Israel who?

In the most recent debates – among the Democrats and the Republicans – not a word was mentioned about Israel, U.S.–Israel relations, a two-state solution, BDS, or anything along those lines. It was quite an eye-opening display. Leading candidates for the presidency were able to stand before cameras and millions of people, parsing and discussing the world’s trouble spots, the challenges to the American economy – and not a word about Israel.

There’s a story about a first-year history student who was shown a map of the world without any names of countries and asked to pick out the three most important and powerful countries on the globe. First he selected the U.S., then Russia, and then placed his finger on the 3,000-mile-wide Canadian territory and said that this must be the third-largest country in the world – Israel.

Israel is virtually microscopic on the map. If you are over 40, there’s a good chance you need to wear reading glasses to spot it. Still, Israel, as far as the international community and global media is concerned, casts a giant shadow and looms large.

But the last few debates have illustrated that candidates can speak for hours about issues that affect the world and not mention the state of Israel. Perhaps it is just who we are, but it seems that we are up on the news and aware of every small nuance and event, no matter how trivial, when it takes place in Israel.

For example, just the other day, I read online that both Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez will perform in Israel this coming summer. Additionally, it has been made known that Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will possibly make a stop in Israel for a concert or two in Tel-Aviv at the tail end of their European summer tour.

Do any of us know anything about the rest of the Springsteen venues over the course of his tour? Certainly these celebrities travel and perform extensively around the world, but do any of us have an inkling about where or when, and does anyone really care?

Is there any other country besides Israel that there is an organized effort to get high-profile performers to boycott? I don’t think so. Most of us understand that the agenda here is something significantly less than the alleged effort to gain Palestinian Arabs a state of their own when that is something they have repeatedly demonstrated they really do not want.

So far, through a rather intense series of Republican debates and a rather non-intense series of Democratic debates, Israel has surprisingly been left out of the picture. The odd thing is that most countries would view it as something of a distinction to be mentioned in a forum of possible future U.S. presidents. But not Israel or, for that matter, any Jewish community anywhere.

But Israeli leaders do not necessarily have the type of lust for attention that other world leaders might have. Being left alone and allowed to do what that country does best without any interference from the not-so-well-meaning international community would be just fine. Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, pointed out in a recent interview with the 5TJT that the General Assembly passed resolutions critical of the Jewish state over 20 times in 2015. In contrast, Iran and Syria were each the subject of only one vote in which the UN objected to their behavior.

Over the course of nine Republican debates since last summer, Israel has been mentioned just a few times, possibly as few as two. On the Democratic side there has not even been one mention of the state of Israel, and that is quite astounding when you consider that the candidates are a former secretary of state and a Jewish senator from Vermont.

But not only is Bernie Sanders’s Jewishness not an issue in the race, it has not been mentioned by Mr. Sanders, his opponent, or anyone else in either campaign. If Hillary Clinton believes that electing a woman president for the first time would be historic, what do you call the possibility of electing a Jew as president of the U.S.? How about unbelievable?

Sanders may have made a veiled allusion to his Jewishness in the last debate with Mrs. Clinton. When the moderator mentioned that electing Clinton would be historic by virtue of the fact that she would be the first woman in this country elected president, Sanders added that, in his estimation, electing him to the highest office in the land would quite possibly be just as historic. No one seems sure what Mr. Sanders was referring to: was it his Jewishness that would be so groundbreaking and unprecedented, or that he would be the first Socialist to move into the White House?

Back in 2000, when Al Gore chose Senator Joseph Lieberman as his vice-presidential running mate, the Jewish world perked up to the possibilities somewhere down the line of a Jewish president. But, you may recall, there was a discomfort and unease with the idea as well. People in the Jewish community were concerned that if Lieberman was too prominent and had to weigh in on controversial issues or made an error in judgment during his tenure, Jews everywhere would somehow be assigned blame. When the election was lost to George W. Bush, there was a sigh of relief in the community.

People supporting Bernie Sanders do not have those concerns. There are dramatic differences between the two. Lieberman was respected because of his Jewishness; he wore it proudly. It was others on the outside who were uncomfortable with it.

Sanders has never said anything about his Judaism, and even more astounding is that no one in the media to date has asked him anything about the onus of being the first Jew in this country to run for president. And that is because, as you may have guessed, Sanders subscribes to the most extreme and virulent positions on Israel and apparently has little regard for what it means to be a Jew according to traditional standards.

So, one way or another, Israel has been catching a break here. Quite possibly, for the first time in decades, a president – in this case Mr. Obama – has taken Israel and the issue of Palestine off the front burner and has relegated it to secondary position.

The matter of Israel–U.S. relations will certainly resurface once this primary season is over and the final candidates are chosen. For now, Israel can enjoy some of the quiet, though there is some stirring about forcing a peace on the parties as a goodbye present from the Obama administration. If the president remains true to form, this, too, will be a failed attempt.

It is refreshing that political leaders can go at it for hours, picking one another apart, and leave Israel out of the picture. Who knows how long this hiatus is going to last. For now, it is a great show as we wait with anticipation, attempting to figure out which one of these people was born to run.


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