The 2016 Presidential Election is already in full swing as Republican and Democratic candidates hold campaign events and court voters.
Campaign consultants usually advice candidates to distinguish and separate themselves from the rest of the field, but the memo may get lost when it comes to Israel/Palestine as nearly all candidates – regardless of otherwise strong ideological disagreements – conform to pro-Israel bromides.
It may seem repetitive, but it is worth displaying and analyzing the candidates’ views to appreciate the tone and substance of public discourse on Israel and Palestine.
Throughout the campaign, Palestine Square will be highlighting candidate statements and declarations on Israel, Palestine and related matters, such as the Iran nuclear agreement.
For our second entry in the Special Series on the 2016 Presidential Election:
Republican – Senator Ted Cruz:
Whether on the floor of the U.S. Senate or the campaign stump, this Canadian-born Texan has often adopted a confrontational tone. Cruz isn’t shy about calling his own Senate Majority Leader a “liar,” so Palestinians can except a less than cordial reception.
Cruz’s words are no doubt offensive to pro-Palestinian sensibilities; and he does go beyond standard pro-Israeli talking points, but it’s arguable that some of his views are not grand deviations from standard U.S. policy. In his defense, Cruz may simply admit he’s more frank and straightforward about refusing to play the “peace-process” dance of an “honest broker” that many U.S. politicians often feign.
For instance, Cruz declares how he would handle the “peace process”:
“The question of whether peace is ultimately achieved through a one-state solution or a two-state solution is a question for Israel, and America shouldn’t dictate the answers.
“If Israel were on its own initiative to negotiate a two-state solution, every nation on earth would recognize those two states. There would not be a disagreement if it were negotiated by the parties in question. What it should not be is imposed from outside.”
Cruz articulates the de jure and de facto American position. Although callous in tone toward Palestinians, policy-wise it would effectively be indistinguishable from that of President Barack Obama (and any likely Democratic officeholder in the foreseeable future).
It has been American policy since the 1970s to support an agreement along Israeli terms. U.S.-led negotiations consist of U.S. and Israeli officials finalizing terms and then demanding Palestinian capitulation. A former U.S. negotiator related that he and his colleague acted as “Israel’s attorney, catering and coordinating with the Israelis at the expense of successful peace negotiations.”
Over two-decades of American-led negotiations have consigned Palestinians to an interminable occupation under the pretense of conflict resolution (more accurately described as conflict management) that has allowed Israel to escape international accountability at ever increasing patrimonial loss for Palestinians.
Who’s To Blame?
And when Cruz lays the blame on a “Palestinian leadership that embraces radical terrorism” for the latter’s suffering under occupation, his remarks are not all that different from 2007’s candidate Obama who spoke sympathetically and off-the-cuff about Palestinian suffering but then hastened to add (under pressure by pro-Israel groups) that “the Palestinian people are suffering from the Hamas-led government’s refusal to renounce terrorism and join as a real partner in the peace process.”
Christian Right Wrong
Cruz’s obsessive veneration of Israel is apparently so acute that he found himself incapable of addressing a gathering hosted by In Defense of Christians, whose purpose was to highlight the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, without lecturing the audience that “Christians have no greater ally than Israel.”
The audience of mainly Middle Eastern Christians have good reason to think otherwise: Israel’s ethnic cleansing and dispossession of Palestinians is indiscriminate toward Muslims and Christians. Christian communities in Jerusalem, the Galilee and elsewhere were depopulated by Israeli forces in 1948 and their residents denied their ‘right of return,’ and Christian villages and the city of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank have been decimated by Israeli land seizures.
Although Israeli propaganda blames Islamist intolerance (without, curiously, ever citing the testimony of a Palestinian Christian), Palestinian Christians blame a stifling Israeli occupation for the Christian exodus from the Holy Land as Christians – often with more resources and networks abroad than their Muslim neighbors – seek a viable life elsewhere. Israel may deflect blame and lament the exodus, but any intelligent observer of Israel’s policies knows that Israeli settlers and the politicians behind them desire nothing less than to fulfill the Zionist dream of ‘Maximum Land, Minimum Arabs’. There is no Christian exemption to this rule.
