First Republican debate steers clear of Middle East

First Republican debate steers clear of Middle East
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Although the Middle East and the question “who supports Israel more” dominate national politics and presidential elections, the first major debate of the top 10 Republican contenders had another agenda, defeating Donald Trump. Middle East issues took a back seat, but they definitely will surface as the election campaign energizes

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By Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania covering Chicago City Hall (1976-1992)

Ray Hanania
covering Chicago
City Hall

The biggest issues in the first major presidential debate in the Republican Party was “Donald Trump,” the candidate, and the consternation among mainstream Republicans and conservatives about why he is doing so well in the polls, leading the race.

Trump, the wealthy real estate mogul, has pushed himself to the top of the debate pile, which actually includes seven more Republicans who were not invited to the debate that was held in Cleveland on Thursday (August 6, 2015). He did it by not embracing the usual issues and political party stands, but by telling the American public the truth and being honest about all of the issues.

Trump probably didn’t care as much about whether you agree with his views or not, but rather than you recognize he is honest, speaks what he really believes and won’t like to you just to get your support. That alone pushed many to support him.

One issue not in the dialogue yet is the issue of the Middle East and peace between Israel and Palestine. Also not really asked was the mandatory question that every American presidential candidate must answer in order to satisfy the powerful Israeli lobby, the biased pro-Israel mainstream American news media, and an American political system which has been bought-off and bribed by pro-Israeli interests: “Who supports Israel more?”

The top 10 Republican candidates were invited to participate in a debate hosted by FOX News in Cleveland. They included Trump, the real estate mogul, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. The moderators were Fox News anchors Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace.

Candidates in the Cleveland GOP Debate, Courtesy of Getty Images (Zemanta)

Candidates in the Cleveland GOP Debate, Courtesy of Getty Images (Zemanta)

The debate only peripherally touched on Israel and Palestine, and was mentioned only once. The focus was instead on Iran and the rise of ISIS. Has politics matured beyond the pro-Israel bullying? No. I promise, American politics will pander to Israel and the Middle East very soon, but for now, the consensus goal of the Republican Party is to destroy Trump.

There were some references to the Middle East region that surfaced during the debate this past week.

The one question about the Middle East really had to do with ISIS (Daesh), the terrorist group that falsely claims to be Islamic. And the question didn’t come from the FOX News debate panelists. It came from a question posted on the FOX News Facebook page by a follower:

Here’s what was asked and how it transpired during the debate segment (text transcribed from an audio of the debate):

QUESTION: My question is, how would the candidates stop the treacherous actions of ISIS — ISIL and its growing influence in the U.S., if they were to become president?

(END VIDEO CLIP) KELLY: Senator Cruz, I wanna talk to you about this, because many of the Facebook users and — and — the — the folks on Facebook wanted the candidates to speak to ISIS tonight.

You asked the chairman of the joint chiefs a question: “What would it take to destroy ISIS in 90 days?” He told you “IISIS will only be truly destroyed once they are rejected by the populations in which they hide.” And then you accused him of pushing Medicaid for the Iraqis.

How would you destroy ISIS in 90 days?

CRUZ: Megyn, we need a commander in chief that speaks the truth. We will not defeat radical Islamic terrorism so long as we have a president unwilling to utter the words, “radical Islamic terrorism”.


When I asked General Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs, what would be required militarily to destroy ISIS, he said there is no military solution. We need to change the conditions on the ground so that young men are not in poverty and susceptible to radicalization. That, with all due respect, is nonsense.

It’s the same answer the State Department gave that we need to give them jobs. What we need is a commander in chief that makes — clear, if you join ISIS, if you wage jihad on America, then you are signing your death warrant.

KELLY: You don’t see it as…


KELLY: …an ideological problem — an ideological problem in addition to a military one?


CRUZ: Megyn, of course it’s an ideological problem, that’s one of the reasons I introduce the Expatriate Terrorist Act in the Senate that said if any American travels to the Middle East and joining ISIS, that he or she forfeits their citizenship so they don’t use a passport to come back and wage jihad on Americans.


