How to vote in ’08
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How to vote in ’08

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The conventions are behind us, which means our long national nightmare – excuse me, the long presidential campaign – has reached its final stage. It actually will end in a scant two months (unless, of course, there is a repeat of 2000’s recount fiasco).

Between now and then, we all must decide for whom to vote. Inevitably, that means looking at a range of issues, including where candidates stand on the safety and security of Israel.

That Israel should be high on a list of concerns for Jews living in the diaspora should be a given (although, sadly, all too often these days it is not). The Torah itself provides for the establishment of a Jewish presence outside the Land, as long as those Jewish communities accept the responsibility to promote the welfare and well-being of the Land and its people.

Moses made this clear in granting the request of the Reuben and Gad tribes to establish themselves on the east bank of the Jordan River (see Numbers 32; half of the Menashe tribe apparently joined in the request, as we learn later). Joshua, shortly after Moses’ death, repeats the terms yet again (see Joshua 1).

There really should not be any question, then, of our responsibilities toward the State of Israel. We who live outside Israel are to be its support system. Our “prime directive” is to ensure that Israel survives and thrives.

This also means, however, that our “prime directive” has some obvious albeit unstated additional clauses. We need to see to it, for example, that our own Jewish communities survive and thrive, so that we can be in a position to support the Land and those who live in it. It also means helping to keep the nations in which we live strong and prosperous.

Given this, it should be obvious that when we who live in the United States decide for whom to vote for president and vice president – and for either house of Congress and perhaps for governor – we need to factor in where the candidates stand on issues relating to Israel’s safety and security, as well as where they stand on a variety of other issues, domestic and foreign.

(People running for local office have no influence on the foreign policy of the United States. When they appeal to us based on their support for Israel, we should see it for what it is: political pandering that shows contempt for our intelligence and challenges our loyalty as Americans.)

Here, then, is the condensed version of where we are told our current crop of candidates stand. In 2000, the Republican vice presidential nominee supported that “Nazi-sympathizing” anti-Israel candidate, Pat Buchanan, according to a pro-Democratic group, a charge Republicans deny and back up by pointing to a small Israeli flag hanging from a window curtain in her office. In 2005, according to an anonymous and unsupported source, the Democratic vice presidential nominee reportedly told Israel that it will have to learn to live with a nuclear Iran and to not even dare to do anything about it.

(This story was labeled unconfirmed by the very newspaper that gave it big play and labeled “a lie peddled by partisan opponents of Senators Obama and Biden” in a sharply worded statement from that campaign.)

True, when Barack Obama was on the board of the Woods Foundation, it funded the Arab American Action Network. The AAAN, however, is not associated with terrorist groups, as is claimed. Rather, it works to help integrate Arab immigrants who settled in Chicago into American society. It is also true that the foundation helped fund the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, which is “dedicated to combating poverty, racism, and anti-Semitism.”

True, both John McCain’s campaign chief and a top adviser either had or still have close ties with foreign companies that do business with Iran. It is also true, however, that McCain favors the economic isolation of Iran and says he would not rule out the use of force in Iran if such ever becomes necessary.

This is the kind of nonsensical back and forth to which we will continue to be subjected from now through Nov. 4.

Where do the candidates stand? Both the Democratic and the Republican nominees vow to maintain a strong Israel and not to allow Iran or anyone else to threaten the Jewish state. Regarding Jerusalem, both support Israeli sovereignty over the city. McCain would “immediately upon taking office” move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, whereas Obama will “await the outcome of negotiations” between the Israelis and Palestinians before doing so.

In other words, both present basically the same position on Israel and neither is even close to telling us what they really will do once in office.

We hear this stuff time and again during presidential elections. To the extent that we believe any of it, shame on us. Eight years ago, Jewish supporters of George W. Bush insisted that he alone would be Israel’s savior. Today, he is reviled by many of those who told us that back then.

Before Bush, we heard much the same thing about Bill Clinton (the elder George H. W. Bush by then being reviled by most pro-Israel groups). Yet, while many – even in Israel – regard Clinton as being very pro-Israel, many others revile him today because of his peace-making efforts.

John McCain, his word notwithstanding, is as likely to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem as Bush was (either one) or Clinton was. Barack Obama will not, either. Neither McCain nor Obama – indeed, no Republican or Democrat who runs for president now or in the foreseeable future – will turn his back on Israel once in office, but know this for a certainty: No president of the United States will put Israel’s interests ahead of America’s.

Israel is no more better off with the one than the other, no matter what “Jews for Either/Or” will tell us between now and Nov. 4. How, then, should a Jew vote?

One should vote in the same way one should fast on Yom Kippur. As Isaiah puts it in God’s name in Chapter 58 – in those verses that form the haftarah for Yom Kippur morning:

“[T]his is the fast I desire: To unlock fetters of wickedness, and untie the cords of the yoke; to let the oppressed go free; to break off every yoke. It is to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched poor into your home; when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to ignore your own kin…. If you banish the yoke from your midst, the menacing hand, and evil speech, and you offer your compassion to the hungry, and satisfy the famished creature – then shall your light shine in darkness, and your gloom shall be like noonday.”

Vote for the candidates you feel can best fulfill that prescription and you will be fulfilling the terms of all of Judaism’s prime directives.

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