Democrats should have backed Israel but didn’t

Trump is not naïve.

By JOSH CHAZIN
July 22, 2019 21:58
3 minute read.
Democrats should have backed Israel but didn’t

U.S. President Trump speaks about U.S. Representative Omar at campaign rally in Greenville. (photo credit: JONATHAN DRAKE / REUTERS)

Donald Trump served up a silver platter for Democrats, and they said “No thanks.” At a moment when the Democratic Party was experiencing intra-party conflict, Trump couldn’t help but intervene anyway. He tweeted on Sunday what can only be described as an open show of racism at four progressive, female, Democratic congresswomen of color – three of whom are American-born – by telling them go back to the places “from which they came.”

In doing so, he also dubbed them as “anti-USA” and “anti-Israel” in the same tweet, a futile attempt to use Israel as a shield by demanding the congresswomen apologize to not just America, but also to Israel for their “foul” language. Yet in return – and maybe in character – Democrats stood up only for their progressive colleagues, not for their strongest ally in the Middle East. They may not get a silver platter like this again.

It’s no secret that despite Israel being a relatively bipartisan issue, it is a wedge issue within the Democratic Party. Trump’s utilization of Israel as a pawn in a racist political stunt presented, by far, the most obvious opportunity for Democrats to give Israel public backing and distance themselves from the notion that the left is completely made up of antisemites.

So what did the Democrats do? They passed an almost completely party-line House resolution condemning Trump’s racism toward the congresswomen. And not a single Democratic House member publicly decried Trump for his political weaponization of Israel.

Democrats fail to realize how dangerous his tweets are for more reasons than one. Primarily, 71% of American Jews have voted blue since 1968, despite the growing stigma of supporting Israel as a conservative political position. That number will not remain high for much longer on this path. The last thing Israel needs is to lose public support from its strongest Western supporter, and the last thing Democrats need is to lose support from a traditionally loyal voting bloc.

Moreover, Trump’s out-of-context utilization of Israel is the most surefire way to cause public support for Israel in America to plummet. A 2019 Jewish Electorate Institute poll shows that 73% of American Jews feel less secure since Trump was elected. It is clear Trump associates with them but they do not associate back. Despite this, Democrats routinely alienate them in these situations, which results in antisemitism from both sides.

Most importantly, though, Trump’s politicization of Israel pits Jews against people of color, an attempt at wedging that Democratic leadership should have pinpointed instantly. By remaining silent, Democrats, who ironically have been larger proponents of a peaceful two-state solution than Republicans, are complicit to the conflict between Jews and people of color, a wedge that could drive members of both groups away from the Democratic Party.

Trump is not naïve. He recognizes that certain Democrats have been strikingly critical of Israel and that Democratic attempts to respond to those criticisms have been pathetic. Restlessness is growing among American Jews. Democrats did not have to choose between defending their progressives and defending a political ally but they did anyway.

As a self-identifying Democrat, it is infuriating to see Democrats silently watch as the Republican leadership feigns passion for Israel in this obvious political game. Watching Sen. Lindsey Graham call American congresswomen “anti-Israel” and “anti-America” in the same sentence is appalling and insulting to what Israel has accomplished as a historic ally of both parties in America. For the Democratic leadership to miss it is painful and dangerous.

Collectively supporting the congresswomen was justified and necessary, and it united the party at a moment when it seemed to be faltering. But in the process, the Democratic leadership alienated American Jews, and they alienated Israel. They also made clear that they don’t care about the conflict between Jews and people of color nor about the conflict between Jews and the alt-right.

American Jews needed to hear Democratic leaders defend Israel and rebuke Trump for his attempt at using Israel as a political weapon to cloud accusations of racism against himself. Based on the lack of response from Democrats, it’s perfectly feasible to say that American Jews may very well not feel comfortable supporting either party at the moment, and rightfully so.

The writer is a rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania where he is studying polling and public policy.


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