Cruz may be ignorant of this history and attributed the heckles he received to “a shameful display of bigotry and hatred” and walked off the stage telling the crowd “if you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you.”
From One Orthodox To Another
Cruz has also zeroed in on the minority of Jewish-Americans who are not liberal Democrats (they do exist!). Mainly Orthodox Jews, Cruz hopes to rally this small but potentially decisive bloc. In a fraught primary season with 17 candidates, they may offer the margin of victory he needs to best other Republicans.
While Jewish-Americans are generally supportive of Israel, Orthodox Jews are more likely to hold views inline with Israel’s right-wing parties and oppose Palestinian statehood. In addition, many raise funds for illegal Israeli settlements.
“I share a great many values with the Jewish community and the Orthodox community. Chief among them is a passionate dedication to strengthening our friendship and alliance with the nation of Israel,” Cruz told a gathering of Orthodox Jews.
Jeff Ballabon, who acted as George W. Bush’s campaign liaison to the Orthodox community, told Politico that Cruz’s address to Middle Eastern Christians (above) raised his profile in the Orthodox Community:
“All of a sudden, that put him very much top-of-mind as a strong defender [of Israel], someone who felt in his gut about the Middle East the way the Orthodox community does. He didn’t think, ‘I’m going to be the candidate for the Orthodox Jews.’ When that video went viral, all the Orthodox Jews were clamoring to meet him.”
Entebbe Or . . . : American Fascination with Israel
In 1970s America, many commentators shared President Richard Nixon’s concern that the U.S. appeared on the world stage as a “pitiful and helpless giant.” The perception of American weakness in the wake of the Vietnam war was often contrasted with Israeli resolve. The 1976 Entebbe Raid may have marked the height of fascination with the Israel Defense Forces, as a special unit descended on a Ugandan runway where Israeli and foreign civilians were being held hostage by a Palestinian militant faction. Israeli troops rescued all but three of the hostages while losing one soldier. It became legendary overnight and sparked a sense of awe among many Americans who envied the seemingly irreproachable strength and discipline of that ‘plucky little democracy’. If one wants to understand popular support for Israel in the U.S., such stories that combined news reportage with cultural drama – two Hollywood films were devoted to the raid, including one staring Elizabeth Taylor – are essential (conversely, the current 35-and-younger generation of Americans are less supportive of Israel having grown up with images of Israelis occupying and bombing Palestinians).
For Cruz, the raid stirred his interest in Israel:
“It struck me as a profoundly Texan approach to an act of terrorism,” he told Politico. “A foreign policy approach driven from strength, which I often wish American foreign policy more closely resembled.”
Never Miss An Opportunity
Late Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban famously remarked that “The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Like many Zionist one-liners, it had a nice ring to it and was eagerly repeated by Western sympathizers (akin to “Land without a people for a people without a land” or “making the desert bloom”), but it was as false as it was memorable.
We cite Eban’s words for they popped to mind when considering this next story.
When Washington and Havana restored diplomatic ties, Cruz used the occasion to demonstrate his almost barking support for Israel, calling the decision:
“Unacceptable and a slap in the face of a close ally that the United States will have an embassy in Havana before one in Jerusalem.”
What an embassy in Cuba has to do with Israel may not be evident at first, but Cruz’s objection is rooted in his repeated calls for the U.S. Embassy in Israel to relocate from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Cruz is actually behind the ball. Congress already voted in the 1990s to relocate the embassy, but the bill came with a presidential waiver.
No nation on earth has an embassy in Jerusalem as the territory was seized in war by Israeli forces. The 1947 Partition Plan carved out Jerusalem as a corpus separatum (a “separated body” neither in the Jewish nor Arab state), but its Western half was captured in 1948 and Israel occupied its remaining Eastern half in 1967. An American embassy in Jerusalem would condone the forcible seizure of the Golden City and appear to prejudge any final agreement between Israel and the Palestinians regarding sovereignty over Jerusalem.