CRUZ: Yes, it is ideological, and let me contrast President Obama, who at the prayer breakfast, essentially acted as an apologist. He said, “Well, gosh, the crusades, the inquisitions–”

We need a president that shows the courage that Egypt’s President al-Sisi, a Muslim, when he called out the radical Islamic terrorists who are threatening the world.


KELLY: Governor Bush, for days on end in this campaign, you struggled to answer a question about whether knowing what we know now…

BUSH: …I remember…

KELLY: …we would’ve invaded Iraq…

BUSH: …I remember, Megyn.


KELLY: I remember it too, and ISIS, of course, is now thriving there.

You finally said, “No.”

To the families of those who died in that war who say they liberated and deposed a ruthless dictator, how do you look at them now and say that your brothers war was a mistake?

BUSH: Knowing what we know now, with faulty intelligence, and not having security be the first priority when — when we invaded, it was a mistake. I wouldn’t have gone in, however, for the people that did lose their lives, and the families that suffer because of it — I know this full well because as governor of the state of Florida, I called every one of them. Every one of them that I could find to tell them that I was praying for them, that I cared about them, and it was really hard to do.

And, every one of them said that their child did not die in vain, or their wife, of their husband did not die in vain.

So, why it was difficult for me to do it was based on that. Here’s the lesson that we should take from this, which relates to this whole subject, Barack Obama became president, and he abandoned Iraq. He left, and when he left Al Qaida was done for. ISIS was created because of the void that we left, and that void now exists as a caliphate the size of Indiana.

To honor the people that died, we need to — we need to — stop the — Iran agreement, for sure, because the Iranian mullahs have their blood on their hands, and we need to take out ISIS with every tool at our disposal.


KELLY: Governor Walker, in February you said that we needed to gain partners in the Arab world. Which Arab country not already in the U.S. led coalition has potential to be our greatest partner?

WALKER: What about then (ph), we need to focus on the ones we have. You look at Egypt, probably the best relationship we’ve had in Israel, at least in my lifetime, incredibly important.

You look at the Saudis — in fact, earlier this year, I met with Saudi leaders, and leaders from the United Arab Emirates, and I asked them what’s the greatest challenge in the world today? Set aside the Iran deal. They said it’s the disengagement of America. We are leading from behind under the Obama-Clinton doctrine — America’s a great country. We need to stand up and start leading again, and we need to have allies, not just in Israel, but throughout the Persian Gulf.

KELLY: Dr. Carson, in one of his first acts as commander in chief, President Obama signed an executive order banning enhanced interrogation techniques in fighting terror. As president, would you bring back water boarding?

CARSON: Well, thank you, Megyn, I wasn’t sure I was going to get to talk again.


KELLY: We have a lot for you, don’t worry.



KELLY: Fear not, you may rue that request.

CARSON: Alright. You know, what we do in order to get the information that we need is our business, and I wouldn’t necessarily be broadcasting what we’re going to do.


CARSON: We’ve gotten into this — this mindset of fighting politically correct wars. There is no such thing as a politically correct war.


CARSON: The left, of course, will say Carson doesn’t believe in the Geneva Convention, Carson doesn’t believe in fighting stupid wars. And — and what we have to remember is we want to utilize the tremendous intellect that we have in the military to win wars.

And I’ve talked to a lot of the generals, a lot of our advanced people. And believe me, if we gave them the mission, which is what the commander-in-chief does, they would be able to carry it out.

And if we don’t tie their hands behind their back, they will do it…


CARSON: — extremely effectively.

The issue of Israel came up again but only during the closing statements, in comments made by U.S. Senator Ted Cruz during his brief closing statement.

Cruz made three points. The first was to attack President Barack Obama and vow to repeal every executive order America’s first African American President has issued. The second was to prosecute and persecute Planned Parenthood on the issue of opposing abortions.

