Special Series on 2016 Presidential Election: Marco Rubio

(Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP)

Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Palestine Square will be highlighting candidates’ statements and declarations on Israel, Palestine and related matters.

For our sixth entry in the Special Series on the 2016 Presidential Election:

Republican  Senator Marco Rubio:

The Florida senator might be the most vocal pro-Israel candidate of the season. Rubio has repeatedly condemned President Obama for reportedly putting “daylight” between the United States and Israel, and Rubio is determined none shall exist if he’s elected president. The candidate has called for an American foreign policy based on “unconditional” support for Israel and often adopts a melodramatic manner shunning nuance, even perfunctory regard for Palestinian rights, and basic facts. In America’s highly pro-Israel political environment, Rubio sticks out for his forcefulness; perhaps best illustrated when Rubio accused presidential rival Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas of being insufficiently supportive of Israel. The charge might sound ridiculous. After all, Cruz has made a pro-Israel stance part of his campaign. Rubio, however, seized on Cruz’s vote for a proposed balanced budget that would have cut foreign aid across the board. Since Israel would have seen a trim on its military aid, Rubio framed the matter as a vote to slash aid to Israel. On Israel, Marco Rubio does not play for second best.

To catalog all of Rubio’s statements would be long-winded and redundant, so below we focus on a few illuminating moments and provide necessary correctives.

Campaign Website

rubio campaign site

A good place to start would be Rubio’s presidential campaign website, which features pages on everything from “Eminent Domain” to so-called “Sanctuary Cities,” and, of course, Israel.

The junior senator from Florida outlines what “Marco Will” do:

  • Strengthen the U.S.-Israel Alliance and Israel’s Self-Defense
  • Revoke President Obama’s Flawed Iran Deal
  • Defend Israel’s Efforts to Combat Terrorism
  • Fight Efforts to Delegitimize the Jewish State
  • Push to Move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem

Point-by-point, they are not much of a departure from President Obama’s policies, which are criticized in the preceding text for a “commitment to Israel [that] has been lacking.” Israel will likely see an increase in annual military aid from $3 billion to $4.5-5 billion in a new Memorandum of Understanding to be signed before Obama leaves office, the president has expanded intelligence and military cooperation, and the administration uses its veto at the UN Security Council to scuttle any resolutions critical of Israel and publicly opposes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to pressure Israel to end the occupation.

Rubio’s promise to renege on the Iran deal, which would be a major break with his predecessor, might emerge to be an unfulfilled campaign promise. A newly inaugurated American president, with a domestic agenda to see through Congress, would be hard pressed to expend political capital for the purpose of unilaterally tearing up an agreement that the other five great powers would likely still abide by, which would isolate the U.S. Moreover, Israel has begrudgingly accepted the Iran deal.

Lastly, the proposed embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is old hate: Candidates have made identical promises in the past, but a powerful consensus presides in the U.S. foreign policy establishment against relocating the embassy until a final status peace agreement.

Let Me Declare … Israel Can Do No Wrong! 

On October 15, in response to growing violence in Israel/Palestine, the senator released the following statement, which, inter alia, stated:

As Palestinian terrorists continue to murder and maim Israelis, the Obama administration is spreading malicious falsehoods about the attacks. On Wednesday, administration spokesmen continued to blame “both sides” for the violence, as if the Israeli victims were themselves somehow culpable.

  • The Obama administration spoke in reference to the Israeli police force and Israel Defense Forces, which have killed several dozen Palestinians; many suspected militants, but others have been killed by lethal weapons fired against Palestinian protesters.

Indeed, speaking at Harvard on Tuesday, Secretary of State Kerry imputed responsibility to the Israelis. “There’s been a massive increase in settlements over the course of the last years,” he said. “Now you have this violence because there’s a frustration that is growing.” This is false. There has been no massive increase in settlements, and his statement ignores the campaign of incitement based on the lie that the Israelis are seeking to displace the Muslims from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

By lying about the true causes of the violence and falsely blaming the Israelis, Kerry brings dishonor on the United States. By providing a Palestinian leadership with cover for its support for terrorism, he rewards incitement.

  • The Palestinian Authority (PA) cooperates with Israeli security forces and was reportedly eager to see the violence subdued, which threatens an aloof and dithering Palestinian ruling elite more than Israel.

Let Me Reiterate!

