Washington Watch: It’s not enough to love Israel

"Republicans are betting – praying may be more like it – that their coziness with the Israeli Right will make Jews forget about all their differences with the GOP."

March 18, 2015 21:33
United States Capitol building in Washington, DC

United States Capitol building in Washington, DC.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Few foreign elections capture as much attention in Washington as this week’s voting in Israel. It’s no secret that the White House would like to see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defeated as much as Congressional Republicans want him to win.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has a lot invested in this election. He gave Netanyahu an unprecedented campaign platform to speak to voters back home just two weeks before they went to the polls. Boehner and Netanyahu billed it as a speech to Congress on the Iranian nuclear threat but, as Paul Krugman pointed out in Monday’s New York Times, “If you’re seriously trying to affect American foreign policy, you don’t insult the president and so obviously align yourself with his political opposition.”

Be the first to know - Join our Facebook page.

For the next two weeks Netanyahu used clips from the speech in his increasingly desperate campaign; the bounce he expected in the polls was a thud. The ploy backfired on both Netanyahu and the Republicans.

They’d hoped the prime minister’s appearance would produce veto-proof majorities for a tougher sanctions bill and another requiring the president to submit any Iran agreement to Congress for approval.

See the latest opinion pieces on our Opinion & Blogs Facebook page

Many Democrats, offended by the blatantly political swipe at President Barack Obama, blocked early passage of both measures and enough may peel away to prevent a veto-proof margin. Another GOP blunder came with the letter of 47 senators to the Iranian leader telling him that any agreement he makes with Washington probably won’t outlive Obama’s presidency.

In their blind hostility toward the president they wound up strengthening the bargaining hand of the ayatollahs, infuriating America’s negotiating partners, especially the Europeans, who feel Senate Republicans are trying to undercut them.

Boehner’s agenda included helping reelect Obama’s bete noire, sabotaging the Iran negotiations and trying – as so many have tried before him – to realign part of the domestic political landscape, specifically longstanding Jewish loyalty to the Democratic Party.

Netanyahu, who once boasted to an interviewer “I speak Republican,” was happy to help. He effectively endorsed Mitt Romney in the 2012 election and posted as his ambassador to Washington a former Republican operative, to run the anti-Obama campaign.

The GOP message to the Jews in recent years is “We love Israel more” and they’ve lately gotten some encouraging poll numbers to back that up. They’ve made some gains in recent years but far well below the 1980 level when Ronald Reagan got 39 percent of the Jewish vote.

If Boehner and the Republicans thought Netanyahu, the self-anointed leader of the world’s Jews, was the Moses who would lead a Jewish exodus from slavish devotion to the Democrats to the promised land of the GOP and Tea Parties, they’re in for disappointment of biblical proportions.

That’s because Republicans, for the most part, take a single-issue approach to Jewish voters and fail to understand that Jews are not single-issue voters. In fact, polls consistently show that Israel is around fifth on the priority list for most Jewish voters and is a determinative issue for fewer than 20 percent.

Republicans are betting – praying may be more like it – that their coziness with the Israeli Right will make Jews forget about all their differences with the GOP – abortion, civil liberties, civil rights, education, immigration, environment, health care, Social Security and Medicare, same-sex marriage, gun control, welfare, voter access, etc. – and vote for the party that says it loves Israel more.

Some of the more hardline Jews question Obama’s commitment to Israel. Netanyahu doesn’t, at least that’s what he says in his public speeches, including his congressional campaign appearance two weeks ago. Most Jewish voters agree that the administration has been very good on security, intelligence sharing, defense and diplomatic support for Israel even if the two leaders don’t get along, and they don’t like it when Republicans keep bashing the man they gave 70 to 80 percent of their votes in the past two elections.

The personal relationship is bound to improve if there is a new Israeli prime minister, while the rest will remain strong. The who-loves-Israel-more gap between Republicans and Democrats is likely to narrow if the next Israeli government shows a greater commitment to peace with the Palestinians – which has strong support among most American Jews – is not as obsessed to settlement construction and works at reconciliation with the Obama administration.

Why do Republicans love Israel? For most of the same reasons the Democrats do, but there are some other factors that are very important. Israel is the Republicans’ principle opening to the Jewish community because, as noted above, on a broad range of other issues critical to the Jewish community Republicans are on the wrong side.

The next reason is money. Big money. Casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson put in upwards of $100 million in 2012 to defeat Obama and elect Republicans and is expected to match that in the current election cycle.

Looking to 2016, all of the presidential hopefuls and lesser candidates are making pilgrimages to Las Vegas to beg for his ble$$ing and pledge their undying devotion to his vision of Israel.

I wonder how much of their ardor for Israel is to compensate for their lack of appeal on the other issues important to Jewish voters and contributors.

Another fundamental reason for supporting Israel is the GOP’s influential evangelical and religious conservative base, many members of which love Israel because of the biblical commandment to do so – and the prophecies that demand that the Jewish state be destroyed in a new Holocaust to usher in the Second Coming.

And for all their outspokenness about Israel, Evangelical voters care more about the so-called values agenda – which puts them squarely in opposition to most Jewish voters.

It could take weeks to sort out the Israeli election results and cobble together a new government. The results will be watched very closely throughout the Middle East and in foreign capitals, particularly Washington and Tehran, where the election could determine whether US-Israel relations can get back on track and whether an Iranian nuclear agreement is possible.

©2015 Douglas M. Bloomfield
[email protected]

Related Content

March 23, 2018
Germany and Hezbollah


Israel Weather
  • 16 - 38
    Beer Sheva
    20 - 36
    Tel Aviv - Yafo
  • 18 - 31
    18 - 32
  • 25 - 35
    20 - 34