|Israel, the Palestinians, and the 2012 Republican Primaries:
||Fantasy Politics on Display
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By Lawrence Davidson
This essay looks at the 2012 Republican primaries through the lens of “localism” and how candidates and lobbies manipulate for their own purposes the ignorance of their voting constituencies on issues not relevant to their everyday lives. After a discussion of the wider process, the piece focuses on the eight leading candidates in the presidential primary race with regard to Israel and Palestine, with an overview of their positions and advisers. It ends with some reflections on the consequences of the peculiarly American mix of localism, national politics, and special interest groups.
LOCALISM IS A UNIVERSAL IMPULSE. It reflects a natural concentration on one’s own environment, giving priority to where one is and what it takes to survive and prosper in that place. It is a condition affecting the orientation of leaders and citizens alike. Along with localism usually comes lack of interest in things farther away, which are assumed not to have an impact on one’s immediate needs and goals. This condition is modified only if the individual feels that something outside the local orbit may, or actually does, affect his or her life. In such cases, the foreign “something” is imported into the local environment and warrants notice.
Localism is often accompanied by “know-nothingness.” Know-nothingness is a knowledge void bred of knowing little or nothing about particular situations—usually those beyond the local sphere. As long as the situation remains separate from the local arena, know-nothingness is not a problem. If, however, for whatever reason, the situation is imported into the local environment and represented as something affecting one’s life, know-nothingness can be dangerous, for it opens the mind to all manner of distortions and illusions. Politics is one of the most common areas in which this situation can occur.
Politicians and government officials (among others) are famous for taking advantage of the knowledge voids of their constituents. Into these voids they can pour all sorts of nonsense with impunity. In certain seasons such behavior becomes predictable and common: for example, in the presidential or congressional election campaigns.
The untruths and misrepresentations offered at these times are not random or arbitrary. They tend to cluster around issues of importance to powerful groups that have money and influence in the political arena. Such groups can help a politically ambitious contender get elected and at the same time help sway public opinion on issues that, objectively, have little or nothing to do with the prosperity or general well-being of the local community. Thus, the motivation of the politicians who espouse positions on such issues can often be found in their connection to special interests with deep pockets.
Here is an example of how this sort of alliance can come about. Let us imagine that there is a politician X from a state such as North Dakota. It makes no difference whether X is Republican or Democrat. X decides to stand for election to Congress, announces his or her bid, and begins to seek backers. Soon X is approached by lobbyist Y, who represents a powerful, nationwide, special interest lobby. This lobby is concerned with specific foreign policy issues that have nothing to do with North Dakota and its local affairs. Thus, X and his or her constituents are likely to be ignorant of the situational details put forth by Y and the ends pursued by Y’s lobby.
Y tells X: My lobby is ready to help you with your present and future political campaigns. It will organize support for you both in your state and out-of-state. It will help raise campaign funds and facilitate positive media coverage. If you win, it will use its influence in Congress and within your political party to procure postelection committee appointments. In return, all Y’s lobby requires is that X vote and advocate for those bills and positions important to it.
None of these bills and positions are likely to have direct relevance to the local lives of X’s constituents. That is where Y’s desire for X’s advocacy comes in. Y’s lobby will want X to start pressing their issues to his or her constituents so that they import them, as it were, into their local environment and come to see them as affecting their immediate lives.
In the case of our hypothetical Y’s lobby—the Zionist lobby—the task of getting constituents to adopt its issues is greatly facilitated by the fact that a Judeo-Christian belief system has underpinned American society from its founding. In its more dogmatic manifestation, it has produced a growing number of Americans who describe themselves as “fundamentalist Christians” and adhere to a literal belief in Bible stories. This outlook has also led many to see the Muslim world as a particularly dangerous religious competitor. Israel/Palestine, the so-called Holy Land, has been considered a central battleground in this competition. This, in turn, has encouraged the growth of a Christian Zionist movement that supports Israeli’s position and policies in the Middle East.
Even beyond the fundamentalist sphere, in the United States in general, the inherited religious-cultural mindset, combined with decades of influence in the media, has made a version of events consonant with the Zionist version an accepted part of mainstream American thought. Thus, the views espoused by an ambitious candidate for national office will likely reflect those of the Zionist lobby even in the absence of the kind of direct approach described above. Once a candidate becomes a serious contender, however, cooperation becomes a natural and expected part of the process.
The 2012 Republican Presidential Primaries
It is against this background that one can begin to make sense of the ludicrous treatment of Israel and Palestine in the 2012 Republican presidential primary race. So powerful is the religious-cultural mindset in the United States that Christian Zionism, in recent decades, has become a major influence in the Republican Party. At least three of those who ran in its presidential primaries this year can be described as fundamentalist Christians, and the combination of Jewish Zionist political influence and Christian Zionist religious zeal more generally created—with a single exception—a powerful political environment that influenced the policy positions of all the candidates.
The official primary season did not open until January 2012, but the race was in high gear as early as May 2011, when the first of thirteen presidential nationally televised debates was held. By that time, the two main conditions necessary for the scenario outlined above were in place: (a) constituencies (mostly right-wing conservatives) that were largely focused on local issues, with little if any knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and (b) an array of political hopefuls most of whom were know-nothings when it comes to the Middle East. Most of the candidates had long since come to an accommodation with Zionist lobbies in the United States or embraced their views.
The results followed naturally. Sheer nonsense streamed forth about Israel being an important local issue for all Americans. The Palestinians were presented as terrorists or invented people, and so on. In our present case, the nonsense poured from the mouths of those vying for the Republican presidential nomination into the knowledge vacuum that dominates the right-wing of the Republican Party and beyond.
Below we focus on the Middle East views and connections of the eight candidates who held the field most prominently through 2011
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LAWRENCE DAVIDSON, is a professor of history at West Chester University. His most recent book is Cultural Genocide (Rutgers University Press, 2012)