US politicians’ Israel visits signal start of election season
The next US presidential election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2024, and once again most Arab Americans will be bystanders with little influence — and, more likely, the victims of a resurgence of electoral politics gone wrong.
President Joe Biden, a Democrat, announced last month that he will seek reelection. Meanwhile, long-time conservative Democrat and COVID-19 vaccine conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. plans a challenge and will be a strong wildcard. Kennedy comes from a once politically powerful family that has suffered numerous tragedies. His uncle, President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in 1963, while his father, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, suffered the same fate while running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968.
There will be many Republican challengers, led by former President Donald Trump, former Vice President Mike Pence and several leading officeholders.
November 2024 may seem like a long time away, but it is not really as the process that leads to the presidential election begins this autumn, when petitions must be filed to run in the primary elections of each of the nation’s 50 states.
The Republican candidates, aiming to strengthen their position against Biden, have already started on the one issue that usually dominates US presidential elections: defending Israel. Issues like rising crime, ineffective school education, rising taxation and senior citizens’ concerns all fall behind Israel’s needs.
Presidential candidates always line up and blindly pander to Israel. In return, the pro-Israel lobby and political action committees channel millions of dollars to help fund their campaigns. And the pro-Israel lobby does not just pick one candidate to support, it supports many in an effort to ensure that no one who opposes Israel’s policies gets any traction.
Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis visited Israel and met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. While DeSantis praised Israel, Netanyahu and the Jewish people — the three pillars of pro-Israel PAC funding — he said nothing about the violence carried out by Israeli soldiers and illegal settlers against Palestinians, both Muslims and Christians.
DeSantis boasts often that he is a Christian. But that is hard to believe when he is silent in the face of Israel’s apartheid regime and its persecution of Christian Palestinians, who continue to have their lands confiscated, churches vandalized and basic rights denied. But Christian Palestinians do not have a lobby group or PAC to make big campaign contributions, so why would DeSantis care?
In another Republican effort to weaken Biden’s reelection bid, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California this week vowed to ensure Netanyahu received an invite to address Congress. McCarthy was the first House speaker in 25 years to address the Israeli Knesset, where he stressed the deteriorating relations between Netanyahu and Biden.
In the coming months, you will see a steady stream of members of Congress from both parties flocking to Israel to show their support.
Republicans tend to champion Israel above the Arab world and use Israel to turn the screw on their Democratic rivals. However, Democrats, who tend to weigh up Palestinian freedoms and human rights slightly better than Republicans, also pander to Israel and receive large pro-Israel campaign donations.
Previously, in February 2015, Republican House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu to deliver a speech to a joint session of Congress. At the time, Boehner was looking ahead to the 2016 presidential election and was hoping to shore up the Republicans’ chances of succeeding Barack Obama in the White House. A Republican did win in 2016, but not the one Boehner or many others in the party expected — instead, it was Trump.
Four years later, in 2020, Biden took the White House from Trump and the Republicans. The Republicans now want it back. They will do it the way they always do, by building a campaign that starts by pandering to the pro-Israel vote.
You might think that pandering to Israel builds up Republican strength among Jewish voters. But that is not the case. Like Arabs, American Jews are not monolithic and are very diverse. And recent polling shows that many Jewish voters are aghast at Netanyahu’s turn to the extreme right.
The real target for the pro-Israel pandering is the powerful Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals who thrive on anti-Muslim calumny. They constantly, and falsely, accuse Biden of ignoring Israel by trying to focusing on Palestinian concerns.
Biden has strengthened Arab Americans’ presence by recognizing April as National Arab American Heritage Month and by appointing many Arabs to roles in his administration, including Hady Amr as special representative for Palestinian affairs since November 2022. Amr has been very active in reinforcing among Palestinian leaders that Biden cares about their interests, opposes the rise of extremism in Israel and supports the implementation of a two-state solution.
However, unaddressed by anyone are the domestic restrictions and penalties on Arab Americans who support Palestinian rights. Arab Americans are under siege, targeted in 27 states by anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions laws and constantly facing accusations of antisemitism for simply criticizing Israel, a foreign government. In contrast, Arab Americans are always last in line when it comes to enjoying the benefits of US citizenship.
Of course, you cannot blame everything on Israel, just because it has organized a powerful political lobby or masterfully funded and influenced the production of Hollywood films that exaggerate criticism of Arabs and Palestinians while erasing any criticism of Israel. You have to blame Arab Americans themselves. Everything pro-Israel activists do to influence American politics, Arab Americans could do too. But they do not. It is easier to play the role of victim rather than to take a chance to awaken true Arab American empowerment.
In the coming months, you will see a steady stream of members of Congress from both parties flocking to Israel to show their support. Israel maintains a well-funded and coordinated communications strategy that effectively spins the perception that Israel is the victim of Palestinian and Arab violence. Never mind that Israel kills 10 times more Palestinians than Palestinians kill Israelis.
In America, perception is reality and politics is all Israel.
• Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He can be reached on his personal website at www.Hanania.com.