual from a distinct, historically oppressed subgroup bursts through a glass ceiling, it is an individual and group achievement.

Both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of hypocrisy. Republicans are usually quicker to disdain tokenism, yet they frequently make strategic choices based on race, religion, ethnicity or gender. Democrats worship “diversity” as a core ideal, but too frequently that means a rainbow of men and women representing different races, religions, ethnicities, all marching in ideological lockstep, never tolerating diversity of thought too. How supporting abortion became so central to the women’s movement is an interesting historical question for another time, but to many women, a female pro-life vice president is as unacceptable as an anti-Zionist Jewish president would be to Jews.

AMERICAN JEWS are as inconsistent on this score as any other group. Jews crave acceptance as “normal” Americans while taking particular naches in every Jewish political appointee, in every American Jewish success. American Jews want non-Jews to accept them as Americans, without noticing that American Jews vote for their own kind disproportionately and often help each other out generously.

A popular if possibly apocryphal story about America’s first Jewish cabinet member, Oscar Straus, recalls that when president Theodore Roosevelt met leaders of the American Jewish community celebrating the appointment, he told them what they wanted to hear. TR insisted: “I chose Oscar Straus because he was the best man for the job.” Then, the legendary banker Jacob Schiff, now old and deaf, thanked the president, saying that when president Roosevelt told him it was time to have a Jew in the cabinet, Oscar Straus was the obvious choice.

In Israel, too, the politics of ethnicity and gender can get intense – and inconsistent. Moshe Katsav delighted in his role as a successful Sephardi role model, then immediately – and falsely – played the racism card when his despicable behavior created a scandal. And Tzipi Livni’s on-again-off-again flirtation with the legacy of Golda Meir reflects her complicated juggling act among being treated like “one of the boys,” tapping into some “girl power” and staying true to her Revisionist anti-Golda roots.

Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to win a congressional seat, ran for president in 1972. She insisted : “I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud. I am not a candidate of the women’s movement of this country, although I am a woman, and equally proud of that. I am the candidate of the people of America…” Alas, if anyone remembers Chisholm today, it is because of her race and gender.

Still, hers is an admirable formula. And so, with Barack Obama having received the Democratic nomination, Americans and freedom-loving people everywhere honor his individual achievement, appreciate his impressive abilities independent of his race, yet also welcome this breakthrough for people of color and oppressed minorities everywhere. Similarly, as long as Sarah Palin appears more like Al Gore than Dan Quayle, she should be hailed as an impressive individual and a leading pioneer.

We need a little constructive hypocrisy on this issue. People should rise and fall on their merits, but in this imperfect world, if they bring their subgroup a little more pride and standing, that is an added bonus.

The writer is professor of history at McGill University and the author of Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents.

Just another conventional politician

JPost.com, August 25, 2008

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., left,...

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., left, talks with Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., prior to the start of the first Democratic presidential primary debate of the 2008 election
Photo: AP/J. Scott Applewhite , AP

It is possible that liberals, conservatives and centrists who are not blinded by Obamania may all be able to agree that Joe Biden was a terrible choice as a running mate. Despite his contempt for George W. Bush, Obama seemed to be channeling Bush’s Cheney choice with this pick – trying to show that he really was not as inexperienced and unprepared as critics suggested. But Dick Cheney in 2000 had at least one thing over Joe Biden – Cheney had not just run a presidential nominating campaign that demonstrated how unpopular he was.

It was one of the interesting anomalies of the 2008 Democratic race. There were three Washington veterans with decades of experience who went absolutely nowhere during the campaign. Senator Joe Biden, Senator Chris Dodd, and Governor Bill Richardson failed to get any traction, despite decades of governing and countless days and nights of hobnobbing with Beltway insiders. The three frontrunners, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had far better claims to outsider status – Edwards served only one term in the Senate, Clinton was just starting her second term, and Barack Obama was the most famous Senate freshman in decades.

