For G.O.P., Support for Israel Becomes New Litmus Test

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tags: Israel, Republicans



Republican presidents like Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon and George Bush were not always seen as unequivocally supportive of Israel. For decades, throughout the Cold War especially, Republican leaders were viewed as close to anti-Communist Arab allies and the oil industry. They presided over a predominantly Protestant electoral base while Democrats assembled a more urban coalition with lopsided support from American Jews. Even when Republican presidents supported Israel, they also openly quarreled with its leadership at times, much as Democratic presidents did.

Eisenhower pressured Israel to withdraw from Egypt after it sent troops into Sinai in 1956 with the support of Britain and France in an effort to secure the Suez Canal and topple the government of President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

President Ronald Reagan defied Israeli objections to sell Awacs reconnaissance planes to Saudi Arabia and supported a United Nations resolution condemning Israel after it bombed a nuclear plant under construction in Iraq without telling the United States first. His successor suspended $10 billion in loan guarantees to Israel after it expanded housing settlements in occupied territories.

As secretary of state, Mr. Baker gave a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac, calling on all sides in the Middle East conflict to face hard truths, including Israel, which he said should stop settlement activity. Mr. Baker even barred Mr. Netanyahu, then a deputy foreign minister, from the State Department building after the Israeli called American policy dishonest.

“It is a different Republican Party from those days,” said Dennis B. Ross, who worked as a top adviser to Mr. Baker at the time and later went on to work for Mr. Obama on Middle East issues. “When Baker made his Aipac speech that was seen as so tough at the time in 1989, he drew little criticism from Republicans.”




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