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Nikki Haley Comparing Ukraine to Israel is Entirely Defensible (And Needed)
The Republican presidential candidate made an important point about a growing foreign-policy problem in her party.
Last week, Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley made a pretty bold foreign policy statement, especially considering current political trends within her party.
“Mark my words,” she said at the Republican Jewish Coalition Leadership Summit in Las Vegas, Nevada. “Those who would abandon Ukraine today are at risk of abandoning Israel tomorrow. They’ve lost sight of who our friends are, who our enemies are, who is good and who is evil. That is not who you want in the Oval Office!”
Her words were clearly aimed at some of her Republican opponents — those who, in courting the “America First” populist wing of the Republican Party, have adopted a fair amount of Russian propagandist rhetoric on Ukraine. Many on the right scoffed at Haley tying the two international conflicts together, but I think her point was well-conceived.
In fact, I touched on the same topic in a Q&A on this website last month, in response to a subscriber who noticed that a number of Republican politicians, who had turned against supporting Ukraine, were expressing loud support for Israel using arguments that applied just as easily to Ukraine’s situation:
The hostility a number of Republican firebrands have demonstrated in their opposition to Ukraine funding has been a sight to behold (and in some cases a 180-degree reversal from their stance early in the conflict, when things were looking much more bleak for the country). It's another example of how unwelcome Reagan-era Republicanism is in today's GOP. There are certainly historical and situational differences between Ukraine's plight and Israel's plight, but I'd argue that there are also very strong similarities.
You're right that there's a lot of of hypocrisy at play here. Here's another example, this time from Vivek Ramaswamy who tweeted: “I am appalled by the barbaric and medieval Hamas attacks. Shooting civilians and kidnapping children are war crimes. Israel’s right to exist & defend itself should never be doubted and Iran-backed Hamas & Hezbollah cannot be allowed to prevail. I stand with Israel and the U.S. should too.”
I agree with every word of that. But why does Ramaswamy refuse to apply that same rationale for supporting Ukraine? The Russian invasion has also been barbaric and medieval. Russians have also committed such war crimes against Ukraine, including against civilians and children. Why should Ukraine's "right to exist & defend itself" be doubted? Why should Russia be "allowed to prevail"? Why won't Ramaswamy "stand with" Ukraine? Why isn't Ramaswamy arguing that we must secure our own border before supporting Israel?
Stuff like this drives me nuts, and I think it stems almost entirely from Republican politicians and right-wing media figures trying to latch onto far-right sentiment that was shaped in large part by Donald Trump's man-crush on Vladimir Putin (which was further mainstreamed by populist, autocrat-sympathetic media-actors like Tucker Carlson). Another factor is that because Biden is pro-Ukraine, many on the right feel they need to be anti-Ukraine. Sad but true.
So, is it really that hard to believe that Nikki Haley’s prediction may turn out to be true?
I mean, just a few weeks ago, the runaway front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump, publicly hailed Hezbollah’s intelligence, while attacking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the wake of the world’s deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust. And Trump’s primary polling has only gotten better since then.
So far, Republicans have overwhelmingly been on the right side of the Israel/Hamas conflict. They’ve also been morally correct in their loud condemnations of the worldwide displays of antisemitism since October 7, including here in the United States. We’ve seen one breathtaking video after another of mostly young Americans engaged in anti-Israel protests, rationalizing and even denying the wide-scale murder and rape committed by Hamas, and tearing down pictures of innocent hostages (including children) held by the terrorist group. We’ve even seen elected Democratic representatives disgracefully echo such sentiment.
“The sadistic Oct. 7 massacre was the easiest moral test of our time,” says The Dispatch’s Jamie Weinstein. “But since so many people are failing it, it has become the most clarifying moral moment of our time.”
He makes a very strong point. The widespread moral perversity on this matter should not be dismissed or excused. Its ugliness is glaring, and the pain and fear it inflicts on the Jewish community, in particular, is immeasurable.
And as National Review’s Noah Rothman writes, these scenes also offer an opportunity for some self-reflection on the right:
Republicans would do well to keep all this in mind the next time they encounter arguments in favor of abandoning Ukraine to Russia amid Moscow’s war of conquest and subjugation. If Republicans think the social-justice Left sounds callous and utterly indifferent to human suffering when it excuses Hamas’s bloodletting, how to do they think it sounds to the 1 million Ukrainians in America, their descendants, and their supporters when the Right engages in a similar enterprise?
When those Americans hear people like Tucker Carlson insisting that Vladimir Putin isn’t so bad because he hasn’t called the former Fox News host a “racist,” isn’t trying to “snuff out Christianity,” and doesn’t “eat dogs,” how do those Americans react? When Senator J. D. Vance says he doesn’t “care what happens to Ukraine one way or the other,” and when he and his ideological compatriots attribute American sympathy to a conspiracy “from our idiot leaders” designed to “distract us from our actual problems,” do they not sound similar to the Hamasniks who attribute Washington’s support for Israel to the insidious machinations of global Jewry?
Rothman reiterates the striking similarities between the methods of Israel’s and Ukraine’s assailants:
Hamas executed Israeli civilians summarily and en masse. So, too, were Ukrainian civilians shot in the back, their corpses left to rot in the open air or in mass graves. Israeli women were savaged, brutalized, and raped by their abusers. Ukrainian women, too, have been subjected to that same dehumanizing torture. Israeli bodies have been desecrated posthumously, as were those of Ukrainians who were killed fighting against Russia’s attempt to erase their very national identity from the human tapestry. And just as Hamas has taken children captive to advance the terror group’s strategic interests, Ukrainian children languish in Russian camps to which they’ve been absconded. There, these kids are undergoing a campaign of reeducation designed to erase the memories imparted to them by their parents and grandparents.
Both Ukrainians and Israelis are worthy of America’s support, respect, and compassion. Neither Ukraine nor Israel are deserving of moral equivocation with those against whom they are fighting for their survival and sovereignty.
Not so long ago, an overwhelming majority of Republican leaders and voters agreed with that sentiment. But many have since folded on Ukraine, and despite all of the problems I have with Nikki Haley, I think she could well be right on it happening, as well, with Israel.
Let’s hope she’s wrong.