Commentary Magazine


The Motive for Partisan Lies About Israel

As Alana wrote last night, the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein has now produced an audiotape of a talk given by Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz that resolves the mystery surrounding her recent comments about Israel. There is now no doubt that, despite her denial on national television last night, Wasserman Schultz told a group of Jewish Democrats that Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren said, “that what the Republicans are doing is bad for Israel.” Oren says he never said such a thing and that denial is credible since, as he pointed out, Israel has good friends on both sides of the political aisle. That leaves us not only with the question of why Wasserman Schultz felt constrained to lie about it but why she ever made such a claim in the first place.

Wasserman Schultz lied about making the claim that Oren backed her ideas about the GOP because she probably didn’t know there was a tape of her talk and figured she could simply deny the truth. Perhaps she also thought Oren would not wish to contradict her publicly. She didn’t count on the fact that the ambassador is an honorable man and that it is not in his country’s interest to allow the Democrats to falsely portray him as taking sides in a partisan dispute. That DWS has been publicly outed as a brazen liar is a disgrace to her party, the Congress and the Jewish community she pretends to lead. But it is not terribly surprising given the vicious partisanship she has come to exemplify. Yet of far greater interest is the argument this lie was used to buttress: the claim that Republican criticism of President Obama’s attitude and policies toward Israel is hurting the Jewish state.

DWS and other Democrats have sought to brand the GOP as dragging what ought to be a bipartisan concern into the mud of election year politics. This is an absurd and hypocritical charge that says more about their contempt for democracy that it does about their love for Israel.

It is true that both Democrats and Republicans are strong supporters of Israel. As President Obama learned to his dismay last year when both parties cheered Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his speech to a joint meeting of Congress, there is a bipartisan coalition that stands ready to back the Jewish state even against ambushes set by a president of the United States. That consensus is a reflection of broad support for Israel by the overwhelming majority of Americans. But it is not maintained by silence or acquiescence when the leader of one of those parties picks fights with and seeks to undermine Israel’s government.

For the past several election cycles, the standard argument of Jewish Democrats has been to seek to quash any discussion of the issue, not because they truly feared that such a debate would damage the pro-Israel consensus but because any discussion is bound to center on the fact that there is a sizeable portion of their party that is not terribly supportive of the Jewish state.

Democrats also know that only one issue endangers their hold on Jewish votes: Israel. Most Jews are liberal and can be counted on to oppose the Republicans on domestic issues. But in the past few decades, Republicans have not only matched their rivals in their fervor for Israel but also often exceeded it. Moreover, in Barack Obama, Democrats have produced a president who is, in Aaron David Miller’s phrase, “not in love with the idea of Israel” and sought from his first moment in office to distance the U.S. from the Jewish state.

In any debate about how bad Obama has been for Israel, Democrats can make arguments about his preservation of the security relationship and seek to downplay the awkward moments he has produced. But that is not their purpose as DWS’s indiscreet lie about Oren showed. What they want is to have no debate about Israel whatsoever.

But far from strengthening the pro-consensus such a stance would be a harbinger of its dissolution. Accountability is the backbone of democracy. If a politician strays from his campaign promises on Israel the only way to keep them honest is to have an opponent make an issue of this betrayal. Indeed, the only reason why Obama reversed three years of fights with Jerusalem and initiated an election year Jewish charm offensive was his fear that he would lose votes to the Republicans.

Rather than resting on their laurels, Democrats need to be made to compete for the votes of pro-Israel voters. So should Republicans. Those Democrats who want to spike this discussion are doing so for the sake of partisan interests that they clearly prize more than the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus. The lies about partisanship merely betray how low they are willing to go for this purpose.

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