How Republicans and Democrats Differ on Israel

February 5, 2016  

Presidential candidates

The Iowa caucuses served their usual function in winnowing down the field of ‎candidates to a more manageable number, and a smaller number of realistic ‎possibilities for the nomination. On the Democratic side, barring an indictment for ‎her private server issues with classified information sent and received, former Secretary of State Hillary ‎Clinton remains the overwhelming favorite to be nominated. It is not, however, a ‎sign of strength that she could only win half the vote in Iowa against Vermont ‎Senator Bernie Sanders, a 74-year-old curmudgeonly socialist, who was not even a Democratic Party member until 2015. Clinton appears to lack ‎pretty much all the political skills of her husband and is running a campaign ‎reminiscent of 2008 when she campaigned as if she were entitled to the ‎nomination, and greatly underestimated the threat of Barack Obama. More than ‎half of Americans do not trust her, and she has provided plenty of ammunition to ‎the doubters.‎

The Republican race has settled into a contest between three leading contenders — ‎Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, businessman/reality TV ‎star Donald Trump and a few pretenders — former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, New ‎Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Ohio Governor John Kasich, businesswoman Carly ‎Fiorina and former pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson. Christie and Kasich have ‎been living in New Hampshire the past few months, much as Ted Cruz did in Iowa, ‎but without gaining the same traction. A Bush super PAC has been blasting ‎Rubio for months, with some damage done to Rubio but no noticeable gain for ‎Bush. The results in Iowa — a win for Cruz, with Trump second and Rubio a closer-‎than-expected third, has shaken up both the state and national polls. A new ‎national poll has Trump at 25%, and Cruz and Rubio at 21% each.‎

In a week, Cruz has stayed where he was, despite the Iowa victory, and Rubio has ‎doubled his share, almost all at Trump’s expense. Trump’s campaign has been ‎largely based on the fact that he is a winner, will make America win again and he ‎is winning in all the polls. When the first actual votes did not deliver a win for ‎Trump, a good bit of the bubble was burst.‎

Looking at the five remaining candidates who could be nominated (including ‎Sanders is a stretch), foreign policy and Israel are a major dividing line between ‎the parties, similar to so many other issues. Historically, this has not been the case — ‎support for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship transcended party lines. As the ‎Democratic Party has moved left, steered there in large part by President Obama, ‎many Democrats have begun to echo the sentiments on Israel so common on the left, and so pervasive in academia and the media. At the Democratic convention in ‎‎2012, angry anti-Israel invective coming from the delegates was ignored by the ‎convention chair, who ruled that various pro-Israel measures had passed on a ‎voice vote, when clearly they had not. It has gotten worse since then. ‎Obama has not lifted a finger to condemn the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and the harassment ‎and intimidation of pro-Israel students on campus. Pretty much any speaker ‎supporting Israel at any public event can now expect nasty anti-Semitic activists ‎trying to shout them down. Supporting Israel is viewed these days as similar to ‎supporting fossil fuels, or even worse, the police. On the left, there is a theme of intersectionality that unites various activist groups, and those who oppose Israel are right at ‎home with the Black Lives Matter movement, various leftist unions, and open-‎borders supporters.‎

Obama has been arguably the least sympathetic president toward Israel ‎since Jimmy Carter. Carter, however can claim a role in the Camp David accords, ‎which effectively ended the state of war between Egypt and Israel. It was of course ‎Anwar Sadat who paid the ultimate price for making peace, gunned down by ‎assassins. ‎

Obama has attempted to make the U.S. position toward Israel mirror that of the EU ‎nations and the United Nations. Israel is to blame for the failure of peace talks, and ‎settlements and the intransigence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are the reasons there is no ‎peace. Palestinian disinterest in even talking to Israel, their incitement and worship ‎of terrorists is always downplayed. Terrorism is regarded as understandable, ‎given the occupation. ‎

Obama is ever ready to claim his own great achievement — the Iranian nuclear ‎accord, which so far has produced a cash windfall for Iran, the end of most ‎sanctions, and significant new business deals for the formerly isolated nation, in ‎exchange for a partial reduction in the country’s nuclear program. And as ‎expected, Iran’s international belligerence has picked up, including the capture and humiliation of U.S. sailors; ballistic missile tests, some very close to U.S. assets; and ‎stepped up military support for their allies in Syria and Yemen. The anti-Israel and ‎anti-American rhetoric are as high as ever. Holocaust denial seems to have ‎become a favored activity. The idea that the deal would change Iranian behavior, ‎open up the society, and make them better behaved on the world stage, was a ‎farcical notion, already debunked. Yes, the United States can now call the Iranians ‎‎(or some of them) to plead for something, but pretty much every difficult issue has ‎been resolved in the Iranians’ favor. As for opening up the society, about 99% of ‎the candidates for elections who were not adherents of the theocratic rulers, were ‎knocked off the ballot. The mullahs are still fully in charge, now playing with a new ‎stack of cash.‎

The deal was supported by 42 of 46 Democratic senators, and 85% of Democratic ‎House members. When Obama said jump, they jumped. Loyalty is now ‎very important or Democrats could be challenged from the left the next time they ‎seek office. Both Clinton and Sanders supported the Iran deal. Clinton has given a ‎few talks trying to create a little space between her own views on Israel and ‎Obama’s, trying to reassure Jewish donors and liberal Jewish voters. But they ‎had the feel of one more point on a list checked off.‎

On the Republican side, the foreign policy views of Donald Trump are truly ‎unknown. There is no evidence that he has thought seriously about the Israeli-‎Palestinian conflict. Given his common sense theme for his presidency, he might ‎wind up on the pro-Israel side, but this is a guess. A week ago, this uncertainty was ‎a bigger concern. This week, the chances of Trump being the nominee are a good ‎bit lower. Had Trump won Iowa, he could have run the table with the first few ‎states, and made himself a heavy favorite for the nomination. ‎

There is very good news for Israel with the two Cuban-American senators — Cruz ‎and Rubio. Both have been forthright about specific initiatives were they elected, ‎designed to demonstrate that American support for Israel was no longer in ‎question. Pulling back on some or all of the Iran deal would be part of this, but ‎there is also the possibility of a U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem, commitments to ‎back Israel in the U.N. Security Council, a change in the State Department’s perpetual ‎war on Israel, a commitment to consultation with Israel rather than public attacks, ‎and even new American policy on various issues related to Israel’s borders and ‎rights under international law. Whether any of this will matter to Jewish-American ‎voters is not clear. But it might boost turnout among Christian supporters of Israel, ‎a far larger group.‎

Cruz spoke abut Israel in his victory speech on Monday night. It is a sign ‎that for leading Republicans, Israel is not an afterthought, as it appears to be for ‎the Democrats.‎

By: Richard Baehr


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