Monday, January 13, 2020

The Democrat Party's Third Rail: Israel - Lauri B. Regan

by Lauri B. Regan

Democrats have a problem, and, frighteningly, they do not appear to have any interest in fixing it.

A version of this column was originally published in the Winter 2020 edition of the Jewish Policy Center’s InFocus magazine
The 2020 election is presenting the electorate with Democrats of both the extreme and “moderate” varieties who hold starkly different views than Republicans on America’s relationship with Israel. American Jews, who for decades have felt at home in the Democrat Party, are now facing a predicament as Democrats become more comfortable taking anti-Israel positions and making statements previously unheard.
When Obama entered office, he made it clear that the new sheriff in town would insert daylight between the U.S. and Israel. He distanced us from our most strategically important ally in the region and realigned diplomatic relationships while removing the pax-Americana that had maintained stability for decades. What followed was eight years of a deteriorating U.S.-Israel relationship as Democrats moved away from supporting Israel. This was on full display at the Democrats’ 2012 convention at which thousands of delegates booed when leadership reinserted language in the party platform pertaining to G-d and Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It was an omen.
Fast forward to the Trump administration’s most recent pro-Israel announcement. In November, Secretary Pompeo reversed decades of flawed policy and announced that Israel’s settlements were not illegal under international law. Republicans cheered, recognizing this as an important reversal of UN Resolution 2334 which stated that Israeli settlements were a “flagrant violation” of international law. That anti-Israel resolution was adopted on a 14-0 vote of the Security Council, with the U.S. abstaining instead of providing its customary veto. Viewed as Obama’s final diplomatic spurning of Israel, it marked a new low for U.S.-Israel relations.
In 2008, Obama received 78% of the Jewish vote, consistent with Diaspora Jews’ voting patterns. But various polls indicated that Republicans and Democrats were sharply divided on issues pertaining to Israel and the region. A 2012 Pew poll revealed that Republicans were far more supportive of using military force to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons than Democrats. Sixty-two percent of Republicans agreed that the U.S. should support an Israeli attack to stop Iran’s nuclear program, while only one-third of Democrats agreed. And a 2012 Gallup poll revealed a clear “Israel Gap” between the parties with Republican support for Israel 25 points higher than Democrats.
Over the past three years, Democrats have criticized President Trump every time he’s announced a pro-Israel policy, including moving our embassy to Jerusalem (supported by 79% of Republicans and just 27% of Democrats), recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, defunding UNWRA and the PA, and withdrawing from the chronically anti-Israel UNESCO and the UNHRC. Candidates Sanders and Warren joined 32 Democrat Senators in condemning Trump’s decision to cut aid to UNWRA and the PA, ignoring both organizations’ records of intransigence, violence, and delegitimization of the Jewish state. 
On cue, in response to Pompeo’s settlement announcement, congressional Democrats and left-wing Jews once again criticized the administration. In fact, 107 Congressional Democrats, including many Jewish members, sent a letter to Pompeo demanding he reverse the decision.
In addition to the usual suspects who condemned Pompeo’s announcement, including J St and the Jewish Democratic Council of America (that just released a dishonest ad preposterously claiming that Trump is the “biggest threat to the security of American Jews”), Democrat presidential candidates lambasted the decision. Biden called it “an obstacle to peace” while Sanders claimed that Trump was “pandering to his extremist base” (which used to be caricatured as anti-Semitic white-supremacists but apparently morphed into pro-Israel advocates when politically expedient).
Warren claimed it makes peace more difficult to achieve, while Buttigieg opined it was “a step backward in our efforts to achieve a two-state solution” and “harm[s] our national interests.” Klobuchar jumped on the Trump is “playing politics” bandwagon.
We cannot let partisan political concerns — either at home or abroad — distract us from keeping the dream of a just peace alive. Congress must speak out to make clear to the world that the United States stands behind its longstanding foreign policy principles.
Lowenthal did not elaborate on what “a just peace” means or how the resolution keeps the moribund “peace process” alive. Nor did he elaborate as to which U.S. “longstanding foreign policy principles” he was referring, given that foreign policy decisions are in the purview of the executive and change with the Oval Office occupant. Nevertheless, Democrats have doubled down on limiting Israel’s autonomy in the region while Republicans continue to work for her survival. 
Arguably, it is the Republicans who are standing behind “longstanding foreign policy principles” which date to the Nixon administration. Henry Kissinger recently shared that Nixon recognized the importance of Israel winning the Yom Kippur War with the U.S. sending all necessary military assistance. Since then, presidents have ensured that Israel receives appropriate levels of military aid to safeguard its qualitative military edge over its hostile neighbors. Democrats are now using that as leverage against Israel.
