Editorial: Fire and Rain

Jewish Light Editorial

For “one brief shining moment” in an election campaign that was largely a mixture of attack ads, relentless and conflicting opinion polls and ad nauseam pundit commentary, there they stood: President Barack Obama, coming to New Jersey on the heels of Hurricane Sandy, shoulder to shoulder with Governor Chris Christie, both assuring citizens that everything possible will be done to bring  urgently needed relief.
 The moment is remarkable not only because Christie is a Republican and Obama a Democrat, but because Christie was the keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention, a strong backer of Republican presidential nominee Governor Mitt Romney and a harsh critic of the president. But hurricanes, whether named Katrina, Irene or Sandy, do not respect party affiliations; they are equal opportunity destroyers.

The same might be said of the enemies of Israel. And that is why the lesson of cooperation issued by Obama and Christie is highly instructive as we consider how our political parties must come together in their continued support and defense of the Jewish State.


The imminent threat of a natural disaster might not seem an easy parallel to the Middle East, but it only takes a small leap of logic to see the similarities. Sandy reflected a force inflicted on our nation that we could not control and with which we could not reason. That describes almost with eerie precision the threats Israel faces from the terror of Iran, from other Middle Eastern nations and the irrational hatred propagated by militant Islamists in the region.

Obama and Christie were of course doing what responsible elected officials should do much more often — putting aside party labels and dealing with solving the critical task at hand. This was not at all the case with much of the rhetoric surrounding the United States-Israel relationship during the election.

If you listened to some voices, you would think that their political opponents wanted nothing more than a sudden and sharp abandonment of the enduring bond between the nations.

This is not so, and strong evidence of such was presented in the third and final debate between the candidates for president. Both Obama’s and Romney’s comments were rife with language regarding Iran and Israel, with a sharper focus on the region and the defense of Israel’s interests than any other foreign policy issues received during the evening.  It was abundantly clear, absent “Manchurian Candidate”-like paranoia, that preservation of Israel’s security was paramount to both candidates.

The dialogue became heated at times during the campaign. Obama was criticized for not seeing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his recent New York visit, while Obama and Netanyahu have in fact met nine times during the president’s first term. The president was also chastised for not visiting Israel since his election, though only four presidents have stepped foot in Israel while in office (out of 11 since the founding of the Jewish State) — and two of those were in their second term as president. As we’ve ascertained from history, those visits are hardly harbingers of future Israeli support (read: Jimmy Carter, who visited twice).

And just as Obama was taken to task from the right, the left branded Romney for his association with American magnate Sheldon Adelson, a fierce supporter of Israel’s security.

There’s nothing wrong with voicing opinions, of course, or calling out the candidates for perceived mistakes in their rhetoric and conduct. But the dynamic that leads to parties and candidates trying to lay claim to a monopoly on Israel backing is not a good one. Sure, in the short run it might be effective in driving votes to one side or the other, but if it imperils strong, bipartisan cooperation in Israel’s support and defense, there’s a clear and present danger associated with it.

Moreover, it’s not really even clear anymore what “liberal” and “conservative” mean in the context of American-Israeli politics. The two-state solution, long a linchpin of stalwart American defenders of Israel, has started to fray at the edges as some neocons have started to take a more jaded view that such an outcome has been rendered improbable by a combination of changing demographics and Palestinian intransigence.

The concern about Israel’s safety and security is absolutely as scary as the powerful storm winds that blew Sandy up on the East Coast shores of this country. Our insistence should be on a powerful, bipartisan response — one that prevents a nuclear Iran, combats anti-Israel sentiment here and across the globe, and insists on a peaceful long-term solution that ensures Israel’s safety and security — that is as forceful and resolute as that demonstrated by Obama and Christie in their battle against Sandy’s devastation.