Politico has published a fascinating feature this morning discussing a trend that is well known among political observers but rarely discussed: the anti-Israel tilt of many of the key Washington groups that serve to promote Democratic Party interests and ideas. As Ben Smith tells it:
The Center for American Progress, the party’s key hub of ideas and strategy, and Media Matters, a central messaging organization, have emerged as vocal critics of their party’s staunchly pro-Israel congressional leadership and have been at odds, at times, with Barack Obama’s White House, which has acted as a reluctant ally to Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israeli government.
While the vast majority of congressional Democrats and much of its rank and file remain part of the national pro-Israel consensus, the fact that important elements in the party are seeking to undermine that coalition and replace it with an anti-Israel point of view should be deeply troubling to Jewish Democrats and others who care about the alliance with the Jewish state. It also illustrates that the willingness of the Obama administration to pick fights with and to unfairly blame it for the persistence of the Middle East conflict has an influential constituency within the party’s Washington elite.
Smith details the vicious invective that the Center for American Progress and Media Matters routinely spew at anyone they consider an advocate for Israel, even an Obama acolyte like Jeffrey Goldberg, who writes for the Atlantic and Bloomberg News. The websites of both groups can often be found wrongly smearing Israeli policy and putting forth misleading information about the Hamas terror state in Gaza. Both are also apologists for the Islamist regime in Iran and have sought to undermine the campaign to enact sanctions against the ayatollahs. Even worse, they have attempted to brand as “warmongers” those who believe the use of force must remain an option to remove the existential nuclear threat that hangs over Israel. In particular, they have sought to hang that tag on AIPAC in language reminiscent of the Israel Lobby smears and conspiracy theories of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer.
The significance of this goes far beyond the minimal impact the two groups have had in Washington on this issue to this point. The story demonstrates the growing divide within the party on Israel by highlighting the fact that two key Democratic groups in Washington have now allied themselves with the Palestinian lobby.
This is something about which many Jewish Democrats are clearly in denial. But instead of boldly confronting these anti-Israel elements within their own camp, Jewish Democrats prefer to blame the messengers. Even to mention the fact that the influential left-wing of the party has left the pro-Israel consensus is enough to provoke screams of anger from Jews who act as if stating this is tantamount to accusing them of being against the Jewish state.
Jewish Democrats should not be surprised when the administration they support has incidents such as President Obama’s ambush of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu last May, or the recent statements from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman. They are the product of the growing influence of anti-Israel elements within their party. This is not to say the party or the administration has utterly abandoned the alliance with Israel. As I wrote yesterday, the political constraints that exist to prevent a full break are still too strong for even an administration that has a problem with the Jewish state to contemplate.
This does provide Republicans with an opportunity to make limited inroads on the Jewish vote as they contrast their record on the issue with the division inside the Democrats. But as Smith writes, the drumbeat of anti-Israel incitement from key Democratic Party institutions is doing something even more important: giving the Arab lobby hope they can destroy the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus in Washington.