On December 3, 2015, Rubio spoke at a forum hosted by the Republican Jewish Coalition where he, once again, adopted a vociferously emphatic stance on Israel, or, more accurately, the right-wing end of the Israeli political spectrum. Akin to his above letter, the speech was selective and breezy with the facts, and dubious in its interpretation of current events:

Just weeks ago, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas began a speech to a UN body by asking, quote, “For how long will this protracted Israeli occupation of our land last? After 67 years, how long?”

As we all know, sixty-seven years ago was 1948, the year of Israel’s creation. So the man who is supposed to be Israel’s “partner for peace” has just said that all of Israel is illegitimate and that the Jewish state is an “occupation” of someone else’s land.

  • The referenced passage was actually in the 12th paragraph of the speech and reads: “for how long will this protracted Israeli occupation of our land last? For how long will our people remain dispossessed of the full and undiminished enjoyment of their rights as protected by international legitimacy, most notably their fundamental right to life and self-determination, and their right to build their independent and sovereign state with East Jerusalem as its capital as and to live as human beings in accordance with the provisions of international conventions and treaties.” No where did Abbas speak of 67 years of occupation. His public statements in support of a two-state solution and cooperation with Israel are numerous. Instead of checking the record, Rubio appears to have borrowed old propaganda hastily circulated by right wing pro-Israel groups fabricating Abbas’ words before a transcript of the speech was provided to the press.

Moving on, Rubio repeated a favorite line that the occupied Palestinians are engaged in “aggression” while the military occupier, Israel, seeks “self-defense”:

Similarly, over the past three months of Palestinian terror attacks, our administration refused over and over again to do anything more than call on both sides for restraint – as if there were no difference between aggression and self-defense. The Palestinian attacks are being incited by lies knowingly promoted about Jewish threats to the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, and spread through a vicious campaign of anti-Semitism in Palestinian media.

It seems late in the day to say that when it comes to Israel, Rubio has a knack for hyperbole. As the speech went on, he did not disappoint:

Or consider the European Union’s recent approval of a new trade rule that requires special labeling of products produced in what the EU considers “Israeli-occupied territories.” The goal of this is to encourage Europeans to boycott goods from Israel. The rule applies to no other country – not to Russia, which invaded Georgia and Ukraine, nor China, which occupies Tibet. The EU is singling out only Israel.

Let’s take a step back and realize what this means. Discriminatory laws that apply only to Jews are now being written into European law for the first time in more than half a century … [the law is] despicable anti-Semitic boycotting of Israeli products.

  • Farms and industries in illegal Israeli settlements have long mislabeled their products as “Made in Israel.” The new labeling rule mandates products should be correctly labeled “Product of Israeli Settlement” so consumers can make informed decisions. Israeli exports to the EU were more than $14 billion in 2014 and settlement exports “represent a fraction of the total Israeli exports to the EU and less than 1% of the total [EU-Israel +$32 billion] trade,” according to the EU. In response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and aggression against Ukraine, the EU imposed sanctions on Russian exports, businesses, and officials. After the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, the EU imposed an arms embargo on China. Israel, which has occupied Palestinians for nearly half a century and committed massacres against its Palestinian citizens as recently as 2000 (to say nothing of far greater violence against occupied Palestinians), has faced no similar penalties. Settlement products have new labeling guidelines, but are allowed continued access to EU markets. In Rubio’s descent into demagoguery, an insistence on proper labeling strangely amounts to boycott and echoes the Nazis’ Nuremberg laws. But, if Rubio believes, that the EU is being groundless in its consideration of an “Israeli-occupied” territory, then its actions are indeed unnecessary: there’s no occupation to label.

It’s one thing to righteously condemn, but Rubio has ideas too:

I will revive the common-sense understandings reached in the 2004 Bush-Sharon letter and build on them to help ensure Israel has defensible borders, including through its continued control of the Golan Heights.

  • The letter was an understanding (i.e. lacking the force of a treaty) between President George Bush and late Israeli premier Arial Sharon, which accepted Israeli annexation of large settlements blocs near the 1967 border as part of a final peace agreement. This was not groundbreaking: the Palestinians have similarly accepted that Israel will annex settlements and compensate the Palestinian loss by ceding Israeli land elsewhere. Obama did not abandon the idea of a land swap, but rebuked Netanyahu’s imaginative insistence that the letter gave Israel permission to expand the settlements. Bush, for the record, did not support settlement growth. Rubio, in contrast, supports Israel’s self-proclaimed right to unilaterally confiscate as much Palestinian land it deems necessary for “defensible borders” and endorses Israel’s de facto annexation of the Golan Heights (which has been condemned by the UN Security Council).

