Gallup reports: “Seventy percent of Americans now view [Israel] favorably, and 62% say they sympathize more with the Israelis than the Palestinians in the Mideast conflict. By contrast, 17% currently view the Palestinian Authority favorably, and 16% sympathize more with the Palestinians.” But as has been the case over a long period of time, there is an increasing partisan divide. “A key reason Americans’ sympathy for Israel has solidified at a sizable majority level is that Republicans’ support for the Jewish state has increased considerably, rising from 53% in 2000 to more than 80% since 2014 — with just 7% choosing the Palestinian Authority. A particularly large jump in GOP sympathy for Israel occurred in the first few years after 9/11 and at the start of the 2003 Iraq War.” Democrats’ support is now at 48 percent.
President Obama has had the most acrimonious relationship with Israel of any president in U.S. history. What is not clear is whether his views are influencing the party, or whether Democrats’ worldview, embodied in the president, is increasingly antagonistic toward the Jewish state.
It is equally clear that with the development of a well-organized, vast and committed pro-Zionist Christian community, Republican support for Israel has become a litmus test for national office. There is alas no such force of comparable size and influence on the left for whom Israel is a priority that trumps other issues. Moreover, when a group such as J Street, which consistently takes stances hostile to the state of Israel, markets itself falsely as pro-Israel, the left’s support for the Jewish state becomes suspect.
Either way, the Democrats’ complaint that the Republicans are making Israel a “partisan” issue is off-base. Republicans would have nothing to make hay over if Democrats’ support matched their own and if the president had the same sort of relationship with Israel as had past presidents of both parties. Democrats are in effect saying that it is bad form for Republicans to point out that the president’s relationship with Israel is so poor, that his White House leaks insults about the Israeli prime minister on background and that Democrats have rallied to the president rather than standing up for their self-declared principles (as when Democrats refused under then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to vote on sanctions against Iran).
Democrats have a chance to improve their pro-Israel bona fides by deploring overt White House hostility to the elected government of Israel, denouncing comments like those of former negotiator Martin Indyk, who laid blame on Israel when the Palestinians refused to engage in peace talks (subsequently going to the United Nations Security Council and to the International Criminal Court), and refusing to engage in stunts such as boycotting the Israel prime minister’s speech. More important, liberals should be as committed as conservatives to combating anti-Semitism and the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement on college campuses. But most of all, they should demand more of their elected leaders. When Hillary Clinton sits down for a softball interview with big donor Haim Saban, why is she not pressed on sanctions? On the administration’s relations with Israel? One would think Democrats’ concern for Israel is pro forma, hardly on a par with abortion rights or global warming.
It is true that the United States and Israel both benefit from a strong relationship built on bipartisanship. But when one side is not holding up its side of the relationship, bipartisanship becomes a mirage.