This week's New Hampshire debate among Republican presidential hopefuls marked the opening salvo in what is certain to be a long, contentious election season.
Thankfully, Israel got barely a mention, with only former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum charging that President Barack Obama has "turned his back" on America's allies, including Israel.
But don't count on that omission lasting too long.
While it's impossible to predict who will be in the White House come January 2013 — Obama or one of the many Republicans vying to replace him — it's not hard to imagine the bruises that will trail whoever it is that wins.
So here's a plea before the fight for Jewish dollars and votes intensifies, as it most assuredly will: Let's keep it civil.
While some in our midst relish the opportunity to take the gloves off in their quest for political victory, others cringe at the divisiveness and rancor that engulfs the community come campaign season.
Vibrant political debate is a hallmark of American democracy and Jews have long played a prominent, outsized role in that process.
As fundraisers, pontificators, campaign volunteers and, of course, as elected officials, we Jews have labored long and hard to influence the political agenda.
We have proudly worked to prevail in advancing our own particular points of view on a wide range of domestic and foreign policy issues.
Engaging in the process is not the problem; it's the tenor of the discussion that can be destructive rather than constructive.
It's stating the obvious but it still bears repeating — we are not a monolithic community and never have been.
Whether this proves to be the year that Republicans realize their goal of cutting deeper into a still overwhelmingly Democratic Jewish electorate remains to be seen. But regardless of the outcome, for now we need to focus on how we get there.
As we engage in debate — and we should — let's focus on the myriad of very real issues that need to be addressed in this country: the economy, the environment, the wars in Afghanistan, the Iranian nuclear threat and, of course, U.S. policy toward Israel and the Middle East.
The candidates' records and rhetoric regarding all these issues must be scrutinized. But too often Israel has become a political football, and it is incumbent upon us not to let that happen. It serves no one — not our community and least of all not Israel — when we devolve into destructive scare tactics to boost a particular candidate — be it on the left or the right.
There is certain to be enough of that coming on the national level. In our own community, let's focus instead on the substance.