They Want to Talk About Israel. OK, Let’s Talk About Israel.

American and Israeli Flags (public domain)

In The Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam quotes US president Lyndon Baines Johnson on his desired qualities in an assistant: “I want loyalty! I want him to kiss my a– in Macy’s window at high noon and tell me it smells like roses.”

Nearly every “major party” presidential candidate this year and in past election cycles seems to have taken that advice to heart, but in an odd way. They come off less as applicants for the presidency of the United States than for  the position of personal aide to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The second Republican presidential primary debate looked a lot like Macy’s window at high noon:

Jeb Bush: “[T]he first thing that we need to do is to establish our commitment to Israel …”

Carly Fiorina: “On day one in the Oval Office, I will make two phone calls, the first to my good friend to Bibi Netanyahu to reassure him we will stand with the state of Israel.”

Marco Rubio: “If I’m honored with the opportunity to be president, I hope that our Air Force One will fly, first and foremost, to our allies; in Israel …”

Mike Huckabee: “At the end of my presidency I would like to believe that the world would be a safe place, and there wouldn’t be the threats. Not only to the US, but to Israel …”

Ted Cruz: “If I’m elected president our friends and allies across the globe will know that we stand with them. The bust of Winston Churchill will be back in the Oval Office, and the American embassy in Israel will be in Jerusalem.”

If you expect to hear anything much different from the Democratic candidates, you’re engaged in wishful thinking. Immediate and unqualified obedience to Benjamin Netanyahu has replaced Social Security as the third rail in American presidential politics — don’t step on it or you’ll die.

The question for me is not “pro-Israel” versus “anti-Israel.”

Nor is it, as conservative pundit Ann Coulter tweeted foot-in-mouth, about courting the “f—ing Jews,” who are no longer the swing voting bloc they used to be, if for no other reason than that American Jews tend on average to be a little less “pro-Israel” than major party presidential candidates.

What it’s about is whether or not American voters should continue to give a foreign power’s  well-financed lobby significant control over US foreign policy decisions and presidential choices.

In future debates, presidential candidates of all parties should be asked whether or not Israel is one of the 50 states — and if not, why they think it deserves large welfare checks drawn on the treasury of, and veto power over the actions of, the US government.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


  • JdL

    Very good. Just one quibble:

    In future debates, presidential candidates of all parties should be asked whether or not Israel is one of the 50 states — and if not, why they think it deserves large welfare checks drawn on the treasury of, and veto power over the actions of, the US government.

    The powers you’ve described far exceed those held by any of the 50 states. And no one from Israel has to pay taxes to the U.S. government; it’s all one-way money from American taxpayers to Bibi. So from a pragmatic standpoint, Israel stands just under (or even over) the federal government and far above the states, does it not?

    • JdL,

      Fair cop. You’re right, that didn’t come out quite as I meant it. In trying to minimize word count, I seem to have missed the point I was trying to make, which was sort of along these lines:

      “Israel isn’t even part of the United States, so why should all these politicians consider it such a matter of high concern? If the governor of Montana asks the feds to buy him a bridge and the answer is ‘no,’ there might be a few angry people but there’s no organized lobby shouting from the rooftops that Congress is anti-Montanan; no presidential candidate says ‘my first call as president will be to the governor of Montana to promise him anything he wants.'”

  • MarcAllanFeldman

    One reason Israel is such a major issue for Republicans is that Bibi Netanyahu is actually a proxy for the American Military-Industrial-Political complex. Of the 3 billion dolllars a year in military aid sent to Israel, about 75% is required to be spent in the U.S., on U.S. equipment sold by U.S. companies. I am a major supporter of Israel, but the correct amount of U.S. government aid to Israel is zero.

    • Good point! Yes, “aid to Israel” is used as a way to hide the fact that a lot of the money is really going to US “defense” contractors.