William Saletan of Slate has written about how several recent polls have shown that Republicans are more supportive of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than they are of President Obama. In particular, Saletan focuses on a Bloomberg poll which asks respondents to indicate one of the following two statements with which they agree:
1. “Israel is an ally but we should pursue America’s interests when we disagree with them.”
2. “Israel is an important ally, the only democracy in the region, and we should support it even if our interests diverge.”
Nearly two-thirds of Democrats agree with the first statement while slightly more than two-thirds of Republicans agree with the second statement with independents narrowly leaning in favor of the second response. Saletan speculates this might be because of Obama’s polarizing nature, Netanyahu’s charisma and his aggressive courting of Republicans. But Saletan, who suffers from the worst case of Bibi Derangement Syndrome since, well, President Obama, finds all of this quite sinister
These explanations can account to some degree for the gap in favorability ratings between Obama and Netanyahu. But they can’t account for the partisan split in responses to Bloomberg’s second question, the one about Israeli versus American interests. That split points to a more fundamental challenge. Does a majority of the Republican Party identify more with Israeli interests than with American interests? When Israel’s prime minister speaks on the floor of Congress, do Republicans feel more allegiance to him than to their president? If so, will the feeling subside once Obama leaves office? Or does it signify an enduring rift in the fabric of this country?
This is, of course, utter rubbish. The two statements aren’t incompatible in the first place. It is entirely possible for America pursue its interests while disagreeing with an ally and at the same time still support that ally in the form diplomatic relations, trade agreements, cultural exchanges and joint military exercises. That Republicans feel more affinity towards Netanyahu than to Obama isn’t the same thing as saying GOPers favor Israeli interests over American ones. I am sure if you ask Republicans if they prefer Obama or a conservative foreign leader such as Canada’s Stephen Harper or Australia’s Tony Abbott, I’m sure both Harper and Abbott would win hands down. That hardly means Republicans prefer Canadian or Australian interests over American ones.
Saletan also makes the assumption that loyalty to President Obama is synonymous with loyalty to America. When Congressmen take their oath it’s to the Constitution, not the President. Presidents come and go, but The Constitution remains. Of course, when President Bush was in power dissent was the highest form of patriotism. Now not so much. By the way, if you asked Democrats circa 2005 if they preferred Bush or the late Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez there is no way in hell they’d pick Bush and Saletan knows it.
The question also assumes that America and Israel do not have common cause and Saletan’s analysis of it is a variation of the old trope that solidarity with Israel equates disloyalty to America. It’s true that relations between America and Israel are at their lowest point ever, but that is because the Obama Administration has made a mission out of villifying Netanyahu and ostracizing Israel. Saletan further assumes that Republican affection for Israel is solely based on Netanyahu. While Republicans do have an ideological affinity with Netanyahu, GOP support for Israel runs deeper than ideology. In other words, Republicans would still support Israel even if its government had been formed by Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog and they would probably like him better than they like Obama.
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