Wednesday, November 10, 2021

The Right Way to Seek Bi-Partsian Support for Israel

Is bi-partisan support for Israel still possible? (The Guardian)
I am a huge fan of Nikky Haley. Her admonition of AIPAC  has not diminished that for me. If she were running for President, I would vote for her in a heartbeat. Her pro Israel bona fides are beyond reproach. 

There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that she would continue the pro Israel policies of the  former President. The difference being that she is a Mentch and the former president is a reprobate who I wish would just go away! (God forbid he runs as the Republican candidate for President in 2022.)

If one leans politically conservative – as I do, it is a no brainer to see Haley this way. But Haley has been criticized for her comments about AIPAC  - the most pro Israel public advocacy group in America if not the world. An article in the Jewish Press by Jonathan Tobin excerpted the controversial comments she made at  the annual conference of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas this past weekend: 

“I have spoken at AIPAC events many times, and they’ve always been unbelievably supportive to me,” she said. However, she then added that “if a politician supports the disastrous Iran deal, opposes moving the American embassy to Jerusalem and is embraced by anti-Semites who support the BDS movement, then your pro-Israel group should have absolutely nothing to do with him.”

Was it fair for her to criticize AIPAC for their policy of seeking bi-partisan support for Israel? In a perfect world my answer would be no. They do not deserve to be castigated for doing that. They deserve to be praised for that. But if Jonathan Tobin is right, maybe that policy needs to be tweaked a bit since it seems to increasingly be an  exercise in futility.

I agree with Tobin’s analysis of the Democratic and Republican attitude about Israel and have said the same thing myself. They have swapped views. 

It used to be the Democrats that strongly supported the little underdog state of Israel that was trying to survive in the sea of hatred surrounding her. Republicans did not much care for a tiny country of Jews that the US had no strategic interests in. They instead supported the Arab states whose oil production was seen as vital to the American economy. 

Now that Israel is strong; Arab countries relatively weak and oil is no longer the vital commodity it once was, Israel has become the country where America’s vital interests are best served. Republicans see a powerhouse Democracy surrounded by nations run by dictators and thugs that are anything but democratic. Republicans also tend to be more inclined to biblical prophesy about the Jewish rights to the land. Democrats could not care less about that biblical prophesy. Instead they see suffering Palestinians and blame Israel for that – instead of the real source of their suffering, the corrupt leaders of the PA on the West Bank and Jihadist leaders in Gaza.

And because of all the almost fawning mainstream media, attention paid them - a very small  progressive faction in the House has a very loud and influential voice in the party. An antisemitic voice that supports BDS and casts Israel as an Apartheid state! I don’t think there is a single Republican like that in either the Senate or the House.

That being said, there is still wide spread support for the Jewish state among mainstream Democrats. But that support is increasingly becoming qualified –  based on how strongly Israel supports the Democratic party line on their state. To the extent that they don’t is to the extent that support weakens.

When for example Israel’s leadership was not onboard with the former nuclear deal made with Iran; or disagrees that settlements are the main issue preventing peace; or disagrees with the idea that a 2 state solution the only way toward peace - Democratic support weakens.  Republicans do not have these issue and tend to see Israel the way Israel does. 

Which is why I totally reject the constant refrain from the left that blames Netanyahu’s loud and strong disagreement with Democrats. It is true that his condescension to then President Obama was in part responsible for the eroding bi-partisan support. But I believe that disagreement with them on most of those issues is the primary reason. The truth however is that most mainstream Israeli politicians on both sides of the political aisle agreed with Netanyahu. Their disagreements were mostly about domestic issues as well as frustration with his governing style and abrasive personality.

So where does that leave AIPAC? I still think they should seek bipartisan support. But at some point that task may become a waste of time.

It’s not that I like this turn of events. But it is the current reality.  There are some Democrats – even progressives - that are very pro Israel. AIPAC should continue to cultivate them. But I’m not sure how many there are. They seem to be decreasing. And in some cases have been replaced by anti Israel progressives. 

Hopefully - all is not lost. In my view it’s really hard to argue with the views Tobin articulated so well. I will therefore conclude with what I believe is the essential part of his message:

 (The) AIPAC formula that was conceived and first achieved success in the 1970s and 1980s is no longer working… 

Democrats were once the solidly pro-Israel party. Now, its members are deeply divided over it with its left-wing activist wing increasingly influenced by intersectional ideology that falsely claims that the Jewish state embodies “white privilege” and that the Palestinian war to destroy it is somehow akin to the struggle for civil rights in the United States. 

At the same time, the GOP is now nearly unanimous in its affection for the U.S.-Israel alliance… 

(The) goal of pro-Israel advocacy… is not to destroy the Democrats, but to get them to return to their former stance of strong support and revive a consensus that the extreme left is destroying. That means that efforts to cultivate moderates and even some progressives—and to convince them to back the Jewish state—is still both the right thing to do and good politics must continue. At the moment, that looks like a losing battle, as the party’s growing progressive wing has fallen under the spell of toxic ideas like critical race theory that give a permission slip to anti-Semitism. 

In American politics, change is a constant. The left may have thought the future was theirs after the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the defeat of Trump. But the party’s radical tilt may herald its impending defeat in future elections and a necessary course correction that will eventually bring it back closer to the center. At that point, if AIPAC is still doing its job, pro-Israel Democrats will be there to reap the benefits. 

That doesn’t mean Republicans shouldn’t continue to oppose the left’s anti-Israel invective and Biden administration policies that undermine the alliance. Yet in the long run, the pro-Israel community will be stronger if AIPAC is capable of vindicating its bipartisan strategy. If it can’t, then that will be a tragedy for both the Democrats and the lobby.