Gorenberg: Candidates need new definition of ‘ pro-Israel’

Gersom Gorenberg, writing here in the American Prospect, wants presidential candidates to rethink the conventional (AIPAC) definition of pro-Israel:

I suggest that it’s time to talk about what “pro-Israel” should mean. Not because the discussion will change campaign rhetoric: The candidates will stick to cliches. But after the election, one will have to govern. Members of Congress will need to decide how to vote on the usual strident resolutions backed by AIPAC. Debate now on what it means to support Israel might mean that a year from now, elected leaders will be able to refer to publicly recognized ideas to justify acting more sensibly.

Start here: Being pro-Israel does not require backing the most bellicose possible Israeli position, anymore than being “pro-American” requires backing the war in Iraq. To be “pro” means to support, to want a country to survive and flourish. Supporting an ill-considered war (Iraq, Lebanon) is like encouraging a friend to leap into a barroom brawl: a poor form of friendship.

To be pro-Israel certainly doesn’t mean basing foreign policy on the alleged conflict of civilizations; the whole West locked in combat with the Islamic world. The perception that the United States is at war with Islam leaves Israel dangerously exposed on the front lines. It is in Israel’s interest to get along at least tolerably with as many of its Muslim neighbors as possible.

A pro-Israel policy does not mean refusal to talk to Iran. An Iranian bomb is certainly a serious danger to Israel. Refusing to negotiate with Teheran means giving up in advance on possible ways to reduce the threat. There are hard-nosed strategic analysts in Israel who advocate a diplomatic quid pro quo: U.S. acceptance of the Iranian regime in return for an end to uranium enrichment and support for terror groups. If America resorts to military means, it will further destabilize the Middle East, doubling the damage caused by the war in Iraq.

According to Gorenberg, “Israel’s most basic strategic interest is a peace agreement and a withdrawal.” And, he adds, if U.S. pressure is needed to achieve that goal, then the next president shouldn’t hesitate to twist arms in Jerusalem:

Can one apply pressure and be “pro”? Yes. The Carter Administration pushed and yanked Israel and Egypt toward a full peace agreement – an agreement that was the greatest American contribution to the security of both countries. Which underlines another point: Being pro-Israel does not mean being anti-Arab.

For an American administration to be pro-Israel does not mean adopting the apocalyptic foreign policy of John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel. (Mike Huckabee gave his pre-Christmas sermon at Hagee’s San Antonio church). It does not mean outdoing Bush in finding neo-con advisers (see again: Giuliani). It does mean a considerably different policy than what the Democratic candidates have yet advocated. Maybe if we can define “pro” more sensibly, the policy next January will also be productive.

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