The news media was abuzz this week with reports that, speaking before the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington D.C. – the annual gathering of rabid right-wing Israel supporters – a presidential candidate vowed to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
So who was it this time? Donald Trump.
“We will move the American Embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem,” he bellowed, reading from a script written for him by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, publisher of the conservative weekly The New York Observer. Kushner took over the business from his father Charles, a real estate mogul and convicted criminal once described by The Jewish Week as “one of the marquee names in American Jewish philanthropy.”
Donald Trump: We will move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem https://t.co/5Maw9wLgag #AIPAC2016 https://t.co/JlLkpWvFtg
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) March 21, 2016
So why is this news? It’s not.
Promising to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital and to move the American embassy there is part of Pandering 101 for Oval Office hopefuls. It is one of those litmus test talking points; the thing a politician says to prove the depths of his or her obsequiousness to a minuscule but influential cadre of donors and king (or queen) makers.
Every candidate in the past few decades knows this. It’s an easy vow to make, and no one ever pays any political price for inevitably breaking it (since half of Jerusalem remains occupied territory and actually moving the embassy there would be a clear violation of international law, which doesn’t recognize Israel’s claim over the historic city). Making such an absurd promise plays well to the writhing masses at AIPAC confabs, establishes one’s Zionist bona fides, and is a quick and easy way to offend indigenous Palestinians living under occupation, apartheid and blockade without actually flipping them the bird.
Nevertheless, the press continues to report on this blustery promise, no matter who utters it, as if it actually merits attention.
And Jeb Bush before him:
So did Mitt Romney in 2012:
The year before, while beginning her campaign for New York’s Senatorial seat, the then-First Lady Hillary Clinton weighed in on the matter herself:
In the mid-1990s, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and House Speaker Newt Gingrich similarly pandered like pros:
Before that, in 1992, the Clinton/Gore campaign hit the incumbent Bush administration for balking at the official recognition of “Israel’s sovereignty over a united Jerusalem.” Their campaign promised voters that “Bill Clinton and Al Gore will… support Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel.”
Even Mike Dukakis tacked to the right of both the outgoing Reagan administration and George H.W. Bush campaign in 1988:
Al Gore, who tried to win the Democratic nomination for president that year, reportedly said in September 1987 that “he would consider moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”
In April 1984, during a heated Democratic primary season, Walter Mondale and Gary Hart bent over backwards to assure voters in New York City that they too supported moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The New York Times reported at the time:
Walter F. Mondale said he had supported such a move for 20 years, and he asserted that Senator Gary Hart had changed his position on the issue five days ago. In the past two weeks, Mr. Hart has denied that he suddenly changed his position, but has said his position has ”evolved.” He has said firmly that if he became President, he would move the embassy to Jerusalem.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson is the only one of the three candidates who opposes moving the embassy. The Reagan Administration also opposes such a move because the status of Jerusalem has long been disputed and the United States does not support Israeli sovereignty over the city.
Despite efforts by New York Senator Daniel Moynihan and California Congressman Tom Lantos to introduce a bill mandating the move, Reagan was adamant about not moving the embassy, as such a divisive policy would, according to his Secretary of State George P. Shultz, “be very bad for the United States” and “damage our ability to be effective in the peace process.”
The pandering was so thick, however, that a month later the Reagan administration had to pretend to consider supporting the move in order to stave off losing votes in the upcoming election.
Though the bill eventually stalled, Los Angeles Times syndicated columnist Nick Thimmesch, who called the proposal “one of the dumbest ideas to be advanced in Congress this session,” lamented that “some of the election-year pandering in the Republic verges on the obscene” and credited the ill-conceived gambit to the lawmakers’ “blind obedience to the Israel lobby (American Israeli Public Affairs Committee).” That was October 3, 1984.
By 1986, another bill was introduced to move the embassy, this time brought to the Senate floor by Republican Jesse Helms.
But even in the mid-1980s, though, this was an old political ploy. The New York Times pointed out that the 1976 Democratic Party platform – on which Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale ran for office – declared:
We recognize and support the established status of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with free access to all its holy places provided to all faiths. As a symbol of this stand, the U.S. Embassy should be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Before that, on March 17, 1972, Michigan Congressman Gerald Ford, then the Republican Minority Leader, told a Zionist Organization of America regional meeting in Cleveland that the Nixon Administration should transfer the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.
Two years later, after first replacing Spiro Agnew as Vice President and then becoming President himself following Nixon’s resignation, Ford backtracked on his previous position. “Under the current circumstances and the importance of getting a just and lasting peace in the Middle East, that particular proposal ought to stand aside,” Ford said at his very first presidential press conference on August 9, 1974.
It’s been over four decades since then and, sadly, while Palestine remains under brutal occupation, Israeli colonies continue to expand with impunity, and Palestinians are subject to ongoing oppression and violence, election-year pandering and blind obedience to the Israel lobby has become more obscene than ever.
This article was originally published at Wide Asleep in America.