Just as Republicans are on the same side as the majority of Americans in the Obamacare, they find themselves lock-step with voters on Israel, Iran and foreign policy more generally. This is a complete reversal from 2006 when Democrats capitalized on the Iraq war to take the House and rack up big Senate wins.
Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) spoke for virtually all Republicans when he bashed the president for his remarks on Israel. Cotton told Right Turn today: “Yet again, President Obama displays incredible naiveté and cynicism about the world at the same time. Israel isn’t the obstacle to peace; Palestinian rejectionism is. When the Palestinians accept Israel as a Jewish state, there will be peace.” He added, “President Obama’s ominous predictions to the contrary should trouble every pro-Israel American, as well as our Israeli allies.” And that is especially true in a state with so many military (active and reverse) and so many religious voters who support the Jewish state. “Arkansans’ support for Israel remains unshakable, and I will continue to work with my colleagues in both parties to preserve and strengthen the U.S.-Israel alliance,” he said.
But as we have heard from speakers and attendees at the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee, criticism is not limited to Republicans. Longtime Democrat and former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block (who now heads the Israel Project) commented to me, “The president’s interview quite peculiar and disappointing. Not only does it betray a deeply flawed approach to how one should treat allies, but it is riddled with basic factual errors. It also makes one wonder if the president is getting accurate information from his staff, or if he has deep personal beliefs that supersede reality and cloud his perspective.” His concern, like many pro-Israel Democrats, is especially acute with regard to Iran. Block notes, “It’s never reassuring to see a president engaging in ‘magical thinking’ when it comes to something like the threat posed by Iran. Their charm offensive may have failed with the American people, but the president seems quite captivated. Does he know [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani doesn’t really matter and the supreme leader runs that theocratic dictatorship?”
Democratic political operatives and leaders bristle when Israel is raised in the context of a campaign, but like any significant topic lawmakers on the ballot have to be held accountable for their votes. A GOP operative says bluntly, “Senate Democrats running in these states have supported Obama an astounding 95, 96, 97% of the time – they own the failure of the president’s policies at home and they certainly own this Jimmy Carter-like weakness abroad. ” He adds, “Appeasing our enemies and treating our strongest allies, like Israel, with apathy is a problem for Obama, for Senate Democrats and for our national security and leadership position in the world.”
There is much debate as to whether AIPAC matters as much as it once did. In Lee Smith’s view, “Sure, legislators will come down on AIPAC’s side when it’s cost-free. But because AIPAC cannot, or will not, punish its enemies, there’s no risk in defying the lobbying group, either.” Voters, however, are a different matter. A look at the polls shows that there are few issues on which voters are as united as they are on Israel. That has an impact on lawmakers. As Block puts it, “It is heartening to see and hear strong support for Israel and increased pressure on Iran from so many members of Congress and senators who see the world as it is.”
Israel need not be a partisan issue, but it most certainly is an electoral issue. Those whose votes and words take issue with the president’s distorted view will earn, especially in red states, praise from voters. Those who’ve shuffled along in lemming-like passivity while the president takes a wrecking ball to the U.S.-Israel relationship will be assessed as well. They might look at the polls and get on the right side of voters before it’s too late.