Do the 2020 Democratic hopefuls stand with the Jewish community?

The Democratic Party has traditionally been strong in its support of Israel, which for decades was a distinctly bipartisan issue.

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August 1, 2019 20:19
4 minute read.
Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidates pose together before the start of the second night of t

Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidates pose together before the start of the second night of the second U.S. 2020 presidential Democratic candidates debate. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Prior to the first round of Democratic debates, I wrote a list of questions for the candidates on behalf of the Jewish community. Following the second round of debates, there are still several pressing questions important to the Jewish community that remain unanswered:

1. Where does the Democratic Party truly stand when it comes to Israel?

The Democratic Party has traditionally been strong in its support of Israel, which for decades was a distinctly bipartisan issue. Some may have forgotten that the US made the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate the US Embassy there back in 1995 with the passing of the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which passed in a truly bipartisan fashion, and was signed into law by president Bill Clinton. Israel’s significance as an ally has long been accepted by both parties, and security assistance is widely understood as integral to America’s global interests. Senior Democrats and Republicans alike continue to attend pro-Israel gatherings every year, with a lineup of leading Democrats touting their long-standing and steadfast support for Israel.

In recent years, though, anti-Israel sentiment has been more common in the party, especially on its farther-left fringes. Rep. Ilhan Omar used antisemitic rhetoric; Rep. Rashida Tlaib doesn’t support the right of Israel to exist; Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has suggested cutting aid to Israel; Sen. Bernie Sanders has neglected to cast due blame on Hamas. And for the first time, the majority of Democratic presidential candidates decided not to attend the bipartisan AIPAC conference. The lack of support from the so-called progressive members of the Democratic Party has left the American Jewish community to question whether the party truly understands the importance of defending this democratic ally in the Middle East. 

The House passed a bipartisan anti-boycott resolution – one of several recent anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions measures – while other Democrats, led by Omar and Tlaib, have falsely characterized the passage of this resolution as an infringement on free speech, proposing counter-legislation sanctioning boycotts. This seemingly well-intentioned measure by Rep. Omar could be seen by the anti-Israel BDS movement as a congressional green light to expand their anti-Israel campaigns. If these groups feel they are given purview to operate, particularly through some misconstrued form of congressional permission, they may feel emboldened to take stronger action against our community.

As the new leader of the Democratic Party, what would you do to block the anti-Israel and pro-BDS positions of the party’s ultra-left wing? How will you ensure America’s relationship with Israel remains a bipartisan issue rather than be used as a wedge to divide the Jewish community?

2. How would you renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal to address Iran’s hostile behavior?

The majority of Democratic candidates at this point in their campaigns have gone on record stating they would reenter the Iran nuclear deal in some capacity. But Americans want, and need to know, details.

The first Iran deal failed to stop Iran’s dangerous behavior. Under the deal, the country continued to threaten Israel and the Jewish people with annihilation, conduct illicit missile tests, assist Hezbollah in the construction of advanced weapons factories, and continued to strengthen its foothold in Syria. One of the main reasons the American Jewish Congress opposed the 2015 Iran deal was its “sunset provision” that would have allowed Iran to pick up its efforts to develop a nuclear weapon right where it left off. With these provisions in place and Iran’s pattern of aggression clearly unchanged, the Jewish community cannot support a conciliatory attitude toward Iran in the White House.

As commander-in-chief and head diplomat, what would you do differently from what negotiators did in 2015? What new elements and conditions would you advocate to include in a new or renegotiated deal with Iran regarding its nuclear program?

3. How would you manage Israeli-Palestinian peace talks?

As it has been the case for the past decades, the role of brokering peace between Israel and the Palestinians will fall into the hands of our next American president, and no candidate who seriously aspires to the position should go in without a clear plan.

Most Democratic candidates have said they would not move the US Embassy back to Tel Aviv, but they also think that President Trump’s unilateral decision has made it harder to re-start talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The issue of Jerusalem is a singular aspect among a litany of other issues that include Israeli settlements, security arrangements, Palestinian refugees, and the fate of the Gaza Strip, all of which must be addressed in order to advance towards an agreement, and hopefully peace. 

How would you as president of the United States rebuild trust with the Palestinians after years of President Trump’s almost unilateral support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government? What confidence-building measures would you ask each side to take in order to construct a foundation of mutual trust?

These three questions are but a few among a much broader menu of policies and strategies of the US government that impact the safety and prosperity of the Jewish community, both at home and abroad. With antisemitism rising domestically and internationally, the threat of Iran looming over Israel, and the fate of the Israeli-Palestinian peace hanging in the balance, they cannot go unanswered. So I ask the Democratic presidential candidates: How will you and your party accept the challenge of supporting the Jewish community and America’s closest ally, Israel?

The writer is president of the American Jewish Congress.


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