Obama's Re-election Was Not a Referendum on Israel

We must continue to fight the good fight within the Democratic Party, rather than let its marginalized anti-Israel voices become mainstream, to ensure that future U.S. elections don't turn into referenda on Israel.

There was a widespread perception among American media pundits that some Israeli political leaders were trying to influence the outcome of the United States presidential election. Whether that perception was true or false (or somewhere in between) there is no evidence that it worked.

Americans of all religious and ethnic backgrounds voted on the basis of what they believed was good for America, just as Israelis will soon vote on what they believe is best for their country, despite any efforts by American political leaders to influence the outcome of Israeli elections.

It is entirely understandable why political leaders of both countries have an interest in the outcome of the other country’s election. American policy toward Israel is crucial to Israel’s future, despite the Jewish nation’s ability to defend itself. And every American president has a deep interest in Israel’s security and in the prospects for peace between Israel and its neighbors. But what the late speaker of the United States House of Representatives once said about the United States—“all politics is local”—applies equally to Israel.

The re-election of President Obama—most particularly his victories in Ohio and Virginia—had everything to do with the economy, especially with the revitalization of the automobile and other industries. It may also have turned on Governor Romney’s rather extreme views on abortion, gay marriage and other social issues. Finally, the issue of likeability has a measurable effect on presidential elections.

The coming Israeli election will similarly turn on domestic issues, despite efforts by some political leaders to turn it into a debate over which candidate will have a better relationship with the American president.

It is foolish and futile for American and/or Israeli political leaders to try to influence elections in the other country. In the United States, foreign policy issues rarely have an impact on the election. This is particularly true with regard to Israel, because Israel’s security remains a bipartisan issue, despite shrill efforts by some right-wing American Jews to turn presidential elections into referenda in which a vote for the Republican candidate is a vote for Israel and a vote for the Democratic candidate is a vote against Israel. Virtually all Americans support Israel’s security, though there is considerable disagreement about the settlements.

It is true that there are increasingly loud anti-Israel voices among some hard-left Democrats, as evidenced by the booing during the Democratic Convention when the platform was made more positive toward Jerusalem. But at the moment, these anti-Israel voices remain marginalized within the mainstream Democratic Party. And it’s important to keep it that way.

That is one of the reasons why so many Jewish supporters of Israel remain within the Democratic Party despite their recognition that there is less anti-Israel feeling among Republicans than among Democrats. We must continue to fight the good fight within the Democratic Party rather than to give up on a party that has historically been more supportive of Israel (with some striking exceptions such as Jimmy Carter) than the Republicans.

That may be changing. It will not be an easy fight and there is no guarantee of victory, but it is a goal worth fighting for, especially in light of the experience in much of Europe where parties of the left have turned against Israel and where some European elections have indeed become, at least in part, referenda over support for Israel.

So, please, let Israeli political leaders of all stripes stick to trying to influence the outcome of Israeli elections while preserving a friendly neutrality toward American elections. And, please, let American political leaders not try to influence the outcome of Israeli elections. (The special problem presented by dual citizens of both Israel and the United States is beyond the scope of this article.)

The democratic (with a small “d”) character of both countries depends on elections being decided by its own citizens and not by the political leaders of the other country. The average citizen of both countries understands this reality, even if some of the leaders seem not to.

Alan M. Dershowitz, the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard, is a practicing criminal and constitutional lawyer and the author, most recently, of The Trials of Zion.