Commentary Magazine


Israel, Bipartisanship, and the Blame Game

How should pro-Israel Democrats respond to the fact that support for Israel in their party is dropping? That question has renewed relevance with the latest polls showing increasing disapproval of Israel within the Democratic Party. Last week’s Gallup poll showed that Democrats do not think Israel’s actions in Gaza are justified by a 47-31 percent tally. And this week’s Pew poll shows that, astoundingly, Democrats are about evenly divided over whether Israel or Hamas is most responsible for the current violence. (Both polls show Republicans broadly support Israel.)

It’s a trend that has been on the march for some time. For a while liberals denied there was rising disenchantment with Israel on the left, but that became impossible after the Democrats’ 2012 presidential nominating convention, when the party’s delegates loudly booed at and resoundingly voted down adding pro-Israel language to the Democratic Party platform (the language was added over their objections, though it was quite a scene). At that point, a new strategy was needed, since everyone was well aware the Democrats’ traditional support for Israel was in danger of collapsing.

The new strategy has two main elements. The first is to rule out debate on the issue. When you hear Democrats accusing Republicans of using Israel as a political football, you can be sure the left has said or done something objectionable. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf tried that tack again today. In trying to deflect criticism of her boss, Harf said, according to the AP’s Matt Lee, that “Many members of Congress, I think, like to use Israel as a political issue to try to divide the country.” Translation: when the Democrats are in the process of damaging Israel, supporting Israel becomes an unacceptable partisan play.

The other side to this strategy is to then use this supposed partisanship (defending Israel when the Democrats refuse to do so) to justify the Democrats’ turn away from Israel. The latest example of this comes from Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall. He concedes the point that having an American native like Ron Dermer as Israel’s ambassador can help communicate Israel’s positions clearly and navigate American politics. But Marshall is troubled by this as well because Dermer has a Republican background:

It should go without saying that the Israel-US alliance becomes more brittle as it becomes more clearly identified with a single US political party. And perhaps more than that, as it becomes more clearly identified with the ties between Netanyahu and US Republicans.

Marshall says, correctly, that it hurts the alliance to have support for Israel as an identifiable characteristic of only one political party. What he doesn’t say is that his party is the one increasingly setting aside that alliance. He hints, instead, that by associating with Republicans Netanyahu is the one who made that choice.

In essence, this line of thinking holds that the Israeli government can only get so much support from Republicans before Democrats will walk away. Marshall is not the first to discuss the situation in such terms. On the eve of the 2012 presidential election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, in making his case for Obama, wrote the following:

Republicans have had a good deal of success turning Israel into a partisan issue, mainly by misrepresenting President Obama’s record (but also helped by certain Obama missteps), and if they continue to press their case, many Democrats will find supporting Israel distasteful — they will lump supporters of Israel in the same category they reserve for climate-change-denying anti-choice Obamacare haters. This would be very dangerous for Israel.

Yes, it would be very dangerous for Israel. But it’s also a profound condemnation, even if unintentional, of Goldberg’s fellow liberals. If they will find voluble support for Israel, which in this case includes criticism of Barack Obama for what they perceive to be his weakening of the alliance, to be enough to convince them not to support Israel, then they are not supporters of Israel: they are leftist partisans.

If they really do support Israel, they would be able to continue supporting Israel even though conservatives get as (or more) animated about their support for Israel as on other important conservative issues. That should go without saying, but it apparently does not. A bipartisan consensus in support of Israel is what is best for both the United States and Israel, which is why that consensus has endured for decades now. And for it to be bipartisan, Democrats will have to get over their distaste for sharing a coalition with Republicans.