Furthermore, the land offered by Israel for a proposed U.S. embassy is (incidentally?) seized Palestinian refugee property. Because it would mark such a stark deviation from nominal diplomatic concern for international norms, the last three presidents – including the very pro-Israel Bush administration – have signed the waiver in opposition to an embassy move.
During campaign seasons, many candidates pander to pro-Israel groups and promise to finally move the embassy to Israel’s capital, but a President Cruz may actually make good on the promise.
Israel’s systemic abuse of Palestinian children is documented by numerous organizations:
Defense for Children International has issued many reports, which may be viewed on their website.
“Over 1,800 children killed across the Occupied Palestinian Territory since 2000” by Israeli forces, DCI-Palestine reports.
Human Rights Watch recently published a report on exploited Palestinian child labor on illegal Israeli settlement farms with Israeli state complicity as Israel refuses to impose its labor laws, which would otherwise protect Palestinian children, in the occupied West Bank:
Another HRW report documents “Chokeholds, Beatings, Coercive Interrogations” of Palestinian children by Israeli occupation forces.
In short, the accumulated evidence of Israeli abuse of children should earn the nation a dishonorable place in the UN’s list of “parties to conflict who commit grave violations against children.”
Israel was able to blackmail the UN – probably threatening to restrict its ability to aid Palestinians in the occupied territories – in order to avoid being listed. But not before Cruz had his say:
“This designation would falsely and shamefully equate Israel with some of the most barbaric terrorist organizations around the world. Mr. Secretary-General, I submit that, should you determine to add more parties to your list, you should focus on those who actually exploit their own children as human shields, indoctrinate and raise their children to glorify violence and martyrdom, and target the children of others to achieve their destructive goals who should receive priority consideration, such as Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jihad. There is absolutely no moral equivalence between radical Islamic terrorists, who are motivated by these factors, and Israel, which is justifiably motivated solely by the defense of her people….As the largest contributor to the United Nations, Congress will have no choice but to reassess the United States’ relationship with the United Nations and consider serious consequences if you choose to take this action.”
The list would, of course, not equate Israel to any nation or organization; but serve to highlight its abuses of children along with other nations on the list, including Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, India, Pakistan, and several other African and Asian nations; along with Columbia. The UN General Assembly may focus disproportionately on Israel; but with several Arab countries on the list, this report can hardly be deemed as picking on Israel. Instead, it is an effort at a nonpartisan documentation of the hardships suffered by children affected by war and occupation around the world.
“The story of Ariel Sharon’s life was very much the story of the state of Israel from his birth in Kfar Malal twenty years before Israel was established, to fighting in the Six Days war of 1967, to his service as Prime Minister from 2001-06. He experienced enormous struggle and adversity, but persevered in the defense of the nation he loved. Israel has lost a great warrior and the United States has lost a great friend. May he rest in peace.”
Backing Up Bibi
Perhaps seeking to aid the reelection prospects of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, Cruz objected to the efforts by an American non-profit organization organizing centrist and liberal Jewish and Palestinian voters in Israel.
In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, co-authored with Rep. Lee Zeldin, Cruz wrote:
“We write to express strong concerns over the recent media reports that a U.S. taxpayer funded 501(c)(3) non-profit organization called OneVoice is actively working with a campaign operation called V15 or ‘Victory 2015′ in an effort to influence the outcome of the elections in Israel, on March 17, 2015.
“Given the overtly partisan nature of this particular case, we are deeply concerned by the relationship that also exists between OneVoice and the U.S. Department of State [OneVoice had received grants from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and the U.S. State Department].
“Given the public statements by a number of Obama administration officials, including the President, that it would be ‘inappropriate’ for the government of the United States to exercise any influence over elections in a foreign country including Israel, we believe this issue demands your urgent attention. There appears to be a danger that U.S. taxpayer funds are being used to directly shape the outcome of the upcoming Israeli election–and specifically to campaign against Prime Minister Netanyahu–something all would agree would be highly inappropriate.”
