A Pew poll tells us: “As violence between Israel and Hamas shows no signs of abating, the sympathies of the American public continue to lie with Israel rather than the Palestinians. And dating back to the late 1970s, the partisan gap in Mideast sympathies has never been wider. Currently, 51% of Americans say that in the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, they sympathize more with Israel. Just 14% sympathize more with the Palestinians, while 15% volunteer that they sympathize with neither side and 3% sympathize with both.” As we have seen over the years, however, there is a stark gap between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to supporting Israel. Pew reports that “the share of Republicans who sympathize more with Israel has risen from 68% to 73%; 44% of Democrats express more sympathy for Israel than the Palestinians, which is largely unchanged from April (46%).” When ideology is considered, the divide is even wider. Among conservative Republicans, 77 percent favor Israel while among liberal Democrats only 39 percent do.
Either out of conviction or because of a lack of support for Israel from his core supporters, President Obama, the most liberal president to hold office since the founding of the Jewish state, unsurprisingly has been the president least helpful to Israel in a time of war.
That, it seems, sits poorly with the American people. The Post/ABC News poll finds that by a margin of 52 to 39 percent Americans disapprove of his handling of the Gaza situation. Once again, the partisan divide is huge. Sixty-five percent of Democrats, and only 18 percent of Republicans, approve of the job he is doing. Independents disapprove by a 59 to 31 percent margin.
This may give the GOP bragging rights when it comes to being the most pro-Israel political party, but it is bad news for Israel and for the U.S.-Israel relationship. We’ve seen how easy it is for the relationship to go south with a liberal Democrat in the White House and how difficult it is to assist in Israel’s security with a Democratic Senate (e.g. the block on a vote on Iran sanctions).
We should, however, recognize that — considering how unsupportive their base is — the level of support that Israel does get from elected Democrats is noteworthy. (The Senate, for example, recently voted unanimously on a resolution in support of Israel in the Gaza war.) The rub, however, comes when the White House actively undercuts Israel, as well as other U.S. regional allies.
The goal for friends of Israel is to do some soul-searching, recognize the shortcomings of this administration and make certain that the Democratic base is actually pro-Israel. That’s going to take some bracing evaluation of the Obama record and the negative example he has set.
We’ve observed before that a GOP presidential candidate cannot get by with a pro forma “pro-Israel” label. Obama calls himself pro-Israel and that sure didn’t mean much. Republican voters, especially Christian evangelical voters, take this issue very seriously. They will look at a candidate’s views and voting record on military support for Israel, Iran and the “peace process.” Savvier voters will see how the candidate’s overall worldview would impact the U.S.-Israel relationship.
Israel has always been a key issue for Republican presidential primary voters, but never so much as now, when voters see just how much damage a hostile or indifferent president can do to the U.S.-Israel relationship, the stability of the Middle East and security of the United States.