The Lion's Den: Israel and congressional Democrats

This much is clear after almost 2 years of Democratic control: Democrats support Israel and its government far less than do Republicans.

By
October 19, 2010 22:48
3 minute read.

 
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How should American voters concerned with Israel’s welfare and security vote in the US congressional elections on November 2? This much is clear after almost two years of Democratic control over the executive and legislative branches of government: Democrats consistently support Israel and its government far less than do Republicans.

LEAVING BARACK Obama aside for now (he’s not on the ballot), let’s focus on Congress and on voters. (Sorry in advance about the many numbers.)

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Poll shows Israel an important issue to US voters
Click here for full Jpost coverage of the 2010 Midterms

Congress:
The pattern of weak Democratic support began just a week after Inauguration Day 2009, right after the Israel-Hamas war, when 60 House Democrats (including such left-wingers as Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters) and not a single Republican wrote the secretary of state to “respectfully request that the State Department release emergency funds to [the anti-Israel organization] UNRWA for reconstruction and humanitarian assistance” in Gaza.

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In the same spirit, 54 House Democrats and not a single Republican signed a letter to Obama a year later, in January 2010, asking him to “advocate for immediate improvements for Gaza in the following areas” and then listed 10 ways to help Hamas.

In dramatic contrast, 78 House Republicans wrote a “Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu” letter a few months later to express their “steadfast support” for him and Israel. The signatories were not just Republicans but members of the House Republican Study Committee, a conservative caucus.

So, count 54 Democrats for Hamas and 78 Republicans for Israel.



In the aftermath of the March 2010 crisis when Joe Biden went to Jerusalem, 333 members of the House of Representatives signed a letter to the secretary of state reaffirming the US-Israel alliance. The 102 members who did not sign included 94 Democrats (including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi) and eight Republicans, a 12-to-1 ratio. Seventy-six senators signed a similar letter; the 24 who did not sign included 20 Democrats and four Republicans, a 5-to-1 ratio.



Voters: Public opinion explains these differences on Capitol Hill.

An April 2009 poll by Zogby International asked about US policy: Ten percent of Obama voters and 60% of voters for Republican John McCain wanted the president to support Israel. Get tough with Israel? Eighty percent of Obama voters said yes and 73% of McCain voters said no. Conversely, 67% of Obama voters said yes and 79% of McCain voters said no to Washington engaging with Hamas. And 61% of Obama voters endorsed a Palestinian “right of return,” while only 21% of McCain voters concurred.

Almost a year later, the same pollster asked American adults how best to deal with the Arab-Israeli conflict and found “a strong divide” on this question. Seventy-three percent of Democrats wanted the president to end the historic bond with Israel but treat Arabs and Israelis alike; only 24% of Republicans endorsed this shift.

A survey this month asked if a likely voter is “more likely or less likely to vote for a candidate whom you perceive as pro-Israel.” Thirty-nine percent of Democrats and 69% of Republicans prefer the pro-Israel candidate. Turned around, 33% of Democrats and 14% of Republicans would be less likely to support a candidate because he is pro-Israel.

Democrats are somewhat evenly split on Israel, but Republicans favor it by a 5-to-1 ratio.

A consensus exists that the two parties are growing further apart over time. Pro-Israel, conservative Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe finds that “the old political consensus that brought Republicans and Democrats together in support of the Middle East’s only flourishing democracy is breaking down.”

Anti-Israel, left-wing James Zogby of the Arab American Institute agrees, writing that “traditional US policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not have bipartisan backing.”

Thanks to changes in the Democratic party, Israel has become a partisan issue in American politics, an unwelcome development for it.

In late March, during a nadir of USIsrael relations, Janine Zacharia wrote in The Washington Post that some Israelis expect their prime minister to “search for ways to buy time until the midterm US elections in hopes that Obama would lose support and that more pro-Israel Republicans would be elected.”

That an Israeli leader is thought to stall for fewer congressional Democrats confirms the changes outlined here. It also provides guidance for voters.

The writer (www.DanielPipes.org) is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.


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