Biden was a particular embarrassment on the campaign trail, shaming himself and his institution with his awkward, seemingly condescending remarks describing Obama as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” After winning 9,000 votes and finishing fifth in Iowa, Biden left the race, proving how little American voters are impressed by a three-decade Senatorial resume. Obama’s ability to forgive Biden’s gaffe suggests a personal grace and generosity that is nice to see in politics; but this choice may fuel questions about Obama’s political and policy judgment.

Beyond this stunning – and recent – political failure, Biden’s supposed foreign policy experience may alienate both liberals and conservatives. Liberals will note that, unlike Obama, Biden voted for the war in Iraq – just as Hillary Clinton and John McCain did. Thus, in the future, Obama will have to be a little more cautious when he mocks McCain’s judgment about initially supporting the war.

At the same time, conservatives will note Biden’s failure to support the surge. This suggests that for all the media hype about Biden’s brilliance in overseas matters, he is just a conventional, finger-to-the-wind type, buffeted by the political trends of the moment. Holding fifty-plus Senate hearings and appearing repeatedly on Sunday morning television shows reveals a mastery of the Washington game not the intricacies of foreign affairs.

At the same time, centrists will mourn the fact that Joe Biden is neither a fresh face nor a bridge-builder. He lacks Obama’s outsider credentials and McCain’s track record in seeking bipartisan solutions. Biden is a good Democratic soldier, who has consistently stayed within party boundaries and helped create today’s destructive, angry, overly-charged Washington quagmire. In fact – and this we are told is part of his appeal – Biden knows how to throw hard political punches, as demonstrated by his partisanship during the Robert Bork and Samuel Alito hearings.

Regarding the Middle East, Biden is equally conventional – and unimaginative. In a reflection of just how standard it remains to embrace Israel from both sides of the aisle, Biden has declared his love for the Jewish State as enthusiastically as anyone. The fact that he has declared “I am a Zionist,” suggests that Zionism may be a less politically controversial term in the United States than in Israel itself.

But Biden has demonstrated no particular insight on the issue, beyond supporting “the peace process,” in whatever form the Palestinians appear ready to accept. And the fact that he has been among the Senators least alarmed about Iran, most open to negotiating with the Mullahs, and voted against declaring Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group is worrisome – and a reflection of the potential direction of an Obama-Biden administration.

To be fair, Biden seems to be a decent man who has demonstrated tremendous personal grit over the years. The poignant story of the tragic loss of his first wife and daughter in an automobile accident shortly before he entered the Senate, his ability to raise his two boys on his own and eventually start a new family, his comeback from two brain aneurysms, and his record of thirty years in Washington without a major scandal – or it seems, a big payday – are all extremely admirable. But virtue does not always guarantee votes – as George H.W. Bush learned when Bill Clinton defeated him in 1992.

In fact, speaking of Clinton, Obama would have done much better had he learned from Clinton in 1992. That year, amid doubts about Clinton’s youth and inexperience, Clinton showed great moxie in refusing to nominate an elder statesman to compensate for his supposed weaknesses.

Instead, Clinton thrilled voters by choosing another young Southern politician, Al Gore. This vice-presidential choice reinforced Clinton’s message of change; Obama’s choice, unfortunately, muddied the waters, suggesting that, at the end of the day, 2008 is going to be another conventional campaign and Obama may be just another conventional politician, like his new best friend, Joe Biden.

The generational game

Adapted from Happy Birthday Obama — the Baby Buster, HNN, 8-8-08

By Gil Troy

Jerusalem Post, August 10, 2008

Barack Obama celebrated his 47th birthday on Monday of last week with minimal fanfare. The anniversary of his birth on August 4, 1961 highlights his campaign’s often-underappreciated generational dimensions.

Obama was not just born later than most national leaders, he imbibed a different sensibility. Demographers may clump Obama – and his wife Michelle who was born in 1964 – together with “Baby Boomers,” but those of us born at the tail end of that population explosion know we are more like the slipped discs of the Baby Boomers, split from the mainstream like the jellylike substance that ruptures from the spinal column and frequently causes great pain, as Obama imposed on the Clintons. Many of us slipped discers seek to revive some of the faith, hope, morality and national unity many Boomers scorned.

Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, both born in 1946, represent the two sides of the political fault line that the Baby Boomers 1960s’ earthquake triggered (John McCain, born in 1936, pre-dated the Baby Boom). Clinton and his buddies were traumatized by the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, tormented by the Vietnam War’s draft, yet inspired by their political and cultural revolution’s transformational potential. Others, like George W. Bush, enjoyed the “sex, drugs, and rock n’roll” moment, but, politically, triggered the conservative backlash.

As a slipped discer, or baby buster, born as America’s birth rate stabilized, Barack Obama was too young even to lie as so many Baby Boomers did about being at Woodstock in 1969 – he was only eight. Rather than being children of the 1960s, we were children of the 1970s. We stewed in the defeatism of Viet Nam, the cynicism of Watergate, the pessimism of Jimmy Carter’s energy crisis rather than the triumphalism of the post-World War II world.

Most of us did not experience “Leave it to Beaver” or “Father Knows Best” moments teaching us life was so simple; with the divorce revolution fragmenting families all around us, most of us watched Michelle Obama’s favorite show, “The Brady Bunch,” with knowing, pre-post-modernist smirks.

Moreover, thanks to Stagflation, that unique seventies combo of inflation and unemployment, we – and our Depression-era parents – were anomalies in modern America: we grew up doubting the fundamental American idea of progress, doubting we could fulfill the American dream of outdoing our parents and bettering our own lives. In college, many of us felt inadequate for being less radical and influential than our older peers, even as we considered them tiresome and self-righteous.

Surprisingly, after all the Baby Boomers’ experimentation, in our generation, the rebellious ones were the straight ones. For anyone in the left or the center who did not want to be tagged as – heaven forbid – a goody-goody – it was easier to “do it” than to abstain.

Even today, when Barack Obama talks about traditional morality and political moderation he risks being mocked by his peers and his usual ideological allies among the “let it all hang out” Boomers.

Of course, demography is not destiny; the generational game – which the Baby Boomers typically overdid – should not be overplayed. Still, it is not surprising that it was Jon Stewart, born in 1962, who has been among the few public figures to champion moderation, blasting the hosts of CNN’s Crossfire for dividing America. And it is not surprising that Obama came to prominence with an un-Boomer-like call for unity and healing.

In his book “Audacity of Hope” and during the 2006 Congressional campaign, Obama emphasized this generational divide. But the Baby Boomer cohort remains too large to risk alienating during a tight presidential contest, so he has done less Boomer-bashing lately.

Still, as he demonstrated in defeating Hillary Clinton, born in 1947, Obama is more nimble than many Baby Boomers. He is less starry-eyed and less battle-scarred, thus less doctrinaire, freer of the great Baby Boomer fault line and more anxious for national healing.

Unfortunately, many “slipped discers” lack the visceral love for Israel and understanding of the Zionist project that their elders had. John McCain’s generation of pre-Baby Boomers witnessed the devastation of the Holocaust followed by the redemption of re-establishing a Jewish State.

The Baby Boomers tasted the euphoria of the Six Day War, with liberals inspired by many of Israel’s communitarian ideals and conservatives appreciating Israel’s strategic importance during the Cold War. Obama’s generation was marked by the Yasir Arafat con, wherein the grandfather of modern terrorism was somehow able to be hailed as the protector of the oppressed and a man of peace.

Obama and his peers have seen an Israel of the “Zionism is racism” libel, of ugly apartheid accusations, of corrupt and ineffectual leaders. We see the fallout among Jews this age – it is not surprising to see it among non-Jewish politicians as well.

Those of us born in the early 1960s have long been upstaged by our louder, more self-righteous, older peers and siblings. Wherever we stand politically, many of us understand that Obama’s syntheses of tradition and innovation, his calls to transcend the usual divides in American politics, reflect a collective generational frustration. Many of us are fed up with the older generation’s media-hogging, polarizing, tendencies.

Demographers called Boomers the pig-in-the-python because they stuck out demographically. Their attitudes often simply stuck in our craws as we yearned for a less bitter, less zero-sum politics – which is what Obama the birthday boy, at his best, is promising.

