Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reaches out to shake hands with Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, before their meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington May 19, 2009.
(photo credit: JASON REED/REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – The last time Nancy Pelosi served as speaker of the House, she had a like-minded partner in the White House and a congressional caucus largely in sync with her more traditional liberal views towards Israel.
In the eight interim years since losing the position, she has witnessed the growth of a subgroup of Democratic lawmakers eager for legislation on Palestinian human rights and more critical of Israeli government tactics. She has stood despondent on the House floor at the applause of her colleagues as Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, confronted then-president Barack Obama over his policies on Iran
And she has also stood on the sidelines as Israel’s leaders have aligned themselves with Donald Trump, a president anathema to liberal democrats.
Democratic sources familiar with Pelosi’s thinking say she is preparing to navigate a new era of Israel politics, in which Israeli government officials have embraced the Trump administration for its deference and submission to their whims, and in which vocal figures hostile to the Zionism have gained seats in the party.
One source said that Obama-era fighting between Democrats and Netanyahu have “scarred relationships”– but that those scars were concealed over the last two years, with Democrats in the minority in government.
“This is the first time you’re going to see Democratic control since the Bibi-Dermer wing of Israeli politics has unabashedly aligned itself with Republicans– and you’re going to see this idea tested – that you can be pro-Israel, as Pelosi is, but still highly critical of the Israeli government,” the source said, referring to Israel’s ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer. “And you’ll see that privately, when Dermer goes to Capitol Hill or when Netanyahu visits, but also [will see this expressed] publicly.”
Those Democrats who have secured leadership positions– including Pelosi
, but also future chairmen of key committees related to foreign policy and appropriations– come from a classic school of thought on Israel in Washington, that policy towards the Jewish state must remain nonpartisan and that criticism of its government should be precise and tempered.
And while several members-elect made waves in the 2018 election for their aggressive stances on Israel– most prominently Ilhan Omar of Minnesota
, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York
, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts
and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan
– their positions as freshmen congresswomen make them practically incapable of affecting foreign policy in a meaningful, procedural way.
Caucus leadership will choose which members are given seats on committees that will deal with Middle East policy, and none of these members are expected to be given such roles, according to one Democratic official.
But they can still apply political pressure through the press and their substantial social media followings.
In a less-visible battle, Hakeem Jeffries of New York defeated Barbara Lee of California to serve as caucus chair on Wednesday, marking a victory for establishment Democrats and staving off the potential for a vocal and frequent critic of Israel to join majority leadership.
But even if Democratic leadership in the next Congress – including future chairmen Jerrold Nadler of New York on the House Judiciary Committee, Nita Lowey of New York on the Appropriations Committee, and Eliot Engel of New York on the Foreign Relations Committee – stands to the right of this freshmen cadre, it remains to the left of the Israeli government and its allies in the administration, and may be setting up the potential for conflict in hearings and on select bills.
Thus Pelosi will experience pressure from both an emboldened political left, as well as a governing alliance on the right, as she takes the gavel.
“As we prepare for the 116th Congress, we are proud to support Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House,” said Halie Soifer, executive director of the The Jewish Democratic Council of America, as the group endorsed her for leadership. “Over the course of many decades, Leader Pelosi has proven her unwavering leadership on issues of importance to Jewish Democrats and the broader Jewish community. “This includes serving as a stalwart advocate for the US-Israel relationship and other US national security interests, as well as championing social justice issues.”
“Leader Pelosi has worked tirelessly to combat antisemitism and other forms of discrimination and fought to defend access to affordable healthcare, reproductive rights, and human rights domestically and around the world,” Soifer continued. “With Democrats taking control of the House, Jewish Dems look forward to working with Leader Pelosi and other Democrats to promote a domestic and foreign policy agenda aligned with Jewish and Democratic values.”
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