When it came to Israel, throughout the primary campaign and at the Democratic National Convention the new Democratic nominee for president, Hillary Clinton, did not disappoint.
Her husband, the former president, came to the convention wearing a Hebrew “Hillary” pin while she kept with at least three prior Conventions’ worth of tradition by including support for Israel in her acceptance speech (saying, “we have to enforce [the Iran nuclear deal], and keep supporting Israel’s security”).
Shortly before the Convention, Clinton’s supporters voted down a proposal to call for “an end to occupation and illegal settlements” in the party’s platform.
In her debate with Senator Bernie Sanders in New York in April, Clinton vigorously defended Israel.
And last November, Clinton promised that if elected, she would “invite the Israeli prime minister to the White House in my first month in office.”
Despite Clinton’s efforts, however, Israel has become a contested issue in the Democratic Party.
That anti-Israel language rejected by the Democratic platform drafting committee, for example, garnered a significant amount of support (the vote was 95-73).
Recall that Israel was a subject of contention in 2012 as well when language supporting Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and as an undivided city (appearing in every platform since 1976 but one), was left out of the platform. This was only remedied during a vote on the convention floor, in which the “nays” seemed to have it, but were ignored by the meeting chairman who declared the clause approved.
Surveys conducted earlier this year showed that Democratic support for Israel is lower than the national average and far lower than among Republicans. In February, Gallup found Democrats to sympathize with Israel over the Palestinians by 53 percent to 23%. A survey by the Pew Research Center in May showed worse numbers, with 47% of Democrats sympathizing with Israel and 27% with the Palestinians.
Support among Republicans in both surveys was in the upper seventies and support among Americans overall was six or seven points higher than among Democrats.
Perhaps most worrying is the fact that Sanders, after repeatedly (and falsely) accusing Israel of indiscriminately murdering thousands of Palestinians, has risen to be an integral part of the party along with the masses he has brought to the party. These Sanders supporters likely share his worldview, including his negative assumptions about Israel. At best, they are likely, as Sanders describes himself, “100 percent pro-Israel,” but only “in the sense of Israel’s right to exist.”
So despite Clinton’s efforts to keep the status quo on Israel, it is not hard to imagine that future polls will show even less Democratic support for Israel.
This is not to say that the Democratic Party will become anti-Israel in the immediate future, but it is a trend that Israel and its supporters cannot afford to ignore.
Clearly, hoping for a Republican president or relying on a Republican-controlled Congress is no solution, even if Republican support for Israel is much appreciated.
For one thing, Republicans may not take the presidency, or either house of Congress. But even if a minority of Democrats are enough for a congressional majority to support Israel, it is not in Israel’s interest for its Democratic supporters to be in a constant state of tension with the rest of their party over Israel.
Second, historically, Republican presidents have not necessarily been friendlier to Israel than Democratic presidents.
Even recent presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan criticized and pressured Israel and attempted to launch peace initiatives not sought by the Israeli government.
If a Republican president turns on Israel, many Republicans will be less outspoken in defending Israel.
Appeasing demands to withdraw from Judea (or the “West Bank”) is no solution either. Far from achieving a separation from the Palestinians or peace, this would lead to more terrorism and military conflict and generate more negative press and propaganda against Israel, just as the Gaza withdrawal has. Even if withdrawals created goodwill, nobody’s political support is worth another Islamic terrorist state or proto-state on our border.
The reality is that there is no one maneuver that can reverse the trend. But there may be various measures which might halt it. Democratic supporters of Israel should focus on bringing more centrist, pro-Israel Democrats into the party. Israel’s spokesmen, among other things, ought to employ tactics other than, “Israel wants peace, but has no partner,” which leftists view as an excuse to continue an injustice against the Palestinians. Naturally hostile politicians, epitomized by Sanders, must be engaged. We must reach out to minority groups, with whom we seldom engage on Israel, to tell them that Israel is our Emancipation Proclamation.
Israel itself must go to greater lengths to avoid any appearance of alignment with the Republican Party, such as by asking Republican supporters like former Mayor Rudy Giuliani not to claim, as he did recently, that Israel favors a specific candidate (regardless of what any ministers, Knesset members or their staff say) and to instruct officials and political operatives to be careful not to provide a hint of a reason for such a claim.
Whatever the solution, the problem must be tackled head on, before innocuous platform planks – like the current platform’s recognition that a “strong and secure Israel is vital to the United States” – become subjects of debate at future Democratic conventions.
The writer is a Likud Central Committee member and an attorney.