By Yara Mansour:
The death of the last founding father of Israel, Shimon Peres, has brought the U.S. presidential elections into a crescendo, as both Hillary Clinton (D) and Donald Trump (R) enter the final thirty days of the elections.
The significance of Shimon Peres to the United States goes all the way back to Kennedy’s presidency, when Israel negotiated a purchase from the United States in anti-aircraft missiles. Indeed, Shimon Peres had been crucial to the birth of Israel, functioning under the guidance of David Ben Gurion during the formulating years of Zionist aspirations, Arab retaliation, and Palestinian displacement. Peres continued the legacy of Yitzhak Rabin in negotiating a peace treaty with Jordan, yet is remembered by the Arab as a man who fattened Israel’s defense ministry and exerted this force on innocent civilians.
The death of Shimon Peres at the end of September consequently collided with an ever growing, heated American political marathon to the White House—a time when the Obama administration has reflected openly on its relationship with Israel, especially after John Kerry openly denounced Israel’s disregard for its agreement with the US in expanding illegal settlements despite being awarded the largest military aid package it has ever received. Current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been decried as implicating the historically close relationship with the US, and in fact, he has always preferred a 2008 McCain president and went so far as to make a partisan appearance before Congress that called into question Obama’s diplomatic endeavors with Iran. Netanyahu had adamantly advocated against nuclear developments in Iran, and he ultimately held that Obama catalyzed Israel’s ultimate fear of being attacked by the Shiite nation.
While these positions are typical of Israel’s right slanted party, Likud, the relationship between Netanyahu’s administration and Obama has been nothing like that fostered between former presidents. The surge of illegal Israeli settlements in areas of what has remained of the Palestinian West Bank has garnered criticism against Israel for ignoring international calls to stop and obey international law. The surge of militarized Israeli settlers and their attacks upon Palestinians in the West Bank has only added more fuel to the fire as Palestinian Mahmood Abbas has cooperated with the United States at every interval of the Obama presidency. During the Obama presidency, American non-profits were vetted for funding illegal settlement building on Palestinian territory, and more accountability, guidelines, and monitoring of Israel’s usage of American funding has irked Netanyahu and Likud. The White House has recently pressured Israel to sign a memorandum of understanding stipulating that Israel would not lobby Congress for additional funding to its military program for a ten-year period, returning any funding that it did not use according to limits placed. The Israel lobby is one of the strongest lobbies in Congress.
With a new president on the way to the White House, Israel is seeking relief from the limited criticism of the Obama administration. In fact, Netanyahu has openly maintained that he would be open to candidates equally and without preference. Knowingly, both Republican and Democratic candidates have exerted considerable energy and funding to solicit the support Israel and Americans who have settled in Israel. This comes following Bernie Sanders refusal to entertain the America Israel Public Affairs Committee, while others did. Ted Cruz loudly came to support Israel full heartedly in a pro-Netanyahu vantage, and Marco Rubio garnering the support of Israeli billionaires.
Israel, a foreign nation, has been a key point to the platform of every nominee and American election since its founding. The Israel lobby has embedded the Zionist cause in American politics, and as a result, the needs of Israel are expected to be addressed by each party’s candidates. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton now confront the topic of Israel competitively.
Donald Trump’s son in law and husband to Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, has been perceived as Trump’s “de facto” advisor. Kushner set up Donald Trump to speak in Mexico with President Enrique Peña Nieto. In late September, Donald Trump and Kushner met with Netanyahu in Trump towers. The meeting was precedent by Trump’s comments of wanting Jewish support “but not [their] money,” referencing Israel’s controversial apartheid wall as a precedent to his proposed Mexican wall, and being a “sort of neutral guy” on the question of Israel and Palestine.
