Time to woo the Jews, maybe: Israel issues at the RJC Presidential Candidate Forum
Part 1 of a 3-part series.
The Republican Jewish Coalition held on Dec. 3, 2015, their 2016 Presidential Candidates Forum, with 13 of the remaining 14 Republican candidates in “one location to talk about the most important issues in the 2016 race.” Naturally, the forum centered on topics especially important to the Jewish Community, including the lately strained topic of U.S./Israel relations.
The real frontrunners in the race elicited responses from applause to booing with their points about Israel. First up with the most direct Israel focused address was U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, R-FL, currently fluctuating between third and fourth place in the Republican Presidential Nomination polls. Rubio devoted nearly his entire 30-minute speech to outlining how and why he would practically restore to strength the security and political alliance between the United States and Israel. As he stated, such an alliance was necessary since the terror threat faced by Tel Aviv is the same as that faced by Paris, New York, and elsewhere in the Western world.
The next frontrunner to address the Forum was businessman Donald Trump, who remains at first place in the Republican Presidential Nomination Polls as recently as Dec. 4, 2015. Trump elicited booing when he refused to acknowledge Jerusalem’s status as the undivided capital of Israel as something that must not be negotiated away in a peace deal with the Palestinians. In days prior to the Forum, Trump had expressed that he felt that the responsibility for a peace deal rested with the Israelis, and he did nothing to positively elaborate these remarks at the Forum. Instead, he further cemented his questionable place on the matter of support for Israel.
Trump’s explicitly acknowledged mindset approaching the presidency applies his extensive experience in private business to his political work. Trump is the author of what he calls the bestselling business book ever, “The Art of the Deal,” and, according to Trump, his deal-making skills are precisely what is needed and lacking in American national politics today. One of his examples of missing negotiation skills is summer 2015’s Iran Nuclear Agreement, made, according to Trump, by “stupid people.”
In Trump’s private business mindset, it is fitting for there to be very few non-negotiables, like the status of Jerusalem—the perfection of the “Deal” comes above other concerns. Business is notoriously perceived as separate from moral concerns. As Trump has been criticized for, such a perspective, as is again found on the issue of Jerusalem, often comes up short of what is hoped for. He has pointed to his few partial bankruptcy incidents as proof of his keen ability to get the most out of a situation—but applying bankruptcy logic to the affairs of the United States, as has been noted, does not necessarily work. If the United States goes bankrupt, there are much worse overall consequences than if one of Trump’s private companies go bankrupt.
After Trump, came Dr. Ben Carson, who holds at No. 2 in the polls. Carson’s address was similar to Rubio’s in its overwhelming focus on Israel. In Carson’s usual intellectual style, he delivered what amounted to an intellectual explanation and an argument for the close cooperation between the United States and Israel that would come with a Carson presidency. He quoted Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren to explain the special connection leading to such cooperation; as Oren, and Carson, explained it, U.S./Israel relations are among Bnei Brit, or “Sons of the Covenant.” The phrase, being the Hebrew equivalent of the English “ally,” refers to the eternality, both past and future, of the relationship, such as in the physical Brit, or covenant, of circumcision.
Of course, the frontrunners were not the only ones at the Forum to address U.S./Israel relations. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee talked about the two countries’ “organic relationship” in a shared heritage of freedom, Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore stated that Israel was a “a friend and a part of the construct” that represented the core of the Western civilization, and, among others, Carly Fiorina lamented the consequences of the poor current state of U.S./Israel relations.
Going forward, as underdog candidate Rick Santorum noted in his address at the Forum, the polls often do not accurately reveal the outcome of the presidential race; now, the candidates and the American people go into wait and see mode. The Iowa Caucuses, beginning to cement the Republican nominee, will be held in approximately two months.
Caleb R. Newton is a global affairs analyst living in Central Florida. Find him at the Times of Israel, Dissecting Society, and Global News Breakdown. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.