Both major presidential candidates have joined Congress in expressing strong support for Israel in the wake of the continuing violence in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.
Except for some bickering about oil policy, the current Mideast mess has not been a campaign issue.
But Ralph Nader and his Green Party are looking through a different lens. This week the former consumer advocate issued harsh broadsides, blaming Israel for the disorders.
Ordinarily, that would be a matter of little concern to Jewish activists, since Nader is poised to win less than 4 percent of the vote on Nov. 7.
But with some political analysts now claiming that Nader could be a spoiler in some six states — and perhaps nationally, if the election is as close as some polls suggest — Nader’s harsh Middle East positions have caused Jewish activists to sit up and pay attention.
This week the Association of State Green Parties, the political umbrella under which Nader is running, pointed the finger of blame at Israel.
The party “supports recent UN Security Council Resolution 1322, which deplores Israeli provocation at Haram Al-Sharif and condemns the excessive use of force against Palestinians,” according to an official statement.“Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestinian land embodies a fundamental challenge to international peace in this era.”
Some analysts say that Nader, a second-generation Lebanese-American, has suddenly turned to foreign policy to bolster support in the Arab American community, which could play a major role in the outcome in Michigan and several other states.
Last week, addressing an audience in California, he said, “When you look at the violence, where is most of the violence? It’s in the Palestinian territory. Who are the victims of the violence? Mostly Palestinian young men throwing rocks. Who are the forces that are producing most of the violence? The overwhelming excessive use of force is by the Israeli military.”
He said that Palestinians “have a lot of reasons for their rage.”
The outburst produced a quick reaction from the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), which called on Nader to “clarify his personal views on Israel and Middle East foreign policy and repudiate the Green Party positions.”
Ira Forman, NJDC’s executive director called the party’s recent statements “among the most anti-Israel ever made on behalf of a presidential candidate.”
Forman said that Nader could “tip the balance” in a handful of key states, including Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, putting them into the Republican column.
But Benjamin Ginsberg, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University, said that Nader’s impact on Nov. 7 is likely to be much smaller.
“I don’t think it’s likely he will tip the balance anywhere,” he said. “The stories that he can are coming mostly from Nader press releases.”
He predicted that even many voters who tell pollsters they support him will change their minds on election day.
Ginsberg said that Israel bashing is a natural for the third-party candidate, whose meager support has been slipping in recent weeks.
“He isn’t planning to win the election; he’s just trying to increase his visibility. He has to say controversial things to get attention — and the media these days is prone to quote anybody who says negative things about Israel. I’m amazed it’s taken Nader so long to find this formula.”
State Of Alert
Jewish leaders and administration officials had something in common this week: a case of the jitters over possible Mideast-related terrorism, both here and abroad.
On Monday the Pentagon put some U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf region and Turkey on the highest state of alert because of “specific threats against U.S. forces,” according to an official.
The warning to use forces in Bahrain, Qatar and Turkey comes two weeks after an explosion tore through the U.S.S. Cole, which was refueling in Yemen.
Officials here continue to believe that the bombing, which killed 17 Americans, was related to the surge of violence in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.At the same time, American Jewish leaders, worried about the worldwide wave of violence and vandalism directed at Jewish targets since the new Mideast crisis began, were working on ways to safeguard Jewish institutions here.
On Tuesday a delegation of Jewish leaders met with representatives of the Justice and Treasury Departments, the FBI and other agencies. Also present were representatives of the Justice Department’s church arson task force.
The goal was to “share information and make sure lines of communication are open” in case Jewish institutions are targeted, said Kenneth Stern, a specialist in extremism and anti-Semitic activity for the American Jewish Committee.
“The tone was very low key and un-panicky,” said another participant. “They did a very good job of convincing people that they are watching the situation and that they can respond effectively if something happens.”
The federal officials did report a “spike” in incidents involving Jewish institutions during the week of Oct. 7 that could be related to the Mideast disorders.