Hillary Clinton at a campaign event in Des Moines, Iowa.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It is axiomatic that Israel needs to maintain bipartisan support in the United States. However, if the Democratic Party gives President Barack Obama overwhelming backing on the Iran nuclear deal (as opposed to a split decision), the traditional policy may prove unsustainable. Bipartisan support also rests on a fundamental bipartisanship in other areas. It is possible to ride two horses when they are close together; impossible when they are racing off in opposite directions.
For my generation, a possible estrangement between Israel and the Democrats is an emotional issue. The Democratic Party was what French Socialists called the “vieux maison,” the old home. I still remember our inconsolable classroom after the 1968 elections and the sympathetic instructor explaining that Republican Richard Nixon’s defeat of Hubert Humphrey the Democrat was not the end of the world.
In 1972, I voted for Nixon because his Democratic opponent George McGovern’s convention cry of “come home America” signaled at least a temporary retreat from involvement in world affairs with obvious implications for Israel. I still do not regret that choice, and I dread thinking what could have happened if George McGovern – a far more decent person than Nixon – had been in the White House during the 1973 Yom Kippur War and whether the vital American aid Nixon authorized for Israel would have been forthcoming.
It was possible to return home in 1976 after McGovern’s lopsided loss. The Democratic Party had been chastened by the McGovern wipeout and would go back to more centrist positions.
Fast forward to the present and we have a different political world. American politics has changed from the fight over the political center to a competition over which party is more adept at mobilizing its political base. Newspapers, which once, despite their political preferences, allowed access to competing viewpoints, are now increasingly flaming red or true blue media outlets.
In the 1990s, the Democrats’ Bill Clinton and his soul mate British New Labor’s Tony Blair led efforts by the left to find a new synthesis that could appeal to centrists on issues such as the economy and crime to create a wider base for the left’s return to power. Today “Blairism” is a dirty word on the British left and a far leftist like Jeremy Corbyn, who calls Hezbollah and Hamas “friends,” could conceivably be elected Labor Party leader. Across the pond, Hillary Rodham Clinton is tacking increasingly left to avoid being embarrassed by liberal Senator Bernie Sanders on what once seemed to be a sure road to a Democratic coronation.
With the Iran agreement we appear to have reached another McGovern moment. But, as left-wing political pundit Peter Beinart indefatigably reminds us, this time it is not going to be a one-off proposition since it is fueled by profound demographic and cultural changes. Beinart’s takeaway is clear: Israel must accommodate itself to the permanent ascendancy of the left in American politics, on both diplomatic and social issues.
The problem with this for many Israelis – aside from endorsing positions that with the exception of left-wing Meretz they deem dead wrong – is that the neo-isolationist bent of the American left means that if these ideas blow up in our faces, it will be our problem (just as the horrific number of Syrian dead and refugees is their problem).
Moreover, if the American left regards political power as an entitlement, it will keep asking us for additional signs of contrition. Beinart himself recently provided an example when he chastised Clinton for not displaying sufficient empathy with Palestinian grievances and tying her support of the two-state solution purely to the need to assure a Jewish majority.
Bottom line: If the prediction of permanent ascendancy of the American left is accurate, then Israel will have to prepare itself for changes no less portentous than an Iranian bomb. Contributor Amiel Ungar is also a columnist for the Hebrew weekly Besheva.
This story first appeared in the Jerusalem Report.