CRUZ: The next thing I intend to do is instruct the Department of Justice and the IRS to start persecuting religious liberty, and then intend to cancel the Iran deal, and finally move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. c (APPLAUSE)

I will keep my word. My father fled Cuba, and I will fight to defend liberty because my family knows what it’s like to lose it.

What Cruz said “start persecuting” but what he meant was to stop persecuting religious liberty, and he definitely means he wants the Department of Justice and the IRS to “prosecute” instances of religious persecution, mainly against Christian evangelists.

But Ted Cruz was never a good speaker and his stumbles are legendary, as is his pandering to the money, power and votes of the anti-American Israeli Lobby.

The news media avoided most of these issues during their next-day analysis mainly because they were lined up to destroy Trump. Why destroy Trump? Because they can’t control him.

I don’t agree with everything Donald Trump has said. But in American politics, Democracy is about consensus and compromise and “majority.” I agree with a majority of his views.

Although Trump hasn’t been very supportive of the Palestinians, the truth is he has been very close financially to one of America’s wealthiest Palestinian Americans, Farouk Shami, who is a co-sponsor of Trumps annual Miss USA Beauty Pageant.

But in June, Shami cut ties with Trump allegedly after Trump made comments that were characterized as being anti-Mexican. The comments were twisted by the media and Trump has denied criticizing Mexicans explaining he is against those immigrants who come into the country who have criminal histories and criminal intent.

“Our company is multicultural with people of Latin American descent making up a large percentage of our employees and loyal customers,” Farouk Systems CEO Basim Shami said in the statement. “As a company proudly founded on the concept of coming to the USA in pursuit of the American Dream, Mr. Trump’s comments do not and will never reflect our company’s philosophy or practices.”

Shami also said that his father’s company will break ties with Trumps popular TV reality series “The Celebrity Apprentice.”

But what probably really moved Shami to distance himself from his former friend and ally is Trumps recent campaign comments which have been very negative to Palestinians. Last November, Trump described President Obama as the worst thing to ever happen to Israel. And earlier this year, Trump made derogatory comments about the Palestinians.

Of course, Palestinians and Arabs can’t take any kind of criticism so they went ballistic, as they always do. They fail to understand that in American President elections, candidates are expected to pledge allegiance to Israel, not America, otherwise the pro-Israel media will slam them out of office.

Once in office, they drop the pro-Israel line and moderate to push for peace. That’s what every president who has won office has done. Bush. Clinton. Bush. and Obama. And President Trump, if that happens, will do the same. Hillary Clinton is also out there criticizing the Palestinians but when she is elected, she will probably become even more supportive of peace based on two-states than Obama, who has tried and failed to make Middle East peace a reality despite his own close ties to Palestinian activists.

Trump has personal issues with Israel. His daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism, and although being Jewish doesn’t necessarily mean you oppose justice, morality and fairness in Palestine, it does feed into the anger-reality of the extremists in the Arab and Muslim World.

Most Arabs and Muslims should be smart. We should recognize the reality of American politics. We need to recognize that the rhetoric will ramp up to pro-Israel hysteria during the election campaign. The candidates have no choice but to kiss Israel’s rightwing ass if they want to win their party’s nomination.

But once the election is over, watch the candidates (most of them), transition away from the pro-Israel extremism to a more moderate approach to recognizing Palestinian rights. Some will be more moderate, and some will be less once they are elected.

So you have to look beyond what they are saying to what they really mean.

I don’t think Trump really is anti-Arab or anti-Palestinian. I think he is a realist and recognizes the injustices committed against the Palestinians, including against Christian Palestinians — that should mean something because Trump is a Christian, even if his daughter is not.

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Managing Writer at The Arab Daily News
RAY HANANIA — Columnist

Ray Hanania is an award winning political and humor columnist who analyzes American and Middle East politics, and life in general. He is an author of several books.

"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."

Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).

Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at, and at, and at He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper,, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.

The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.

Click here to send Ray Hanania and email.

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Visit this link to read Ray's column archive at the ArabNews,com
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