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The Democrats and Israel: What Now?

When you hear a Democratic Party official accuse Republicans of using Israel as a political football, you know one thing for sure: someone in the Democratic Party did or said something patently offensive toward Israel and is being called on it. The accusation that someone on the right is politicizing Israel is an indication that Democrats believe whatever just happened could cost them among Jewish voters—a constituency they take for granted.

So what does it mean when multiple party officials, liberal pundits, and even television “reporters” start making that accusation all at once? Panic. That’s what set in last night after the Democratic Party’s convention delegates angrily voted down adding pro-Israel language back into the party’s platform yesterday—though the language was added anyway over their objections—after party officials were left trying to explain why they and President Obama wanted such language deleted in the first place. Politico notes that Obama approved the deletion, though there wasn’t much doubt of that, and then adds this delightful anecdote:

The division over Israel also flies in the face of a prediction Obama strategist David Axelrod made days earlier on “Fox News Sunday,” when he crowed that Obama’s convention would be free of the sideshows that plagued the Republican National Convention last week in Tampa.

“We don’t have the problems that the other party has,” Axelrod said then. “We’re not divided. We don’t have to worry about, you know, what people are saying on the side or about their affection for the president or — we don’t have those problems.”

In fact, not only is the Democratic Party divided on Israel, but as Ari Fleischer pointed out on CNN right after the debacle, the Democrats are practically split down the middle on this. He cited a Gallup poll from earlier this year showing that only 53 percent of Democrats—versus 78 percent of Republicans—side with Israel in the Middle East conflict.

Which leads to a larger point about the issue and the reason the Democrats went into damage control last night: the Democratic Party’s base is pulling it away from Israel. It’s disturbing that only half of Democrats sympathize with Israel, but as yesterday’s events showed, among the base sympathy for Israel is not nearly that high.

As Abe wrote last night, yesterday’s disastrous convention session and the fact that Obama will take criticism from all sides on this issue are the price the Democrats are paying for a party divided. But the uproar among Democrats was over adding the pro-Israel language; omitting the language inspired no such soul searching. It is becoming easier in the Democratic Party to ignore Israel than to pronounce support for the Jewish state.

Axelrod was wrong that the party has no divisions. But the question now is: For how much longer will Axelrod be wrong? That 53 percent constitutes a tenuous grasp on a majority. Democratic Party officials can pretend they have no “Israel problem” all they want, and they may soon get their wish. The original version of the 2012 Democratic Party platform was uncontroversial among party faithful. Republicans did the Democrats a favor by stating the obvious, since it gives the Democrats a chance to try to convince their base of the merits of supporting Israel and try to turn the tide. But that there is a tide to turn is undeniable.


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