Would Reagan have passed the GOP’s Israel test?
By BEN SMITH|POLITICAL
12/13/11 3:56 PM EST
The identification of the Republican Party with Israel and Israel’s government is deeper than it has ever been, but its leaders regularly invoke in this — as in everything — the legacy of Ronald Reagan.
When Newt Gingrich answered Romney’s criticism of his loose talk on Israel and Palestine, for instance, he said, “Reagan believed the power of truth restated the world and reframed the world. I am a Reaganite, I’m proud to be a Reaganite. I will tell the truth, even if it’s at the risk of causing some confusion sometimes with the timid.”
Reagan’s bluntness, though, wasn’t equivalent to a no-daylight-with-Israel policy that leading Republicans advocate. Chemi Shalev noted in a recent Haaretz piece how much the ground has shifted. His headline: “If Obama treated Israel like Reagan did, he’d be impeached.” He has a set of charges, real and symbolic, including:
And finally – and this is where we really enter the Twilight Zone, I admit – imagine if this president not only never once visited Israel, despite being eight years in office, but he even balked at visiting a concentration camp, as Obama did after his speech in Cairo. You want to know why? Because – take a deep breath – because the Germans “feel that they have a guilt feeling that’s been imposed upon them.” Poor things.
“The immediate adoption of a settlement freeze by Israel, more than any other action, could create the confidence needed for wider participation in these talks.”
And the U.S. efforts to restrain Israeli action in Lebanon, as recounted by Abraham Ben-Zvi:
In a letter to Prime Minister Begin, which follows Israel’s August 4 ground assault on West Beirut, the president complained that his ‘words fell on deaf ears’ and pointedly warned that ‘the relationship between our two countries is at stake.’ This followed a White House meeting at which the issue of whether or not to impost comprehensive sanctions against Israel was debated.
A final entry: Reagan’s response to violence in the West Bank in 1987:
“President Reagan’s chief spokesman today called on both sides involved in the violent protests in Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip ‘to step back from confrontation,’ which he said is damaging ‘the self respect and world opinion of the Israeli people.’”
“He said the effect of the occupation ‘also damages the self-respect and world opinion of the Israeli people.’”
Hard to imagine even Jon Huntsman saying something like that today. But it does offer a bit of perspective on just how hard it is to evaluate the state of this particular relationship.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this item incorrectly attributed a paragraph to Shalev that was in fact from another source.