 

Nearing toward foreign policy consensus

JPost, July 20, 2008

A JPost.com exclusive blog

Barack Obama and John McCain clashed over foreign policy last week – or did they? While some headlines emphasized the two candidates’ differences, proclaiming “McCain Slams Obama on Iraq Surge,” the two also agreed on many important fundamentals – as well as key policies.

Their points of overlap demonstrate that both are patriots, both are “anti-terror,” both seek an American victory in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The fact that the previous sentence needs to be written, of course, illustrates the absurd extremes to which so many partisan critics take the polarizing discourse about the candidates.

Appropriately, Israel was not a central thrust of either speech. But the fundamental equation remains operative – what is good for America in this election will be good for Israel. And if the winning candidate sticks to the vision articulated in either of the two speeches, America, and Israel, will be all right.

Characteristically – and in fairness, due to the setting – Obama’s speech at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Building in Washington was more sweeping, more visionary, more programmatic. McCain’s response at a town hall meeting was more focused, more hands-on, more strategic.

Obama built his speech by remembering America’s Cold War containment policy, embracing George Marshall’s faith in “judgment,” mixing what we now call “hard” and “soft” power.

Before finishing with an inspirational return to his history lesson, Obama demonstrated his commitment to righting the wrongs of the Bush years with a deft combination of self-sacrifice, selflessness, muscle-flexing and nation-building – in the United States and abroad. He sees foreign policy – like domestic policy – as a vehicle for national renewal, for encouraging Americans to work together and build a national sense of mission and community, while defending their nation and improving the world.

Less loftily, Obama proclaimed “five goals essential to making America safer: ending the war in Iraq responsibly; finishing the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban; securing all nuclear weapons and materials from terrorists and rogue states; achieving true energy security; and rebuilding our alliances to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

Obviously, the rhetoric of a campaign speech does not necessarily anticipate a president’s track record in the Oval Office. But the bulk of Obama’s speech would be thoroughly acceptable to most Ronald Reagan Republicans. In particular, both Obama and McCain agreed about the need to beef up the American troop presence in Afghanistan.

In response, John McCain focused part of his stump speech in New Mexico on Obama, Afghanistan, and Iraq, rather than delivering a more formal foreign policy address.

Highlighting the contrast between the young, eloquent, intellectual visionary and the wizened warrior, McCain came out swinging, “I know how to win wars. I know how to win wars,” McCain told his Albuquerque audience. “And if I’m elected President, I will turn around the war in Afghanistan, just as we have turned around the war in Iraq, with a comprehensive strategy for victory, I know how to do that.”

Sharpening his elbows, McCain said: “In wartime, judgment and experience matter. In a time of war, the commander in chief doesn’t get a learning curve.”

And more directly, he mocked his opponent, reading two Obama quotations, one back in January 2007 doubting the surge would work, and a second one a year later, acknowledging that more troops in Iraq led to more stability. “My friends, flip-floppers all over the world are enraged,” McCain chuckled.

In fact, both candidates are converging, not only about Afghanistan. Both understand that in the wake of the Bush presidency, America needs to experience an economic, diplomatic, and ideological renewal. Obama is more explicit about that – but McCain rides heavily on the fact that he was calling for what became the “surge” while George W. Bush was still blindly defending “Rummy” – Donald Rumsfeld – and pooh-poohing reports of chaos in Baghdad.

And even on Iraq, Obama is cautiously, cleverly, and responsibly, narrowing the gap between his policies and McCain’s. Obama still talks about giving the military “a new mission on my first day in office: ending this war” – an interesting choice of words considering that the traditional goal of most militaries is to win the war not just end it.

Still, analysts noted that Obama’s sixteen month timetable, now is set to begin on Inauguration Day – six months from now, and he spoke about a “residual” force remaining. Clearly, as the possibility that he just might become Commander-in-Chief grows, Obama is realizing that his rhetoric and his postures may have serious life-and-death implications.

