Kerrys record offers hope to an endangered Mideast

Many American Jews and Israeli Americans seem impressed by President Bush’s putative support for Israel. As an Israeli, I implore responsible Jewish voters who care about Israel: Look at his record over his rhetoric, and you’ll see the dangers of his leadership for this country.

Luckily, the record of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) offers hope for Israel.

I made aliyah from New York and have lived in Israel for nine years, through two intifadas and at least two Iraq scares, masks and all. But I have never been more frightened for Israel’s safety than I have under Bush. I have never despaired more of advancing peace, as during Bush’s term.

It is difficult to recall a president who was less engaged in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Whether we liked or disliked Bush’s father and the disciplinarian approach of his secretary of state, James Baker, they were involved. Whether one agrees or disagrees with him, President Clinton was passionately committed.

During the worst four years in Israel’s history, George W. Bush has done a resounding nothing.

In his first National Security Council meeting, he decided to disengage from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and his disinterest shows: The “road map” was presented and then forgotten. Bush opposed Israel’s security fence throughout 2003, threatening Israel’s loan guarantees, and then suddenly supported it — coincidentally at the start of the election year.

The same goes for unilateral separation. Prior to 2004, Bush refused to call Yasser Arafat a terrorist and insisted he remain the negotiating partner; a former political officer at the Israeli Embassy in Washington noted ruefully that Bush is the reason Arafat is still around.

Some hailed the president’s “promises’ to Ariel Sharon in April as a victory — yet Bush all but reneged, including regarding the Palestinian right of return, two weeks later. Just last week at the U.N. General Assembly, Bush called for a settlement freeze. Which is the real Bush policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

With the second intifada, many in Israel felt that only strong American involvement would help reach a negotiated end to the misery. To date, Bush’s policy is an irrelevant mess of contradictions that leaves Israel in despair.

But Bush’s actions in Iraq leave the country in danger. Suicide bombings and now beheadings are tearing Iraq and other countries apart — a horror we hoped no one else would ever know. Iraq is out of control, Osama bin Laden is free and al-Qaida is growing. That makes Israel, and being Israeli, more dangerous.

His lack of action in Iran is beyond dangerous — it is outrageous. America has known about secret nuclear facilities for more than two years, and now everyone knows about Iran’s capacity to produce nuclear weapons. But Iraq has cost vital American credibility in Europe and the Arab world, and America is far weaker in facing the escalating threat. Iran is a hornet’s nest of hatred, by some accounts it is the new Afghanistan, putting Israel directly in the line of fire.

Isolation and resentment of America spills over onto Israel. Conspiracy theories affect business, social and cultural relations. When Mikos Theodorakis, the legendary Greek composer, railed on the Israeli-American control over the world, he sounded only partly anti-Semitic. In part, he was just expressing beliefs that are tragically prevalent in once-benign neighboring countries.

A generation of moderate Muslims is turning radical, learning to hate America — and with it, Israel — because of the mangled Iraq war effort. Who is the closer target for their rage, America or Israel? Al-Qaida is threatening Israelis around the world, and the terror attacks at hotels frequented by Israelis in Taba, Egypt and at Mombasa, Kenya, shows its capabilities.

In Israel, the world’s resentment, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and Islamic extremism are bad enough. Under Bush, these problems have gotten worse and he shows little commitment to addressing them. I’m not even sure he understands them.

Kerry understands. He has supported Israel in every vote for 20 years; that’s way before the electoral campaign started. Kerry understood how to fight terrorism long before Bush was ignoring intelligence reports on imminent attacks in the United States.

While Bush’s father was selling missiles to Saudi Arabia (how is that good for Israel?), Kerry was one of the first to write a Senate report investigating Saudi businesses for funding terrorist organizations. Bush’s father met members of the bin Laden family, and the figures incriminated in Kerry’s 1992 report helped fund George W.’s electoral campaign.

Kerry has a 12-year, highly analytic approach targeted at the sources of terrorism. Bush has a four-year record of being passive on intelligence, coddling Saudis, making the wrong connection between Iraq, weapons of mass destruction and 9/11, and talking tough while Iran and North Korea fester.

Despite his rhetoric, the administration has cut State Department counterterrorism programs by an average of 20 percent every year since 9/11. Kerry is unburdened by the Republicans’ chronic dual loyalty to Arab oil barons alongside America’s security, which led them to defeat a bill banning oil companies from doing business with terrorist states — this past June.

When the election dust settles, Bush will no longer need to buy Jewish votes — so there is no guarantee that actions he eventually does take would favor Israel. And after four years of Bush’s leadership, Israel is a more dangerous place, a more hated place and a more hopeless place.

How can we reject a candidate who understands, with unwavering support, what Israel needs?

Dahlia Scheindlin is an international political consultant and public opinion analyst based in Tel Aviv.

Which candidate presents stronger record on Israel?

Front-line voters back Bush’s fight on terror