Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and two other Democrats went at it in a live debate on CNN Tuesday night. But during the more than two hours of discourse, there was only one mention of Israel and nothing about the escalating violence and oppression of Palestinians. What does that all mean about Middle East peace?
By Ray Hanania
Given the fact that Israel has killed more than 30 Palestinians in the past two weeks and Palestinians have killed a five Israelis — and the death toll and violence continues to climb — did anyone watching the debate find it surprising that there was only one mention of “Israel” and no discussion about the escalating violence with the Palestinians?
Normally, candidates for U.S. President spend all their time arguing over who is going to be more “pro-Israel.” That was a key aspect of the Republican candidates, although he field of major contenders if more than twice as large.
There could be many reasons why neither Hillary Clinton nor Bernie Sanders brought up the issue, or that it was never addressed by the other three contenders, Virginia Senator Jim Webb, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, and Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee.
I know. Once you get past Clinton and Sanders, you’re wondering “Who?”
Tuesday was also the night that the Chicago Cubs won their first division series and advanced to the World Series during a game played at Wrigley Field.
I know, baseball and murder don’t seem to be on par but in truth, more Americans were watching the Cubs play the St. Louis Cardinals and then later the New York Mets play the Los Angeles Dodges than watched the first Democratic presidential debate.
Sanders is the first Jewish presidential candidate who has a chance of winning the Democratic nomination, although Hillary Clinton is viewed, still, as the favorite. Sanders has been vague about his views on Palestine and Israel although I believe he definitely would like to see the conflict end peacefully with Two-States, one Israel and one Palestine.
Still, the cacophony that normally accompanies a presidential contest is usually dripping in pro-Israel pandering and there was none of that.
Maybe Sanders and Clinton recognize that most American Jews are not that gullible. Republican political pandering to Israel is seen as just that, pure political pandering. Many American Jews I know are concerned by the Republicans, while most American Arabs are split between Democrats and Republicans.
Palestinians are very anti-Republican but Arabs from Lebanon, who make up the largest group of American Arabs are overwhelming pro-Republican, past surveys and elections have shown.
Still, it’s hard to get hard and fast data to do any real analysis because Arabs are excluded from mainstream American politics and from the very important U.S. Census. We don’t know how many Arabs there really are in America and without that, we can’t know what they think.
The only reference to Israel came once from Webb who was responding to comments Chafee made about Iran, which got a lot of time (mentioned 14 times).
COOPER: Very quickly, 30 seconds for each of you. Governor Chafee, who or what is the greatest national security threat to the United States? I want to go down the line.
CHAFEE: OK. I just have to answer one thing that Senator Webb said about the Iran deal, because I’m a strong proponent of what President Obama — and he said that because of that the Iran deal that enabled Russia to come in.
No, that’s not true, Senator Webb. I respect your foreign policy chops. But Russia is aligned with Iran and with Assad and the Alawite Shias in Syria. So that Iran deal did not allow Russia to come in.
COOPER: OK. Senator, I can give you 30 seconds to respond.
WEBB: I believe that the signal that we sent to the region when the Iran nuclear deal was concluded was that we are accepting Iran’s greater position on this very important balance of power, among our greatest ally Israel, and the Sunnis represented by the Saudi regime, and Iran. It was a position of weakness and I think it encouraged the acts that we’ve seen in the past several weeks.
Palestine was never mentioned once, which would probably make most Israeli political types happy. If you don’t pander to Israel the next best thing for them is to at least not mention Palestine or the Palestinians. Many Israelis still viciously claim “Palestine doesn’t exist.”
The debate was moderated by Anderson Cooper but also included Juan Carlos Lopez, Dana Bash, and Don Lemon.
Had CNN’s Wolf Blitzer been there, the whole debate would have been about Israel. He’s a master of making himself look balanced not he topic, but he’s not really. Just very smart.
The news media is fixated on one aspect of the Palestine-Israel conflict, violence by Palestinians against Israelis. The mainstream news media downplays or openly ignores violence by Israelis against Palestinians. Maybe the candidates know the American people are increasingly tired of hearing about and seeing the endless violence.
America has tried twice, in a serious way, to bring about a peace accord. First by former President Bill Clinton in 1993 (I was there at the White House for the peace signing between Yasir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin), and again under President Barack Obama. Both failed miserably.
So maybe there is no upside to even engaging in the Palestine-Israel conflict, let alone uttering the word many Israelis hate to hear “Palestine.”
It’s so much more fun to discuss Iran, which is hated across the political landscape in America by Democrats and Republicans alike, although President Obama has managed to push through a nuclear arms deal with Iran that almost didn’t get done. His American adviser and former City of Chicago staffer Valerie Jarrett must have been happy. Jarrett was born in Shiraz, Iran of American parents and has quite an affinity for Iranians.
It pays to have staffers on your staff who are of an ethnic and religious or national persuasion in order to get that ethnic, religious or national issue on the national agenda.
Hillary has Huma Abedin, who is of Indian (her father) and Pakistani (her mother) heritage. Although she is a Muslim, she has no real affinity for Palestine or Israel.
On one hand, it was great NOT to hear the contenders for American president grovel over who is more pro-Israel than the other. On the other hand, with so much violence taking place in Palestine and in Israel, the sheer loss of human life is disturbing and deserves attention, especially from Israel’s strongest government ally.
Maybe, though, the Democratic presidential candidates know something about the American voters that the Republicans don’t know. That Americans are more concerned about the economy, jobs, healthcare and curbing Republican extremism, which can be very frightening.
On the other hand, maybe the five candidates were distinguishing themselves from Vice President Joe Biden, who just can’t make up his mind about what to do. Should he run for president or should he not? He may certainly be beaten by Clinton.
But Biden would certainly have peppered his entire remarks with love for Israel. After all, he said he is a “Zionist.“
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