Last night’s Democratic presidential debate gave pundits on both sides of the aisle plenty of fodder for comparison to the previous two forums for Republican candidates. The Democrats obeisance to President Obama, their ritualistic invocation of “climate change” as if these were magic words that answered any question on any topic, as well as their impulse for reckless spending on new entitlements (and lack of interest in reforming the existing ones) was obvious. As our Max Boot noted earlier today, so, too, was their general lack of common sense on foreign policy as, with the exception of Jim Webb who was clearly out of place on the stage, none chose to acknowledge the disasters that President Obama has created and instead simply stuck to denunciations of George W. Bush. But there was one other interesting difference. Like the dog that didn’t bark in the Sherlock Holmes story, in this case, it was what they didn’t say that mattered: Israel.
It should be recalled that on the night of the second GOP debate last month, columnist Ann Coulter went ballistic over what she considered to be the excessive zeal with which Republican candidates (with the possible exception of Rand Paul) fell over themselves to demonstrate their support for the Jewish state. In a tweet that was as clueless as to the reason for this as it was profane and prejudicial, Coulter asked, “How many f@#%ing Jews do these people think there are in the United States?” No doubt, Coulter was pleased with the Democrats in at least this limited sense since their likely candidate and leading rivals never felt the slightest inclination to invoke support for Israel even when discussing the mess in the Middle East or their foreign policy vision.
While, no doubt, in other contexts (especially when speaking to Jewish audiences) all will proclaim their backing for Israel even if it is often couched — as is the case with President Obama — in the language of someone who wishes to save a friend from him or herself. Yet it was no coincidence that the Democrats weren’t eager to talk about Israel. The battle over the Iran nuclear deal was turned into a partisan affair by the White House, as it successfully shattered a bipartisan consensus that had previously existed over a get-tough policy with Iran by demanding that Democrats back the president out of party loyalty.
Of course, the reason why Republicans feel the need to speak out for Israel has nothing to with the small number of Jews in the U.S. (less than 2 percent these days are of Jewish demographic decline). For a short lesson on why conservatives and, for that matter all, decent Americans should speak up for Israel, you can do know better than read this piece in the National Review by the essential Jay Nordlinger. He explains that while Israel is an admirable state, it is also the only one that is threatened with destruction.
There is a great civilizational divide in the world, with the likes of ISIS and the mullahs on one side, and their prey on the other. Israel’s foes are our foes, or certainly my foes. If the world lets Israel go down, then the world is an ass and a betrayer. Moreover, the prospects of civilization itself are in doubt.
This sense of identification with Israel is part of a long American tradition of support for Zionism that is baked deep into the political DNA of this country. It is most deeply felt by evangelical Christians whose backing for Israel often exceeds the zeal demonstrated by American Jews, most of whom go out of their way to remind you that they are not single-issue pro-Israel voters. Support for the Jewish state also used to be completely bipartisan and in some ways the vast pro-Israel coalition that its foes have labeled as a nefarious all-powerful lobby, can still command backing on both sides of the aisle.
But Obama’s destruction of the consensus on Iran was predicated on a belief that Democrats were no longer as likely to stick with Israel on a matter of life and death if that meant putting themselves at odds with their party’s leadership. From the beginning of his administration, Obama has been desperate to create more “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel in a misguided attempt to foster peace talks. But unlike some of his predecessors, he faced no significant revolt from his party on Iran or his efforts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians.
The president also knows that polls clearly show that Democratic and Republican voters tend to have very different attitudes toward Israel. A Gallup poll about support for Israel taken earlier this year still showed a huge majority of Americans back the Jewish state. But when you break those numbers down by party, you discover that Democrats are far less likely to be pro-Israel than Republicans. While 83 percent of Republicans backed Israel over the Palestinians, only 48 percent of Democrats felt that way.
That lack of sympathy for Israel was on display during the Iran debate but it was also demonstrated at the 2012 Democratic National Convention where pro-Israel resolutions that were imposed on the gathering against the will of their Platform Committee were opposed by most of those on the convention floor when they were enacted by a voice vote.
While many Democrats are still friends of Israel, much of the party’s left-wing base has abandoned it and that is reflected in the polls as well as in a debate, most of the audience for which were voters that identify themselves as ardent liberals and Democratic activists. There is a reason why none of the candidates thought to mention Israel and that is because, unlike the case with Republicans, it is no longer a major selling point for those seeking Democratic votes. With some on the left embracing the BDS movement that targets Israel for economic war, it is no wonder that it was forgotten at the Las Vegas debate.
This is bad news for friends of Israel who must hope that, once Barack Obama leaves the White House, the pendulum will swing back toward Israel among Democrats. The lack of interest in Israel, especially when compared to the competing GOP debates, among Democrats is remarkable. But though it would be far better if the two parties were equally friendly to Israel, right now the trend appears irreversible. Those looking to highlight a stark difference between the two parties cannot ignore the divide on Israel.