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Politicizing Israel Ain’t Very Democratic

In the wake of President Obama’s Middle East policy speech, those worried about political blowback to the Democratic Party are once again warning against “politicizing” support for Israel. This argument is resurrected anytime Republicans wish to take credit for their party’s support for the Jewish state—as was the case during the presidency of George W. Bush—or when a Democrat appears to be lukewarm if not hostile toward Israel, as has been the case with Obama.

As Politico reported this week, the AIPAC conference was the venue for yet another scrum on this issue after Obama’s invocation of the 1967 borders. While both Republicans and Democrats pushed back hard against the president’s stand, Republicans were not shy about pointing out that it was the leader of the Democrats who had once again picked a fight with Israel. Jewish Democrats answered this swipe by warning that such arguments chip away at the bipartisan friendship with the Jewish state. But these objections only seem to be heard when one of the two parties—the Democrats—appear to be losing ground on the issue. Which makes it a bit more self-serving on their part than they care to admit.

Democracy only works when politicians are held accountable to the voters. If some Democrats are insufficiently supportive of Israel it only stands to reason that their opponents would make overtures to the pro-Israel community. But since Democrats have always considered the Jewish vote to be in their pockets, the invocation of an issue that makes them less attractive to a substantial portion of that group is considered by them to be a low blow.

In recent campaigns, when Republicans appealed to voters on the issue of Israel, they were unsuccessful, because many Jewish Democrats shouted that the GOP was seeking to brand all Democrats—not just some—as anti-Israel. But given Obama’s hostility to Netanyahu and his policy shifts on Jerusalem and the 1967 borders, it cannot be reasonably argued that pointing this out hurts Israel. Indeed, it may well only be the fear of the potential political consequences in terms of fundraising and potential votes that has kept Obama from even more pressure on Israel. This is a concern that makes the prospect of a second term a troubling prospect to many friends of the Jewish state.

The idea that there is something illegitimate about pointing out a politician’s failures on this score is an absurd partisan point that has nothing to do with concern for Israel. After all, Democrats had no scruples about soliciting funds from pro-Israel donors for their futile attempt to keep Rand Paul out of the Senate last year. While most Republicans and Democrats remain ardent friends of Israel, not all are. If Democrats fear that Republican inroads on the issue will cause some in their party, particularly on the left, to abandon support for Israel than the problem is with those Democrats, not with attempts to hold them accountable. Taking the issue off the table is merely a way of allowing anyone who dissents from that consensus to get away with it. Doing so today may help the president’s reelection chances but it does nothing to help Israel.


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