US Affairs: Israel and the mid-term elections

Advertisements spark a debate between Democrats and Republicans about which party supports Israel more.

October 13, 2006 00:48
4 minute read.
US Affairs: Israel and the mid-term elections

aipac 88. (photo credit: )


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The advertisement, published on a full-page in major Jewish papers across the US, shows Senator Joe Lieberman hugging a voter during a campaign tour ahead of next month's Congressional elections. The headline reads: "Joe Lieberman was a voice of support for Israel. That voice has been silenced by the Democratic Party." The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), which ran this ad, is not standing up for now-independent Lieberman as much as it is trying to make a point - the Democrats aren't as good as the Republicans when it comes to Israel. Another ad makes this point event clearer: A large photo of former president Jimmy Carter alongside a quotation of his during the Lebanon war this summer: "I don't think Israel has any legal or moral justification for their massive bombing of the entire nation of Lebanon." Below that is another questionable Carter statement: "I represent the vast majority of Democrats." Other ads show Democrat activists Cindy Sheehan and Rev. Al Sharpton, with Sheehan quoted as saying that if the US withdraws from Iraq, and Israel does the same from the Palestinian territories, then the problem of terror will be solved. A statistical figure presented in all the ads of the RJC claims that surveys have found that the support for Israel among Republican voters is almost double that among Democrats. The ads were the first real attempt to bring the Israel issue directly into this mid-term election season, in which public attention is focused more on Iraq and internal scandals than on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is too early to assess the effectiveness of these ads in the Republican campaign, but one effect is already apparent - they have managed to fuel the debate between Jewish Republicans and Jewish Democrats, with Israel becoming the main issue on the table. Democrats dispute the conclusions of a Wall Street Journal poll from July 2006 on which the Republicans base their claim that their party members are more supportive of Israel. The Democrats argue that the methodology of the survey and the wording of the questions did not produce a correct portrayal of American views toward Israel. They also claim that Republicans have crossed a red line in raising the issue, since Israel is supposed to be a subject outside of any internal debate. A few days after the Republicans ads were published, the Democrats decided to fight back. In their own ads, Jewish Democrats blamed their Republican counterparts for trying to turn Israel into a partisan issue, after years of keeping the support for the Jewish state out of the partisan political ring. To illustrate their point, the Democrats show in their ads Menachem Begin standing alongside Ronald Reagan, and Binyamin Netanyahu shaking hands with Bill Clinton. The message is clear - both Republicans and Democrats have always been supportive of Israel. The party also sent out some of its top politicians to refute the claim that Democrats are less supportive of Israel than Republicans. Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), a possible candidate for the presidency in 2008, said that nothing will break the Democratic support for Israel "even if every Jew in the county votes Republican," while Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) added that what should be examined is not the poll results but rather the voting record of Democrats in Congress on issues relating to Israel, a record he believes is overwhelmingly pro-Israel. Israeli officials are doing their best to stay out of the fray, pointing to the "tradition of bipartisan support for Israel" and making sure they don't show any sign of leaning closer to either side of the political debate, as the election campaign nears its peak. Political analysts monitoring the Jewish vote agree that the effect of dragging Israel into the mid-term elections will not be significant for several reasons: First, the main issues for many voters when choosing their representatives are local, and not related to foreign policy. Apart from that, most Jews decide who to support based on a wider range of issues with polls showing that Israel is not a primary factor on that list. Jewish voters, it is also important to remember, are merely 2.5 percent of the electorate, and though in several states they carry more weight, the Jews are a fairly marginal electoral power. Yet when it comes to campaign donations, Jews are among the most sought-after groups in the country, since they provide - according to some estimates - more than half of the contributions to Democratic candidates and a third of the contributions for Republicans. If big Jewish donors become convinced that the Democrats are weaker than the Republicans on Israel, this might have an effect on where their money is directed. The 2006 mid-term elections are, ultimately, not all that important for the Jewish community. Though several local races are watched closely by Jewish activists (Rick Santorum's struggle for reelection in Pennsylvania, Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island and, of course, George Allen in Virginia), none of the seats in play is seen as a struggle between pro-Israel and anti-Israel candidates. If there are any differences on the issue of Israel, they are nuanced and minor. Jewish activists are looking at the larger picture: What will happen if - as many analysts expect - the Democrats take over one or both houses of Congress. This could mean a complete change in the leadership of all Congressional committees. But the activists agree that even here, though the changes might make a difference on several issues important for the Jewish community, they will not affect Congress's strong support for Israel.

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