Electoral influence

Electoral influence

When it comes to Israel’s internal affairs, many American Jews believe that the Jews in general, and the Jewish media in particular, should maintain a hands-off policy.

Their argument goes something like this: We don’t live in Israel, we don’t live under the day-to-day threat of rocket attacks and terrorist assaults, so we shouldn’t tell Israelis, who do live with these threats, how to manage their own security affairs.

As a Jewish newspaper, we respect that position, though we don’t necessarily agree with it. We have taken issue with Israeli positions and Israeli leaders many times over the years — frequently when those positions affect Diaspora Jews.

But for the sake of argument, we now pose this question: If it’s wrong for American Jews to try to influence Israeli affairs, is it also wrong for Israelis in general, and Israeli leaders in particular, to try to influence American affairs?

It’s an opportune time to raise this question. Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to the airwaves, appearing on talk shows to beat the drum for so-called “red lines” — points of no return which, if passed by Iran, would prompt Israel or the United States, or both, to launch airstrikes on the Islamic republic with the goal of crippling development of its nuclear program.

Netanyahu told CNN’s “State of the Union” in a pre-recorded interview that demanding red lines on Iran is not an “electoral issue.”

However, “There is a common interest of all Americans of all political persuasions to stop Iran,” he said.

The latter statement is true enough, but for the prime minister to say demanding red lines is not an electoral issue, is a little harder to sell.

Netanyahu knows that President Obama, who is up for re-election and with whom he has had a rocky relationship, refuses to draw such lines. In fact, according to JTA, the president told 1,200 rabbis who phoned in to a pre-Rosh Hashana conference call last week, “No leader ties his own hands.” He also said Netanyahu wouldn’t make public Israel’s own “trigger” for military action. Why then should the United States?

One could argue, rightly or wrongly, that Netanyahu is trying to influence the U.S. presidential election, the prime minister’s protests notwithstanding.

We’re not trying to tell you what to believe on the issue of red lines; a valid argument can be made for either position.

We are here to discuss the efficacy of an Israeli prime minister trying to influence the outcome of an American presidential election — if indeed, that’s what Netanyahu tried to do. Is it the right thing to do? Would we stand for it from any other head of state?

Every four years, we Americans choose a new president. Even though the process is awash in money and stained by mudslinging, it is still our cash-drenched, mud-covered process.

Should Israel — or any country for that matter — try to sway the outcome? It’s a good question.