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Why the presidential candidates won't talk about Israel

Analysts say politicians hold their tongues on giving additional US aid to Israel for fear of being labeled as anti-Semitic.

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"The presidential candidates make it a point never to talk about Middle East foreign aid," says McArthur.

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Why the silence?

"Fear," says Paul Findley, a frequent critic of US foreign policy to Israel. He blames the Israeli lobby for contributing to his defeat in 1982 when running for reelection as a Republican congressional representative from Illinois.

None of the three remaining presidential candidates have uttered "even a syllable" of complaint about US policy toward Israel, rather a "paean of praise," Mr. Findley says. "This is a phenomenon without precedent in American history."

To Findley, the "most powerful instrument of intimidation" used by pro-Israel groups is the charge of "anti-Semitism." The meaning of that term has been expanded. It used to be applied to those hostile to a race or faith, that is, against Jews or Judaism. Now it's often applied to critics of Israel or US-Israel policy, says Findley.

Considering the horrific history of the holocaust, politicians "run like rabbits" to avoid the charge of anti-Semitism, Findley adds.

Another fear of politicians involves the campaign contributions of pro-Israel political action committees (PACs). Last week WREMA reported that more than 20 of these PACs have contributed $1.1 million to Washington politicians in the 2007-08 election cycle. That amount is dwarfed by what the three presidential candidates have raised for their campaigns.

Since Israel now has a relatively prosperous per capita national income comparable to Cyprus or Slovenia, direct US economic aid to Israel has been replaced gradually by military aid. Since money is fungible, that would make little real economic difference to Israel as its government pays its high military bills. In fact, Congress allows Israel to use 26 percent of the aid it receives to buy arms outside the US, thereby helping build up its own weapons industry. "We are thus shooting ourselves [the US weapons industry] in the foot," charges Janet McMahon, managing editor of WREMA.

Professor Walt maintains he's pro-Israel. The US refusal to put pressure on Israel to settle with the Palestinians on a two-state solution, he argues, is not helpful.

"Giving any country unconditional backing encourages irresponsible behavior," he says. It could lead to an apartheid state, or as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert put it, Israel facing "a South African-style struggle."

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