What Palestinians? Later on, Rubio says, “Israelis on the streets of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv – and yes, in Judea and Samaria.”

  • Rubio telling his audience that, yes, he will use the Israeli terms for the occupied West Bank is the closest any prominent presidential contender has come to embracing the Israeli settler movement’s vision of colonization, interminable occupation and its inevitable corollary of apartheid. It’s seems plain as day that the Palestinians – their rights and patrimony – count very little, if at all, for Rubio. In an op-ed published on November 9th, Rubio added that, “I will not force Israel to make compromises for peace when there is no viable partner on the other side of the table. The consequences are too great for the United States to force Israeli leaders to make deals with Palestinian officials who are only interested in inciting violence instead of actually achieving progress for their people.”

Rubio vs. the Pope 

In March 2015, when asked about Pope Francis’ support for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, Rubio credited the Pope’s stance to an anodyne desire for “peace and prosperity,” but effectively dismissed it as a lofty bromide unworthy of a serious elected official like himself who must take into consideration the “national security of the United States.” Part of that security is support for Israel as “only free enterprise, democratic, pro-American country in the Middle East.” When asked about a two-state solution, Rubio demurred,  “I don’t think the conditions exist for that today.” Netanyahu makes a similar argument: regional turmoil makes a Palestinian state untenable. Netanyahu argues, and we imagine Rubio would as well, that he still supports a Palestinian state in the distant future. The problem with this argument is that even if Netanyahu is sincere, his support for settlement expansion would make prohibitive any would-be Palestine state even if Netanyahu eventually came around to the idea. (A cynic would say that Netanyahu is merely maintaining appearances with the diplomatic consensus and buying time until Israel’s colonization of the West Bank is a fait accompli.)

Let Me Count the Tweets

Rubio also frequently Tweets out his support for Israel. In fact, since April he has Tweeted messages of support and solidarity more than a dozen times. That, however, is less than the over 20 pro-Israel Tweets Ted Cruz sent out this year. Now, who’s lacking in support?!

marco tweets

Mere Pandering?

Rubio’s almost obsessive focus and excessive stances on Israel could be due to sincere sentiment or the monetary demands of a modern presidential campaign; or, as is most likely, both. By consistently adopting a partisan stance on Israel, Rubio might be pandering to his main donor and benefactor: Norman Braman. Mr. Braman (who has publicly pledged $10 million to Rubio’s presidential bid) is more than just a normal mega-donor, but one Rubio is personally and professionally indebted to.

As the New York Times reports:

As Mr. Rubio has ascended in the ranks of Republican politics, Mr. Braman has emerged as a remarkable and unique patron. He has bankrolled Mr. Rubio’s campaigns. He has financed Mr. Rubio’s legislative agenda. And, at the same time, he has subsidized Mr. Rubio’s personal finances, as the rising politician and his wife grappled with heavy debt and big swings in their income. […] 

A detailed review of their relationship shows that Mr. Braman, 82, has left few corners of Mr. Rubio’s world untouched. He hired Mr. Rubio, then a Senate candidate, as a lawyer; employed his wife to advise the Braman family’s philanthropic foundation; helped cover the cost of Mr. Rubio’s salary as an instructor at a Miami college; and gave Mr. Rubio access to his private plane.

Braman, with “an ardent commitment to Israel,” as characterized by the Times, accompanied Rubio on his 2010 trip to Israel.

Moreover, every Republican candidate is committed to winning the backing of Las Vegas tycoon Sheldon Adelson, for whom unconditional support for Israel is a litmus test. It would likely be false to assume that Rubio wouldn’t be pro-Israel without the nudge of donors, but it would be ingenuous to assume politicians do not consider their donors’ views. For a candidate lacking a personal fortune, such as Rubio, this instinct probably runs deeper. Rubio’s statements on Israel are so prolific and vehement, it would be foolish to discount the theory that his words might be animated by a desire to please Braman and Adelson.

Check out the rest of our Special Series on 2016 Presidential Election