WASHINGTON – US President Barak Obama reflected last Wednesday on the
overwhelming defeat of the Democratic Party – or “shellacking,” as he termed it
– the day before. “It feels bad,” he said.
But some Democrats have found
a silver lining to their otherwise unwelcome results, particularly those
Democrats on the farther left side of the spectrum. For them, though the party
lost its majority in the House of Representatives and with it its committee
chairmen, there was some small comfort in the result that most of those kicked
out were moderates. Many were the so-called “blue dog Democrats” from
traditionally Republican districts who rode the Democratic waves of 2006 and
2008 into office but were the most vulnerable when even Independents turned red
“In vivid contrast,” as liberal blogger Deborah White wrote,
“no Black Caucus members, and very few Progressive or Latino Caucus members,
lost their House reelection bids. As a result, House Democrats in the 112th
Congress will be more progressive and more supportive of the Democratic Party
and Nancy Pelosi’s agenda than any House of Representatives in recent
That might be soothing to some Democrats, but it’s not
necessarily reassuring to those who are looking for strong bipartisan support of
Israel in Congress. According to polls, self-described liberals are less likely
to be supportive than Democrats more broadly, and significantly less likely to
be supportive than conservative Republicans.
In one Gallup survey, only
43 percent of liberal Democrats were likely to be more sympathetic to the
Israelis over the Palestinians, compared to 50% of moderate Democrats and 72% of
(In contrast, liberals were most likely to be more
sympathetic toward the Palestinians – at 33% – compared with 32% of moderate
Democrats and 17% of Republicans.) “The Democratic caucus will be much more
liberal, much more progressive than the current Congress,” noted William Daroff,
director of the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North
But Daroff said that didn’t necessarily translate into a loss of
support for Israel.
“The Democrats who are left in the House tend to be
relatively longtime veterans who have been steadfast supporters of a strong
US-Israel relationship,” he said.
Among those who swept in over the last
two cycles – and were swept out on Tuesday – were some of the more strident
members of the party as well.
And of course, many vocal supporters of
Israel have hailed from progressive circles, including Russ Feingold, the
Wisconsin senator who lost his seat in a close battle last week after serving
TEVI TROY, a former Jewish liaison in the George W. Bush
White House, called that a significant loss for those like him who want to see
strong bi-partisan support for Israel.
“When you lose voices like that,
it’s hard to say that even the progressives support Israel.”
without Feingold, Troy is worried what a largely progressive caucus in Congress
will mean for the Jewish state.
“It’s a problem, because as we know the
bulk of the criticism of Israel comes more from the left these days than the
right,” he said.
He pointed to the difficult political calculus for
liberal candidates over whether they would want to be strongly supportive of
Israel, given the mixed support among Democratic voters: “When a progressive
member gets up there and speaks to his constituents and says something
pro-Israel, there’s only a 50-50 shot that they’ll agree with him.”
said this trend could jeopardize bipartisan support in the long run,
particularly for groups, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee,
that try to be bipartisan but could find it harder to work with
Even some progressives are voicing concern.
becomes a political football... it’s really bad,” said one activist with a
progressive Israel organization of the concern that the issue could lose
bipartisan support. “It’s better to have fewer numbers but from both sides of
the aisle than to have larger numbers that are all from the leftwing of the
He stressed that bipartisan support was necessary for
the issue to have general appeal and for the administration to treat it with the
urgency it needs, though he said that backing up the administration was a place
where more progressive Democrats in Congress could be helpful.
going to be with the president to give him the support and backing that he
needs, that’s required to go the extra mile for peace... if the Republicans are
being obstructionist?” he asked. “You probably will see these members trying to
give Obama the cover he needs.”
David Harris, of the National Jewish
Democratic Council,, however, argued that it was the Republicans who were trying
to use Israel for partisan ends.
“I do see a threat to the historical
bipartisan support for Israel, but it comes from those who continue to use
Israel as a partisan wedge issue.
Those people aren’t Democrats,” he
He added that regardless of where individual Democrats stand, “the
Democratic leadership is strongly invested in supporting Israel, on Iran, on
foreign aid, and the caucus is strongly supportive.”
In any case, Daroff
pointed out that it’s the executive branch that makes foreign policy, not
“While it’s incredibly important that there are wide bipartisan
majorities in favor of a strong US-Israel relationship in Congress, by far the
most important [factor] in the US-Israel relationship is the White House,” he
said. “There’s one secretary of state, not 535.”