Republican or Democrat: It's Much the Same to Israel

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - To Israelis, it doesn't matter so much whether an American president is a Republican or a Democrat as long as that president has an individual world view sympathetic to Israel, political analysts here say.

"Generally speaking, the difference shouldn't be too great between candidates," Gabi Sheffer, Professor of Political Science at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, told

Although the process of nominating US presidential candidates has just begun, Israelis already speak about the contenders as though they had already been nominated -- Republican George Bush versus Democrat Al Gore.

Sheffer said Bush and Gore already have pledged to support Israel's security interests. "I think there is a great deal of consistency.... The positions of Republicans and Democrats are very similar." But, Sheffer added, a Republican president might push harder for relocating the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

It was the Republicans in Congress who in the mid-1990s fought for passage of the Jerusalem Embassy Act, specifying that the U.S. Embassy be moved to Israel's disputed capital by mid-1999. President Bill Clinton twice deferred the move, citing national security considerations.

Regarding Palestinian statehood, Sheffer said neither party has officially committed itself.

Dr. Zach Levey, a professor of international relations at the University of Haifa, said U.S.-Israel ties depended on the individual presidents' worldviews rather than their political parties.

"American Jews tend toward the Democratic candidate," Levey told However, the first "change in that attitude" came with Republican President Richard Nixon.

Israel was "very, very impressed" by Nixon's support during the 1969-70 War of Attrition, he said, recalling the 16 months of fighting along the Israel-Egypt border. The fighting was triggered by an Egyptian artillery assault in violation of a UN cease-fire.

Nixon also was the first president to authorize the sale of Phantom jets to Israel, Levey said.

Democratic President Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, was the first "to talk openly about a homeland for the Palestinians." He applied "heavy pressure" on the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin at Camp David, Levey said.

The Camp David Accords, establishing diplomatic relations between Israel and Egypt, emerged from those talks.

According to Levey, Republican President Ronald Reagan had a "very good relationship" with Israel. But when his vice president George Bush became chief executive, Bush had a "mixed record" in relation to Israel.

Democratic President Clinton, Levey said, has the "very closest relationship" that any president has enjoyed with the Jewish State.

George W. Bush has been quoted as saying that although the U.S. has "economic interests" in the Middle East, "a safe and secure Israel is in [America's] national strategic interests."

Gore has been a long-time friend of Israel. He represented the U.S. at Israel's gala 50th anniversary celebration and impressed Israelis with his rousing commendations for the country.

"Of course there is a preference for a president that is not anti-Israel [and] knows something about the Middle East and politics in the Middle East," Sheffer said. Barak would probably prefer Gore; Bush is an unknown.

However, there are other factors, which have contributed to determining U.S.-Israeli relations, including the personality of the Israeli leader himself, prevailing circumstances in the world (i.e. pre- or post-cold war), and the behavior of the Arab states, Levey said. A president from either party would probably continue with the peace process in much the same manner.

"It doesn't make much of a difference. I expect that even a Republican president will be very friendly to Israel," Hebrew University Professor of Political Science, Menachem Hofnung told

However, he said a new president who is not familiar with the situation would take more time to adjust. It might therefore be easier for Israel if Gore were elected.

"We would see a difference in the short term, but not in the long term."