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11 Responses to “Israel, Bipartisanship, and the Blame Game”

  1. KENT LYON says:

    It is a complete myth that there are any Democrats who support Israel. Their actions speak far louder than their words, and their actions have consistently been anti-Israel, particularly in avidly supporting an anti-Semitic President who has sought to undermine Israel at every possible opportunity. The Democratic party is four square behind Obama’s support of Islamic terrorism. Many ostensible Republicans (Joe Scarborough for example) also support Islamic terrorists against Israel. If there were actually a strong bipartisan coalition in support of Israel, there would be no games playing with Iron Dome funding, there would be no money to Hamas, there would be no negotiations with Iran, there would be no pressure on Israel to not take out Iran’s nuclear sites and America would be expressing full support, and actually providing the requisite support to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities, or doing it itself. There is clearly no bipartisan coalition, or coalition of any sort, in support of Israel in America. Who, among American political leaadership, Democrat or Republican, is loudly denouncing the anti-Semitism that is breaking out all over Europe? None. America is cashiering Israel as we speak, and the biggest supporters of that cashiering are American Jews. Go figure.

    • JACK LEVEY says:

      One might add that Joe Lieberman, whose liberal credentials were impeccable on nearly every other issue, would not have been drummed out of the party.

  2. TIKI SHAPIRA says:

    The claim by many Democrates believing that Israel (a democratic country) and Hamas (an official terrorist organisation) are equally to blame, says more about the twisted morals & judgement capabilities of these Democrates.

    Let them live for 13 years under a rocket umbrella from Cuba and than talk. Oh, I forget, there is already a boycott since 1962 against Cuba, ordered by Democrat Kennedy for only ‘pointing rockets in the direction of the US.


    “How should pro-Israel Democrats” respond?


    Vote Republican. :)

  4. FRED EHRMAN says:

    A good part of the shift away from Israel for many in the Democratic Party has to do with the head of the party. The President has been the most negative head of state towards Israel since 1948. There is no doubt that this has influenced the Democratic voters and left leaning media, which have a great stake in seeing the President succeed, and has been a key factor in the shift.

  5. JAMES R SLAYTON says:

    Seth Mandel brings to the table for consideration and discussion the re-occurrent phenomena of political polarization with the concurrent attitude regarding support for Israel. Perhaps our grip on the matter is best focused by his opening question. Before drifting too far into party ranting, let us reaffirm that there is still strong support for Israel among Democrats, and let us be thankful that this is so. For if active support of Israel falls along party lines, such support may fail about half the time. The Jewish people, Israel, and the world at large can not afford the U.S.-Israeli alliance to falter even for a moment. We must invoke compassion and sympathetic enlightenment by re-casting Israel as the courageous embattled hope of mankind that they are.

    • JACK LEVEY says:

      I agree. Yet there can be no doubt that support is flagging among Democratic voters and office holders. But what are supporters of the US-Israel relationship supposed to do — reject support from Republicans?

      It is also worth remembering that then-Senator Clinton helped create this situation with her threat in 2008 to boycott a protest against Iran unless the sponsors canceled their invitation to Gov. Plain.

  6. JACK LEVEY says:

    “many Democrats will find supporting Israel distasteful — they will lump supporters of Israel in the same category they reserve for climate-change-denying anti-choice Obamacare haters. ”

    A visit to the comments section of many liberal web sites shows that mindless hatred has already started.

  7. LOUIS OFFEN says:

    How many here are sorry that William Jefferson Clinton defeated Bush the Elder (and Ross Perot) in 1992? I’m glad that Bush the Elder defeated Dukakis in ’88 and was around to contest Saddam in ’91, but not sorry that he was defeated in ’92 and his Sec State (F’ the Jews) James Baker left with him.

    And let’s not forget the resurgence of isolationism in the GOP a la Rand (the Younger) Paul among other Tea Party types.

    • DAVID S LEVINE says:

      More Jewish Irraelis died as a result of Bill Clinton’s Oslo Treaty than died before it. Democ-rats are ALWAYS bad for Jews and that’s true from at least FDR onward.

  8. DAVID S LEVINE says:

    How can it possibly be denied that the Dem0c-rat party is the fucus and locus of 90% of the anti-Semitism in America today. It is THE anti-Semitic party.

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