Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump at Ben Gurion airport on May 23, 2017.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Israelis and their politicians must stop adopting Republican claims that Democrats no longer support Israel, because such claims are dangerous for Israel’s future, the chairman of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, former Florida congressman Ron Klein, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview in the capital on Sunday.
Klein, whose organization bills itself as “the voice for Jewish Democrats and socially liberal, pro-Israel values,” came to Israel to meet with government leaders and opinion setters. He would not give names, but said that Netanyahu was not one of them.
“We’re bucking up against an Israeli population with an opinion being impacted by the opinion of the [US] president [Donald Trump] and some of the media here, that because three Democrats were elected to Congress who might not support Israel, the Democratic Party has disconnected from Israel – when in fact, it is very supportive, and it’s constant.”
Klein, who is close to Israel’s ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, said it was wrong of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett and the ambassador to say following the October 27 massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh that Trump is not antisemitic.
“I don’t think the prime minister of Israel has to defend the president of the United States on antisemitism,” he said.
Klein said that Netanyahu has turned off Democrats repeatedly, including when he spoke to Congress against the Iran deal advocated by then-US president Barack Obama, and by going too far in praising Trump.
“There are people who feel the prime minister has aligned himself with Republicans,” he said. “I get that he’s the prime minister of Israel and he has to do what’s right for Israel. But it didn’t help to say ‘Your wall is our wall.’ The smartest thing the Israeli government can do is embrace all supporters of Israel.”
Klein said that Israel is best served when both parties support it, and they do not have to do it in the same way. He said it is OK for Democrats to disagree with policies of the Israeli government like they do with their own government, which they criticize without making themselves less patriotic.
Likely Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi will visit Israel regularly and remind Israelis how pro-Israel their party is, Klein said. He said that her returning to her post is an opportunity to improve the relationship between Israel and Democrats, as is the takeover of other key Congressional posts by very pro-Israel Democrats.
Klein singled out the expected heads of the Appropriations Committee Nita Lowey (D-NY), Foreign Affairs Committee Elliot Engel (D-NY) and Middle East subcommittee Ted Deutch (D-FL).
“I spoke to all of them, and they want us to do what we are doing,” Klein said. “Pelosi is a consummate professional. Her consistently supporting Israel is a signal to the Democratic Party and its new members in Congress that being pro-Israel is an essential component of Democratic ideology and policy. There are a few new members we don’t agree with but they are in the fringe and won’t have a majority.”
Klein said he is in touch with possible US presidential candidates and that the council will play an important role in how they come down on issues his organization cares about. Meanwhile, he said most of the new members of Congress are not educated yet about Israel.
“We think this is a great opportunity to educate them,” he said. “Our job is to make sure they understand. We impacted a lot of races; we got involved where the Jewish community could make a difference.”
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