Open Zion

11.02.12

The Dilemma Of An Israeli Democrat

Let me start by saying that I'm a Democrat. That is, I would be, were I an American citizen. In American political parlance, I'm a liberal. I share President Obama's view of what a fair and just society looks like and the important role that government can play in helping to create that society. Mitt Romney and his Tea Party-dominated Republican Party still believe, against all the evidence to the contrary, that the market, left completely to its own devices, will create a fair and just society.

I have no time for the moronic accusations against the President of "hating Israel."  I appreciate that his administration has provided unprecedented levels of military support for Israel, both in terms of record levels of financial assistance for our defensive requirements, and intelligence sharing. I am also aware that he has had to contend with an Israeli Prime Minister in Benjamin Netanyahu who has been more concerned with prolonging his premiership than taking steps towards a two-state solution.

But, despite all of the above, I have serious reservations about the prospect of his reelection. And they relate to what I believe has been his serious mishandling of the region in which I live.

It is hard to disagree with my fellow British-Israeli, Jonathan Spyer, one of the best Middle East analysts around, who assessed recently  that his policies in the region display "little understanding of the Hobbesian world of Middle Eastern politics and the aspects required in order to build firm alliances and proxies here.".

His decision to coerce Netanyahu into imposing a 10-month settlement freeze was also a colossal misjudgment. Firstly, by Mahmoud Abbas's own admission, this gave him an excuse to avoid negotiations with Israel by forcing a precondition that had never before been required for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Secondly, his hope that this move by Israel would trigger a sympathetic response from the Arab world was predictably and embarrassingly rebuffed.

From where I'm sitting the post-Arab Spring Middle East is looking increasingly worrying. Egypt, an erstwhile ally of Israel is now led by Islamists who regard Israel's presence in the region as a standing affront, Syria is in flames and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is looking increasingly precarious. Yet, it has been hard to escape the feeling that Obama's Middle East policy is driven, in part, by a caution against giving the Muslim world "reasons" to hate America and a belief that, short of Al-Qaida, Islamist movements are not an urgent threat to the free world.

The late British-American writer Christopher Hitchens was right to compare Islamism (please note, not Islam) with fascism. It is anti-democratic (despite its pragmatic use of elections to attain power) in its hatred of liberal values, and its total intolerance of non-Islamic faiths—the fate of Palestinian Christians in Hamas-run Gaza is a case in point. And, like the fascist regimes that set Europe ablaze in the last century, Islamism has no qualms about the mass-murder of innocent people in pursuit of its ends.

And of course, while Sunni Islamism is a rising threat, its Shi'ite version is a clear and present danger. Opinion here in Israel is divided as to the wisdom of a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, but there is consensus that a regime that so often and so unambiguously calls for Israel's disappearance from the map of the Middle East should not be allowed to attain a nuclear bomb. The deliberately vague "all options are on the table" will not cut it anymore. Iran needs to hear an explicit statement from the U.S. Commander-In-Chief that the might of the American military will act to prevent the Ayatollahs from getting the bomb if all else fails.

Were I a U.S. citizen, living in America, I would be voting for Obama on November 6. However, my children will be growing up in Israel, and I want to feel that they will be as safe as they can possibly be, here in the eye of the storm. And right now, I'm just not sure if he is the U.S. President most likely to help deliver that.