This convergence in a campaign is good. It is not just the gravitational pull to the center we often see after primaries. It is not just the “oh, boy, I might be president” flight from irresponsibility. It is also precisely what the American people want. A Washington Post poll this week found that 78 percent of those surveyed, “said it is more important for a candidate to adjust positions to changing circumstances than to stick to his original stands (18 percent prioritize consistency).”

By this poll, more than three-quarters of the American people are more mature than most reporters and bloggers, partisans and pols. The challenge is for the candidates to show they can campaign vigorously, disagree passionately on some issues, while still reassuring the American people they understand that they both share many common values, common dreams, and common-sense policies.

Support for Israel remains a part of this consensus. Judging by this week’s exchange, as well as the more Israel-focused AIPAC speeches, the hysterical claims that Obama is going to abandon the Jewish State, or that McCain is going to so blindly support Israel there will be no constraints are both overstated.

 

The X factor in the American election

JPost, July 13, 2008

Throughout much of George W. Bush’s reign, the newspapers and blogosphere have been filled with dire warnings about the state of America. Much of it was so hysterical, it was easy to dismiss it as “Bushophobia,” a reflection of the irrational, intense hatred this president provokes, especially among elites.

In fact, for much of the Bush years, America’s economy did well. Quarter after quarter, experts would warn about sobering outcomes, and yet the numbers kept on illustrating a much rosier picture. As long as the economy was strong, Bush’s popularity ratings could plummet, New Orleans could sink, Iraq could become a quagmire, but the overall tone in the United States remained surprisingly upbeat.

All that has changed. The talk in the United States has turned, people frequently admit their economic distress, focusing on limited finances now or worries about limitations to come. The most visible symbol of this new economic reality is that gasoline is now consistently over $4 a gallon.

People are cutting back, redirecting resources they once piddled away on luxuries toward keeping up with their necessities. As a mark of this shift, Starbucks, one of the great symbols of early 21st century indulgence with its $4 cups of coffee, just closed 600 stores. It seems that the Bush daydream has become the Bush nightmare.

This energy and economic trauma on top of all the other traumas should make it a simple election for the Democrats. No matter who wins the White House, everyone is expecting a Democratic sweep of Congress. On Capitol Hill, Republicans are bracing for a bloodbath, Democrats are already squabbling over the spoils. With Barack Obama leading in the polls, with John McCain retooling his campaign team, this election should be a slam dunk win for the Democrats.

But the dynamics of the presidential campaign are not that easy. Remember President Michael kis? He was crowned the presumptive successor to Ronald Reagan in 1988 as he enjoyed a double digit lead in the polls over George H.W. Bush throughout the summer. But Bush was able to come back and defeat him.

The office of the president is so personal, the campaign is so long and grueling, that anything could happen. It really is too early to say Kaddish for McCain or pick out the new colors for Obama’s Oval Office re-design. And on top of all these personality and political factors in the mix, the economy is going to weigh ever more heavily – if current indicators continue to play out as they have been.

In 1992, Bill Clinton defeated George H.W. Bush, who once enjoyed approval ratings close to 90 percent. Clinton’s slogan was “It’s The Economy, Stupid.”

This year, barring a major terrorist attack or international blow up – it seems clear that the election will hinge yet again on that stupid economy.

If McCain cannot figure out how to respond to Americans’ distress on this issue, he is finished. But if Americans lose confidence in Obama’s ability to be a steady steward of the economy, he, too, is doomed.

Is America Ready For A Maimonidean Moment?

by Gil Troy The New York Jewish Week, June 27, 2008

 

Both presumptive presidential nominees, John McCain and Barack Obama, have repudiated George W. Bush’s leadership style. Both have vied for the center, and promised to lead from the center. Unknowingly, they are channeling the approach of the great Jewish philosopher, Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon. With any luck, the next president will help the United States achieve a Maimonidean moment — it is long overdue.
Maimonides synthesized the biblical warnings against excess and Greek models of balance to chart the “Golden Path.” Writing in the 1100s, Maimonides described this Golden Mean geometrically, urging individuals to calibrate their behavior by placing themselves equidistant from their warring impulses. Defining wisdom as moderation, Maimonides said individuals needed to seek midpoints in their emotions, appetites, personal relations, and business lives.In a democracy, politics should have that kind of balance, that kind of temperance. Ultimately, democracies rely on good will to survive. Let’s face it. The basis of democracy, consent of the governed, is a fiction. Those of us born into the democratic system did not give our consent. The democratic regime has been imposed on us. We are free to vote for our leaders (or not vote). This gives us input into our leaders; it does not give our consent to the government.

