In a report describing the prerequisite that a candidate be pro-Israel to earn the GOP presidential nomination, the New York Times leaves out some critical information.
GOP support for Israel has been increasing for some time, while less than 50 percent of Democrats in some polls are sympathetic toward Israel. In short, the gap between Democrats and Republicans has widened because Democrats are less supportive of Israel than ever before. One need only read left-leaning blogs or see what comes out of the left-wing J Street to see that anti-Israel sentiment is surging on the left. Maybe the Times should run a story: “Why is it acceptable for Democrats to dump on Israel?” Or better, maybe: “Why have colleges become bastions of Israel bashing?”
The trend has been going on for some time as international liberal elites have come to see Israel as the aggressor, not the victim, in its conflicts with radical Palestinians and have soured on nationalism in general (and hence on the core of Zionism). Ironically, while Israel’s record on gays, women and even the environment continues to outpace by miles its neighbors and many Western countries, the left refuses to identify with a country that shares many of its values.
One contributing factor to the gap is, of course, the shared interests the United States and Israel have in combating jihadist terror. For the president and other liberals, the notion this is a worldwide religious war is hard to admit. They therefore are reduced to calling the perpetrators “extremists” with no context (extreme vegetarians?). For conservatives, who see the global threat of Islamic terrorism quite clearly, they are very much focused on the persecution of Christians and Jews in Arab lands and the rampant anti-Semitism in Europe. They likewise see that the jihadists (Hamas, Hezbollah) are aimed at Israel. So long as Republicans see the Islamic threat more seriously and clearly than Democrats, they will be attuned to the two countries’ shared security interests and more sympathetic toward Israel’s plight.
Certainly President Obama has accelerated this unfortunate polarization. As the president most hostile to the Jewish state, he demands partisan loyalty from Democrats (e.g., block sanctions), pulling Democrats further from their pro-Israel roots. When he and his anonymous advisers blame Israel for the failure of the peace process or make a federal case out of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, Democrats are obliged to go along. It is also true that Obama’s mismanagement of the entire Middle East has fortified Republicans’ pro-defense identification. They see in Netanyahu a quality the president lacks — moral clarity.
That brings us to two interesting questions. First, with the change of the Senate minority leader, will the presumed heir to the post, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), bring Senate Democrats back to their pro-Israel roots? He fancies himself as a great defender of Israel, but unlike Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), he has rarely crossed the White House, whether it was on giving the stamp of approval to former defense secretary Chuck Hagel (whose many anti-Israel comments surely would have discouraged every prior president from nominating him) or championing sanctions. He has at best been a reluctant follower. We will see, if he gains the top job for Senate Democrats, whether he shows more conviction on the topic.
And finally, the big question remains Hillary Clinton. She has been in lockstep with the president these days. Now, however, this entails a policy that may cease to protect Israel at the United Nations, a frosty relationship with its elected government and an Iran deal that ignores Israel’s interests. So which Clinton will run — the one who shows up periodically at AIPAC conferences to boast of her pro-Israel credentials or the one who is tying herself to Obama’s anti-Israel mast? Stay tuned.
But one thing is clear: There is one party that is very, very pro-Israel and one in which it is perfectly acceptable not to be. Democrats are sensitive about “politicizing” Israel, but they should either accept the label as the not-very-pro-Israel party or do something about it.