Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Israel - America's New Election Headquarters?

Israel - America's New Election Headquarters? from maozisrael on Vimeo.

For several years, this blogger had a front row seat to the most bizarre political theatre, perhaps in all the world.

I was a journalist in the city of Chicago, and I got to meet and write about several now infamous figures.  From Rod Blagojevich to Richard M. Daley (son of the man who invented 'Daley/machine-style' politics) to Rahm Emanuel and Barack Obama.  Father Pfleger, Jesse Jackson and on and on.  For a political junkie, there was no place like it!  It is the only town that could make Israeli politics seem timid.

President Obama with IL Senate Candidate Alexi Giannoulias

But I must admit, that in the midst of all the scandals and corruption, I rarely if ever heard talk about Israel and whether a candidate supports the nation of Israel, as a primary focus of any Chicago-area contest.  Of course Chicago has a large and active Jewish community.  But I can not recall a candidate's stand on Israel, ever being the make or break, hot-button.  That is, until this year.

Sen. John McCain with IL Senate Candidate Mark Kirk

Now that I am back home in Tel Aviv, I see all the news from the USA through my Israeli lens.  I figured I was reading my own agenda into things.  But then I began to see others discussing the same topic:

The New York Times
The Jerusalem Post
Israel National News
Israel's ynet News
Israeli Blogs
American Thinker

It seemed whatever website I looked at, or newspaper I read, there was some mention about the upcoming political races in Chicago, and why the candidate's stances on Israel were the central issue.

The Illinois Senate race, for President Obama's former seat, is pitting Republican Mark Kirk up against Democrat Alexi Giannoulias.  Giannoulias and President Obama have had a close relationship for years.  But now, the young democrat is under fire for his family's failed bank that reportedly funded radical anti-Israel groups.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren

In the Illinois 9th Congressional race, two Jewish candidates are squaring off.  Longtime democratic congresswoman and loyal Obama supporter, Jan Schakowsky is being challenged by republican and orthodox Jew, Joel Pollak.  While Schakowsky has been under fire for receiving donations from the controversial (and allegedly 'anti-Israel') JStreetPAC, Pollak made headlines when he became the first republican ever to receive the endorsement of staunch Israeli advocate Joel Dershowitz.  Dershowitz is a self-described liberal democrat, who has supported Obama, Clinton and Carter.  He has never, in all his years of political activism, supported a republican over a democrat, in a general election.  But he is doing so now.  But why?

The pieces really came together when I read a recent article about the on again off again Middle East peace talks:

"The Palestinians will study alternatives to peace talks with Israel in the coming days, a top Palestinian Liberation Organization official said on Saturday, after Israel gave the green light to build 238 new housing units in East Jerusalem.
However, it's unlikely the Palestinians will take any dramatic steps before Nov. 2 midterm elections in the U.S., since Arab leaders have already promised the Obama administration more time - until a few days after the vote - to try to relaunch negotiations. Saturday's statements seemed intended mainly as a new warning that Washington's peace efforts are in trouble."   (Haaretz - October 16, 2010)

Could this really be true?  Did Arab leaders really promise the Obama administration "more time" before completely ditching these still young peace talks?  Was the September show at the White House with leaders from Israel, the Palestinians, Egypt and Jordan just that...a show?  Was it all just a political game in the run up to the midterms?

This blogger, refuses to be that cynical.  This blogger chooses to remain sufficiently optimistic, rather than question the sincerity of the U.S. President to truly want to help negotiate a final status peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

But, these days it's so hard to separate the President's passions from his politics.  Add to all this, the fact that President Obama's two closest advisors, Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod have either left or announced that they are leaving the White House.  Emanuel is the son of an Israeli immigrant and Axelrod is also Jewish.  Many Jewish voters who knew little about where Barack Obama stood on 'Israel' took comfort in the fact, that Emanuel, who volunteered with the Israeli Defense Forces during the first Gulf War, would be sitting in the office next to the President's. 

Now they are gone.  Some question whether their family heritage did little at all to positively impact the Obama administration's Israel policies.

Few can argue, however, that President Obama has consistently had former Senator George Mitchell working on the Middle East issue, since he took office.  But recently it has been questioned whether Mitchell has been effective in that role.

This latest round of peace talks has all but died, after just one month, because of the issue of 'settlement freezes', that is whether Israelis can continue to build on land that the Palestinians want.  But the issue of 'settlements' only became a make-or-break pre-condition of the Palestinians, after President Obama highlighted it, during his manifesto in Cairo.

If you feel this blog has really just gone in circles and made no definite point...welcome to Middle East politics!  Er, make that, welcome to Middle East meets Chicago-style politics!

There's no doubt the USA elections will either be an endorsement of or a referendum on President Obama's first 2 years in office.  And there's becoming even less doubt, that the President's Middle East policies have become a central component of that mid-way record.  So, it seems only fitting, that Barack Obama's sweet home Chicago, would be the 'ground zero' for this mother of all mid-terms.

Now it's up to the voters to decide.  We hope all our friends in America will go to the polls on November 2nd.

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