The system works so well and provides so much freedom that we ignore this problem. Still, historically, one of the keys to American success has been a political culture whose strong tendency to moderate conflict is led by center-seeking presidents. George Washington’s civility, Abraham Lincoln’s pragmatism, Theodore Roosevelt’s nationalism, Franklin Roosevelt’s incrementalism, Harry Truman’s consensus-building, Dwight Eisenhower’s consensus-culture, John Kennedy’s romanticism, and Ronald Reagan’s patriotism all played to — and reinforced — the great American middle. Barack Obama is correct. America is more united culturally and politically, and Americans are more inconsistent than media emphasis on red versus blue or cosmopolitan bicoastals versus Western and Southern rednecks would have us believe.

Sadly, this moderate, bipartisan spirit, rooted in a reasonable but romantic nationalism, has been lacking lately. Democrats love to blame George W. Bush, Karl Rove, Fox News, and the shrill partisans of the right led by Bill O’Reilly, Anne Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh. Republicans love to blame the Clintons, both Hillary and Bill, James Carville, Moveon.org, and the shrill partisans of the left led by Al Franken, Bill Maher, and Keith Olbermann. The polarizing enmity is so great that when critics lament the generalized hyperpartisanship, many liberals and conservatives object to the false equivalence, convinced that only their opponents are unreasonable.

Unfortunately, the American Jewish community has become encased in its own polarizing set of stereotypes. Enemies of Israel, eager to implicate Israel in the Iraq war fiasco and transfer some of President George W. Bush’s unpopularity to the Jewish state, have caricatured all of Israel’s Jewish supporters as neoconservatives.  At the same time, right-wingers frequently caricature the American Jewish community as a collection of mushy-headed liberals, hopelessly nostalgic about the ‘60s, convinced that all of America’s domestic problems can be solved by a Great Society-type implementation of the prophet Isaiah’s teachings.

There is some truth behind both caricatures. Although support for Israel remains impressively bipartisan, George W. Bush’s intense support for the Jewish state, along with the modern unholy anti-Zionist alliance between many leftists and Palestinians, has fed perceptions that conservatives support Israel. Similarly, the American Jewish community has long been liberal and deeply tied to the Democratic Party. But given Israel’s overwhelming popularity among American Jews, and the perception of support for Israel as conservative, can the American Jewish community still be considered liberal?
Rather than fueling the partisan epidemic, American Jews should use this overstated contradiction to help hasten America’s Maimonidean moment. As supporters of Israel —and targets of the global Jihadists — American Jews are particularly sensitive to the dangers of terrorism. Just as Jews from the left in the 1960s and 1970s recognized the abuses of Soviet Communism faster than others because of the Soviet Jews’ plight, Jews today should be especially wary of the global dangers facing all Americans. Some liberal authors including Paul Berman and Peter Beinart have argued that liberals should lead the fight against Islamism, that it is a mistake to let opposition to President Bush blind liberty-lovers to Islamic fundamentalism’s dictatorial dangers. At the same time, as descendants of so many who have suffered oppression, and as proud heirs to the biblical tradition, American Jews are also particularly sensitive to the needs of the unfortunate.
After too many years of partisanship, we need to build a new center by defeating the Islamist scourge and, at the same time, advancing social justice. As both nominees vie for the center, American Jews should push from both the left and the right for more compromise, more civility, less polarization and less demonization. Our great rabbi Maimonides can indeed help heal America, and return Americans to the paths our greatest presidents followed. 

Gil Troy is professor of history at McGill University and a visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C. His book “Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents” (Basic Books) was just published.

