The race for the Republican presidential nomination will formally be launched in Iowa in three weeks. But from an Israeli point of view, it can already be described as a watershed event. Israel has never been so prominent in any presidential race. It never served as such a "wedge issue." And it never received such sweeping and unequivocal support - especially for its right flank.
The statement made by the current front-runner, Newt Gingrich, about the Palestinians being "an invented nation" is only the most recent in a string of policy statements that, in Israeli terms, would position the Republican candidates - with the exception of Ron Paul - somewhere in the Knesset's radical right, between the Likud's Danny Danon and National Union's Aryeh Eldad. Michele Bachmann says Israel shouldn't give back one more inch of territory; Rick Perry says Israel can build settlements to its heart's content; Rick Santorum has already annexed the West Bank to Israel proper; Jon Huntsman claims that Israel is the only American interest in the Middle East; and Mitt Romney thinks the United States should keep its mouth shut on the peace process and surrender the floor to his good friend "Bibi" Netanyahu. Oh, and they all promise to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem, at once.
The Republicans believe that dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama's attitude toward Israel creates a golden opportunity for them to make significant inroads into American Jews' traditional financial and electoral support for the Democrats. But their main target is the evangelical Christians, whose votes may decide numerous primary contests. The evangelicals' absolute support for Israel derives from a deep religious belief in an inevitable confrontation between Good and Evil - and the Republicans have adopted a similar approach.
This unconditional support is undoubtedly gratifying for many Jewish voters, but in the long run, it could do more harm than good. Ordinary Americans are bound to wonder about the sway this distant country holds over American politics and about the motives of the Jews that support it. The unusually prominent place given to Israel - often at the expense of pressing domestic issues such as education, crime and poverty, as well as significant foreign policy issues such as Russia, China, the Eurozone crisis and the Arab Spring - is, one must admit, often surreal.
In their effort to portray themselves as the only party that looks after Israel's interests, Republicans are also eroding a long tradition of bipartisanship, and their campaign slogans may turn into self-fulfilling propaganda. Polarized presidential politics are bound to seep into Congress and may diminish Israel's ability to enlist consensual support in its time of need. Voters who oppose the Republican Party may come to accept that this also includes opposing the party's support for Israel.
Finally, one cannot ignore the possibility that derogatory anti-Palestinian statements, of which Gingrich provided a good example, could inflame an already stormy Arab world and, by extension, strengthen Iran's regional standing. But of course, this won't upset those who are waiting with bated breath for the war between Gog and Magog and the Apocalypse. It's only a problem for those who still cling to the anachronistic concept that managing a country's foreign relations requires wisdom, prudence and good judgment.
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