In Tucson talk, pundit says Congress key to Israel policy

Micah Halpern

It doesn’t matter who the president is when it comes to U.S. policy toward Israel. When political pundit Micah D. Halpern made that statement in his talk, “Making Sense of the Middle East: A Post-Election Analysis,” at a Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona leadership campaign summit on Nov. 8, he elicited some surprise from the audience. Around 50 people attended the Women’s Philanthropy luncheon at Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch Resort.

“I’ve gotten into a lot of trouble for saying it doesn’t matter who the president is,” admitted Halpern. “It’s Congress that doesn’t [totally] change every four or eight years. There’s a consistency there. Both candidates were absolutely committed to Israel. I don’t see this changing for 20 years or longer.”

Halpern is a syndicated columnist who has appeared on CBS, Fox, MSNBC and other television networks. He also writes The Micah Report, a weekly column on the Internet. Halpern’s most recent book is “Thugs: How History’s Most Notorious Despots Transformed the World through Terror, Tyranny, and Mass Murder” (2007). He has been a lecturer at Yale University, a longstanding educator with Young Judaea, and has taught at Brandeis University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

An Arabic speaker, Halpern reaches more than 300,000 viewers on Arabic television, and also appears on Russian television.

“One of our biggest mistakes in the Middle East is a misunderstanding of their desire for freedom,” said Halpern, adding, it was a problem that Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all wanted to place democratic, pro-Western governments in countries “where the people are more anti-West. Where the leadership is more anti-West the people are more pro-West.”

Consider Iran, he noted, where there are “more Ph.D.s than anywhere outside of the United States and India”; people spend too much time thinking about the ayatollahs. In addition, “the real threat of the Iran nuclear program is when they want to give weapons to others,” said Halpern.

As for the U.S. relationship with Israel, there’s a problem with tone, not presidential policies. “There’s a tone of tension. Part of that is because of Netanyahu. It’s not the role of Israel to get involved in U.S. elections,” said Halpern, adding the tension flows both ways.

“People get frustrated. The U.S. expects our close friends and allies to do what they’re told. Israel doesn’t like to do what they’re told,” he said.

“These kinds of issues explode in the social media.” Still, “conflict is the opposite of a problem. It’s actually good,” noted Halpern.

Focusing on the upcoming Israeli elections, “I don’t see a change in prime minister. I do see a major change in Kadima,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who the prime minister or the [U.S.] president is. The strength of our relationship with Israel is found in Congress. You have to reach out and touch these people.”

The Jewish community understands this, said Halpern. “One of the things we do better than anyone else is we build for the future” as a way to convey the love we have for our children, grandchildren and future generations, he told the audience. “The rest of the world is envious. You are a group of builders.”