After a Hamas rocket landed dangerously close to Tel Aviv’s international airport during the summer 2014 war between Israel and the militant faction, the Federal Aviation Administration announced the suspension of all U.S. flights to Israel as a security precaution. Others nations followed suit. The suspension lasted only days before service was restored.
What may appear to many people as a reasonable effort to protect civilian airlines from Hamas’ unguided rockets was, instead, interpreted by Cruz as an attack on Israel:
“Is the Obama administration giving 47 million dollars that will go to Hamas [in reference to humanitarian aid that would NOT go to Hamas, but, rather, the UN] who is actively trying to kill civilians while simultaneously imposing millions of dollars of economic harms on our friend and ally Israel? The State Department needs to answer those questions. I announced today that in response to that refusal to answer from the State Department, I intend to hold all State Department nominees until they answer these questions. Congress deserves to know and the American people deserve to know, was this politics from the White House or was this an airline safety decision and I think the facts strongly suggest it was politics in an effort to strong arm the nation of Israel.”
Cruz offered no evidence for his claim that the Obama administration was trying to force Israel’s hand by imposing travel isolation on the country.
Apparently appointing himself the guardian of American public office, Cruz has concluded that any official who offends Israeli sensibilities should resign.
A case in point:
In a closed-door meeting with his European counterparts, Secretary of State Kerry warned that without a peace deal and a Palestinian state, Israel either becomes an apartheid state – Jewish minority ruling over a disenfranchised Arab majority – or a bi-national with equal Palestinian voting rights, which would undermine Israel’s ability to remain a Jewish state.
This banal observation – made by several Israeli officials, including cabinet ministers and prime ministers – served another opportunity for Cruz, who called on Sec. Kerry to resign:
“I was convinced that as Secretary of State, John Kerry would place what he considered to be the wishes of the international community above the national security interests of the United States. I fear with these most-recent ill-chosen remarks, Secretary Kerry has thus proven himself unsuitable for his position and that before any further harm is done to our alliance with Israel, he should offer President Obama his resignation and the President should accept it.
“The term ‘apartheid’ means ‘apart’ — different, isolated — the state of the victims of apartheid with which the Jews are all too familiar. The notion that Israel would go down that path, and so face the same condemnation that met South Africa, is unconscionable.”
Boycott the Boycotters
Besides Hillary Clinton, Cruz may be the only candidate who has spoken out against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement founded by Palestinian civil society to pressure Israel to end its occupation and modeled on the international anti-Apartheid coalitions in the 1980s and early ’90s.
Speaking to the Champion of Jewish Values International Awards Gala, where he received the Defense of Israel Award. Cruz condemned the growing support for BDS on university campuses:
“In 2017, we need a president who will stand up directly and confront the BDS movement.
“BDS is premised on a lie and it is anti-Semitism, plain and simple. And we need a president of the United States who will stand up and say if a university in this country boycotts the nation of Israel than that university will forfeit federal taxpayer dollars.”
Boycott the UN
Cruz released the following statement after the UN Human Rights Council voted to censure Israel for its conduct during last summer’s war with Hamas:
“Our single vote in opposition is just and the abstentions of our friends are welcome, but at this point they are meaningless gestures. It is time to stop ceding moral authority to the UNHRC and tell the truth about this hopelessly biased and anti-Semitic institution. There is no equivalency between Israel’s right to self-defense and Hamas’ genocidal aggression against the Jewish people. There is no equivalence between Israel’s extraordinary efforts to protect civilians and Hamas’ use of the Palestinian people as human shields. Being party to any body that believes [this] only perpetuates this injustice. The United States should stop legitimizing the UNHRC with our membership and withdraw now.”
By now you get the idea: Cruz will never take second-place when it comes to defending Israel. And he made sure to declare his no apologies-stance during his presidential announcement:
“Instead of a president who boycotts Prime Minister Netanyahu, imagine a president who stands unapologetically with the nation of Israel.”
Expect candidate Cruz to continue to make unequivocal support for Israel a campaign theme.
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