This was most questioned by Israeli and Jewish press when Trump tweeted an image of a star of David, piles of money, and Hillary Clinton. While the Israeli and Israeli-American community has pivoted in support and against Trump with confusion about his policies, Trump has emphasized that an investment in Israel is a good investment. If it is indeed true that Kushner is influencing Trump’s positions on foreign policy, Kushner’s past is important to note, especially since his father was tried and charged by none other than Chris Christie for obstruction of justice. The elder Kushner, Charles, had hired a prostitute to entrap his brother in law and prevent his sister in Israel from being a witness against him. Jared Kushner has come to the rallying call of Trump, defending allegations that his father in law is anti-Semitic, and even invoking the Holocaust narrative of his grandparents amid the disgust of his Israeli cousins. The up and down of the Trump campaign with Israelis has left them questioning who is best for Israel.
Nearly 300,000 Americans reside in Israel, and nearly one-third of those reside in illegal settlements in the West Bank. Supporters of Donald Trump’s campaign opened a campaign office in the illegal settlement of Karnei Shomron. Typically, more conservative and militant, the Orthodox community has come out in favor of Donald Trump. Despite Donald Trump’s recent sexual comments and scandal, the Orthodox Jewish community in Florida was found to be in favor of Trump and forgiving of his lewd transgressions.
The orthodox militant strings of Israeli society have taken to violence against Palestinian farmers near the illegal settlements, and have long viewed Obama as being anti-Israeli with a wave of bigotry and racial tensions overtaking Israel against Africans since Obama’s election to office in 2008.
Donald Trump has stated that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people, a statement refuting Obama’s recent amendment to his eulogy for Shimon Peres, where Jerusalem is struck out from the speech as Israel’s capital. Obama also brought with him Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to the funeral, as a reminder to Netanyahu that there is “unfinished business” as he and Bill Clinton rushed back to the United States.
There is an ever growing fear by some Israelis that the same stringent standards Obama has towards Netanyahu will carry over with Hillary Clinton if she is elected president. Some leaked emails available through Wikileaks have revealed components of Clinton’s plan towards Israel would reflect a quasi Saban Forum, an event entertained by Democrats and Israelis, where Clinton was criticized as focusing too much on Palestine. Indeed, it was at the Saban Forum where Hillary Clinton had mentioned Mahmood Abbas was preferable to Israel than ISIS.
In an attempt to clearly use language to describe Israeli actions while drafting the Democratic platform for the elections, James Zogby, Cornel West, and others made a cry to call Israeli occupation “what it is.” Bernie Sanders allies introduced in June of 2016 the notion of including the end of the Israeli occupation in the Democratic platform. Wendy Sherman stated that the notion was “extremely one sided” in favor of Palestinians. And Debbie Wasserman Schultz, an active member of the National Democratic Jewish Alliance, the 2008 campaign manager of Hillary, and the former chairwoman of the Democratic National Convention, called the move in a leaked email “disturbing” with other emails revealing her role in marginalizing the Bernie Sanders camp because of his call to use the word “occupation” in describing Israeli treatment of Palestinians. She would later resign for her slanted management of the DNC.
Hillary Clinton has long functioned as a supporter for Israel, visiting the nation regularly for the past 35 years and fostering a close relationship with the assassinated former prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin. In reflecting on the passing of Shimon Peres, she and her husband commented that they, “lost a true friend.”
Leaked emails depict a panicked Benjamin Netanyahu facing the meticulous accounting of an Obama administration and the left movement in the US honing in on Israeli policy with the Boycott Divest Sanction movement that garnered momentum at university campuses. The email was in fact written by Stu Eizenstat, crying for the Clintons to “attack, attack, attack.” Eizenstat served Bill Clinton, and acted as a liaison between Clinton’s base and the Jewish community alongside Dennis Ross. In the leaked chain of emails, he states:
I also stressed that Diaspora unity was essential, but that now the Jewish community was tearing itself apart on Israel issues, and those on the liberal/left side, who are pro-Israel and anti-BDS are being shunted aside. I said that even Ben-Gurion and Begin put aside their differences at a critical time in the 1948 War, No less is needed now.
Yara Mansour is an OpsLens Contributor