Did you know that Republicans are in "unquestioned" "lockstep" support for Israel? That's how some New York Times headline writers saw it, in Saturday's analysis by reporter Peter Baker, "For Republican Candidates, Support for Israel Is an Inviolable Litmus Test."
The initial online headline, altered after a couple of hours, bordered on offensive in its portrayal of the GOP as mindless, slavish pro-Israel drones: "Republicans, in Shift, Demand Lockstep Support for Israel." (Captured by the invaluable Newsdiffs.)
The extremely unflattering language crept into the story's text box: "Anything but unquestioned backing of the Jewish state can mean trouble."
Baker's actual article mostly skipped the more vehement terms:
When former Secretary of State James A. Baker III accused Israel’s leader this week of undermining the chances of peace in the region, he said nothing more than the kinds of things he had said at times when he was in office a quarter-century ago.
But the instant backlash from fellow Republicans that prompted Jeb Bush, the son of Mr. Baker’s best friend, to distance himself underscored just how much their party has changed on the issue of Israel. Where past Republican leaders had their disagreements with Israel, today’s Republicans have made support for the Jewish state an inviolable litmus test for anyone aspiring to national office.
The Republican support coalescing behind Israel, and particularly its hawkish prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been on display in recent weeks as President Obama has neared a nuclear agreement with Iran that critics call dangerous. The House speaker, John A. Boehner, invited Mr. Netanyahu to address Congress on the matter while 47 Senate Republicans signed an open letter to Iran warning against making a deal with the president.
The shift in the party’s attitude toward Israel stems from several factors, according to Republicans – a greater sense of solidarity in the fight against Islamic extremism since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, increased support for the Jewish state among evangelical Christians and the influence of wealthy donors like Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate. And the more Mr. Obama feuds with Mr. Netanyahu, the more Republicans feel motivated to come to the Israeli leader’s defense.
Mr. Kristol, emailing from Israel where he was meeting with Mr. Netanyahu, described the shift as a result of broader underlying trends in American politics as the political left grows more “European” and the political right grows more “Reaganite.” He added that “the conservative belief in American exceptionalism is akin to Zionism.” And he said the contrast between Mr. Obama’s friction with Mr. Netanyahu and former President George W. Bush’s strong support for Israel “is pretty dramatic.”
In his speech on Monday night, Mr. Baker said he had “been disappointed with the lack of progress toward a lasting peace” between Israelis and Palestinians and recalled that Mr. Netanyahu had once spoken out in favor of a Palestinian state as part of an eventual solution.
Mr. Baker added that the United States would “never, never, never abandon Israel” and criticized what he called the “political gamesmanship” that has turned the issue into a political football lately. Clear thinking on the difficult issues in the region, he said, “should not be muddled by partisan politics.”
Within minutes, conservatives on Twitter blasted Mr. Baker, who served under Mr. Bush, and who had just been listed as an adviser to Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor now poised to run for president. By the next morning, Jeb Bush authorized his spokeswoman to publicly differ.