Progressive Democrats in the House unsuccessfully attempted to amend H.R.326 to condition Israel’s military aid. That’s consistent with statements by the Democratic presidential candidates who, refusing to appear at AIPAC’s policy conference, took to the stage at J St.’s convention to announce plans to either cut Israeli aid or use it to influence Israeli policy. 
The most egregious threat came from Sanders who has surrounded himself with anti-Israel advisors and anti-Semitic surrogates. After accusing Israel of violating human rights and being an authoritarian, racist government, he argued that some of Israel’s aid should immediately go to Hamas-controlled Gaza and stated, “I would use the leverage, $3.8 billion is a lot of money, and we cannot give it carte blanche to the Israeli government….if you want military aid, you’re going to have to fundamentally change your relationship to the people of Gaza.” 
Warren, who has become increasingly critical of Israel, called for Israel to exercise “restraint” due to her concern over Gazan Arabs’ rights to “peacefully protest.” And while she claims to oppose the BDS movement, she opposes legislative action to codify that position. With respect to military aid, Warren promised that “everything is on the table” in order to compel Israel to abide by U.S. policy in the region. 
Buttigieg also views military aid as a bargaining chip stating, “I think that the aid is leverage to guide Israel in the right direction. … If, for example, there is follow-through on these threats of annexation, I’m committed to ensuring that the US is not footing the bill for that.” 
All of these candidates’ statements reflect an ignorance of the symbiotic relationship between the U.S. and Israel and the benefits to U.S. national security of a strong Israeli military. They ignore that Israel provides the U.S. with vital military technology and intelligence gathering. They’re seemingly unaware that 80% of Israeli aid is required to be reinvested in the U.S. defense industry and that such aid also advances U.S. interests by helping maintain peace and security in the region. 
The Democrats’ “moderate” candidate also views military aid as a means of controlling Israeli policy. Biden, who spent eight years as Obama’s loyal sidekick in the daylight experiment, told J St in 2016, “We have an overwhelming obligation — notwithstanding our sometimes overwhelming frustration with the Israeli government —…to push them as hard as we can toward what they know in their gut is the only solution: a two-state solution.” 
Recent legislative measures follow a pattern of a lack of bipartisan support for Israel. Democrats refused to support anti-BDS legislation and only passed a resolution condemning anti-Semitism after expanding it to cover all forms of hatred.
And the JCPOA was implemented after Senate Democrats filibustered measures taken by Republican Senators to bring the deal to a full vote while protesting when Trump withdrew from the deal that Israelis so desperately feared. When Netanyahu accepted an invitation to address Congress on the topic, 56 Democrats boycotted his remarks.
Congressional Democrats also feel comfortable making anti-Semitic remarks. Freshman representatives Omar and Tlaib were not the first to accuse Jews of only caring about “the Benjamins baby.” In 2011, Democrat Congressman Henry Waxman, opined, “There are Jews who are trending toward the Republican Party…some of it, quite frankly, for economic reasons. They feel they want to protect their wealth...”
The problem with Democrats and anti-Semitism is not just the fringe elements but the manner in which mainstream Democrats mainstream these elements. Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan have been embraced by many Democrats while their anti-Semitism is ignored. Former Farrakhan spokesman, Keith Ellison, was elevated to vice chair of the DNC. Omar and Tlaib enjoy fame, power, and magazine covers with Pelosi.
Democrats’ also seek to ostracize Israel. Recent attempts to terminate training programs between U.S. and Israeli police are ideologically motivated and morally repugnant. While Black Lives Matter blames Ferguson on American police learning Israel’s “brutal tactics,” Democrats who wish to end this program once again fail to understand its vital benefits – first response and counterterrorism training. It’s the decades of collaboration between U.S. and Israeli police forces, military units, and intelligence services that have strengthened our national security, helped to prevent untold numbers of terror attacks, and enabled quick and efficient responses to violence here at home.
In response to Democrats’ recent statements, Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch of the progressive Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in NYC, observed:
“The Democratic Party is increasingly tolerant of voices that are opposed to Israel’s existence. To allow this process to go unchecked will cause irreparable harm to the bilateral U.S.-Israel relationship and to the Democrat Party itself.”
Democrats have a problem and frighteningly, they do not appear to have any interest in fixing it. Perhaps they don’t recognize that Israel is their new third rail, electrified by leftist haters who dominate the narrative and party ideology. What American Jews do in November will say a lot about their priorities on Israel – the world’s only Jewish state.
A version of this column was originally published in the Winter 2020 edition of the Jewish Policy Center’s InFocus magazine

Lauri B. Regan is the New York chapter president and board member of the Endowment for Middle East Truth and treasurer and board member of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East


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