 

‘Scoop’ McCain

While, as I argued in my last blog posting, the best part of Barack Obama’s AIPAC speech reflected a passionate, poetic understanding of Zionism as an anchor for Jewish identity, John McCain’s AIPAC speech revealed his deep sensitivity to Israel’s role in Jewish history and in American history.

STOP the presses! Can it be! Are you allowed to say something positive about BOTH candidates? Aren’t you supposed to demonize one and sanctify the other? Actually, much can be learned about the two candidates by seeing the different ways they approach their friendship with Israel. And there can be no more eloquent repudiation of all the libels about the Jewish Lobby by seeing how the candidates offered two very different intellectual paths that both led to a bipartisan affirmation of the enduring friendship between Israel and America, practically and spiritually.

McCain rooted his views of Israel in the more conventional, but equally compelling, narrative of the Jewish need for a Jewish state as a refuge from persecution, especially after the Holocaust. McCain views Israeli and American security needs as intertwined. The Arizona Senator understands that, as sister democracies, Israel and the United States share a common battle in fighting Islamic extremism, and in the particular need to check Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

McCain began his speech by praising one of the architects of the America-Israel alliance, Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson. Senator Jackson represented the State of Washington, a western state with few Jews. Throughout his career, and at the peak of his power in the 1970s, Jackson defended the Jewish State not because it was the politic thing to do, but because it was the right thing to do. Jackson also worked hard to save Soviet Jews, another cause without an obvious Washington State constituency – but with a compelling moral rationale.

Senator Jackson understood that Israel was an essential ally in fighting America’s greatest threat in the 1970s, Soviet Communism. Jackson was the kind of bighearted visionary who could champion Soviet Jewry and Israel in such a way that he never appeared to be using the plight of Soviet Jews or Israel’s needs as mere tools against Soviet Russia. Rather, he showed how the universal moral cause and America’s strategic needs converged and reinforced each other.

Obama, left, and McCain
Photo: AP

“Scoop” McCain is following that approach in fighting the Islamist scourge. He appreciates the way Israeli and American needs harmonize – and a righteous American-Israeli friendship consecrates and cements the strategic American-Israeli alliance. “My friends,” McCain proclaimed, “as the people of Israel know better than most, the safety of free people can never be taken for granted. And in a world full of dangers, Israel and the United States must always stand together.”

Here, then, is one of the continuing mysteries following September 11. On that awful day in 2001, the Islamist terrorists acted so despicably the moral confusion of so many Westerners should have ended. The joy the fundamentalists took in destroying the Twin Towers, with nearly 3000 innocents slaughtered, should have been a clarifying crime.

The Jihadists’ wanton destruction was so outrageous, so unjustified, so threatening that it should have ended our era of moral relativism. The Islamist attempt to establish a reign of terror should have ended the reign of error centered in our universities that consistently finds fault with the West and absolves Third Worlders of guilt.

The blood unnecessarily and tragically spilled of so many workers, both black and white, rich and poor, American and non-American, should have cleansed the polluted, self-abnegating souls of so many America bashers, in the United States and abroad. The fact that it did not raises disturbing questions about what is happening in the West culturally, ideologically, existentially.

I recall one meeting I attended of Canadian academics who spent so much time blaming the United States for what happened on 9/11, that when it was my turn to speak I said, “I must have been watching a different channel than the rest of you that Tuesday in September. I saw that America was attacked that day, not the other way around.”

John McCain’s AIPAC speech had the kind of moral clarity that we need to face the world’s challenges today. And, like his mentor, McCain could not forget the human dimension, in this case, mentioning Gilad Shalit, Eldad Regev, and Ehud Goldwasser, the three Israeli hostages who were kidnapped so cruelly nearly two years ago.

Israelis – and their friends throughout the world – should appreciate the fact that both of America’s leading presidential candidates spoke so powerfully and so personally at the AIPAC conference. And let us be clear. This bipartisanship does not reflect AIPAC’s power as much as it reflects the greater power and logic of the enduring American-Israeli friendship.