With the presidential election merely a few months away, and the polls revealing a fiercely close race, rival candidates President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney are stepping up their efforts to secure votes.
The latest in this fight has been over the Jewish vote -- a small but powerful voice in American politics. Although the Jewish community is small, the close nature of this election will make those swing states -- such as Florida and Pennsylvania -- crucial in securing the presidency.
In the past week, the candidates seemed to be in an all out battle to win the Jewish favor, using Israel as their primary courting strategy. Earlier, former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, landed in Tel Aviv, where he will be meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leaders.
In an effort to demonstrate his profound support for America's strongest ally in the region, Romney's weekend visit to Israel will include talks with various leaders as well as a speech on the Middle East. Ultimately, the trip is being made with hopes of garnering support of Jewish and pro-Israel voters back home -- a constituency that, three years ago, threw its support behind Obama, but has since questioned his stance on Israel.
Meanwhile, just two days before Romney's arrival to Israel, Obama made what many see as a deliberate attempt to undermine Romney's effort to draw in Jewish voters. This past Friday, President Obama, in a highly publicized gathering in the Oval Office, signed the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Act. The Act, according to Obama's comments at the signing, reflects "our unshakable commitment to Israel's security.” Furthermore, Obama went on to announce a $70 million dollar increase of American support to Israel's security -- specifically, to be used for the Iron Dome missile defense system.
While Israel has, throughout Obama's first term, remained America's strongest and closest ally in the Middle East, the president has received widespread criticism from both Republicans and the Jewish community regarding his position. Most controversial was, perhaps, Obama's insistence that negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians begin at the borders drawn before the war in 1967, with mutually agreed upon land swaps. To further challenge Obama's position towards Israel, many Republicans point out his failure to visit the country even once over the past three years.
In response to the Act, Romney stated that, although he is glad to see the increase in support for Israel, it does not go far enough. Specifically, Romney noted that the legislation still fails to state whether Obama recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Amidst the strong rhetoric and fierce undermining between the rival candidates, the issue of support for Israel must be seen, above all, as a campaigning strategy, motivated by interests at home. Although Israel is most certainly a crucial issue that must be considered by all voters as they cast their ballots, the truth remains that support for Israel goes beyond party lines. Like parents in a custody battle- Obama and Romney's fight over who loves Israel the most reveals little more than the simple fact that support for Israel is a bipartisan issue.
Despite its small size and far off distance, it seems clear that Israel will be a vital factor in this presidential election. Especially, at a time in which the surrounding countries prove dangerously unstable -- in the wake of the Arab Spring, with violence in Syria on the rise, and fears of a nuclear Iran at the forefront of world-wide concern, it is no wonder that both candidates recognize the importance of reaffirming their support of our strongest ally in the Middle East.