Just as the upcoming Israeli election has shined a spotlight on the growing rift between segments of American and Israeli Jewry, the 2020 US presidential election has highlighted the profound differences between some progressive and many mainstream Democratic members, especially those who see the Middle East as an essential American interest, and the security of Israel as a primary concern.
If you thought the divisive battle between Republicans and Democrats over the JCPOA (Iran nuclear agreement) was over, think again. They are about to go at it again over Obama’s foreign policy legacy – concluded in 2015, and withdrawn by Trump three years later.
According to Al Monitor, “Re-entry into the nuclear deal with Iran is fast becoming a litmus test for Democrats” in 2020. “No fewer than five declared candidates said they would rejoin the deal without preconditions.”
Where will Democrats who voted against the JCPOA stand, going forward? Will they be cowed by the rising anti-Israel base into choices of political expediency? Remember, in 2015, only 42 senators were in favor of the Iran deal, which was never ratified by the Senate as a treaty.
Since politics is going to force us to consider the merits and failings of the JCPOA again, its time for a refresher course in what makes it so contentious.
• Despite president Obama’s assurances that the JCPOA would only be about Iran’s nuclear aspirations – while sanctions for Iran’s missiles development, human rights abuses, and its state support of terrorism would be pursued independent of the nuclear deal – the administration chose not to pursue any new sanctions or hold Tehran accountable for its continued malevolent behavior, especially as the primary patron of the genocidal regime in Syria.
• The JCPOA outsourced compliance of the deal to the IAEA without any American inspectors – who unsurprisingly, never inspected a single Iranian military base, which is of course where the Iranian military performs its R&D for nuclear weapons.
• Despite assurances that the JCPOA would end Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons, the deal’s restrictions sunset over the next one to 15 years, literally guaranteeing that Iran can become a nuclear power with international legitimacy at any time of its choosing.
• The deal actually allows Iran to continue advanced centrifuge research that even now could process enough uranium for a nuclear weapon in less than a year.
Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, speaking in favor of the JCPOA, said the deal would be a “denuclearization of Iran,” while fellow democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s spokesperson said that the JCPOA was necessary “to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” These characterizations of the agreement were and are just plain false.
The other great divide between some progressive and pro-Israel Democrats revolves around the disputed Jewish communities in Area C, where 100% of Jews on the West Bank live, while 90% of Palestinian Arabs have lived in Areas A and B under Palestinian Authority control for 25 years.
THIS YEAR’S AIPAC convention faces the growing divide between the traditional pro-Israel Democratic base, which is still in the majority, and its growing anti-Israel wing, whose vocal opinions on Israel range from legitimate criticism to unapologetic BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) advocates, who challenge Israel’s very right to exist.
According to an editorial in the now-defunct New York Sun, “On Israel, the party leadership – Speaker Pelosi, Senator Schumer, the Clintons, Vice President Biden – have become trapped like deer in the headlights of the rising left-wing factions.”
Yet progressives like Mayor Bill de Blasio didn’t heed the calls of progressive groups like IfNotNow, which wants to destroy the highly popular Birthright trips for millennial Jews.
Anti-Israel animus would be a little less disgraceful if the same people also called for boycotts against the world’s true human rights abusers – Iran, China, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the Palestinian Authority – but instead focus exclusively on Israel, revealing something more sinister.
Many progressive members see any Israeli settlement over the Green Line as illegal. President Obama, just as he was leaving office, abstained from voting on one of the long list of anti-Israel UN resolutions, UNSC Resolution 2334, insinuating that he didn’t object to the proposition that any Jewish presence over the 1949 Armistice line is illegal, including the Western Wall – which the PA claims has no Jewish roots.
A non-politicized reading of international law, which usually doesn’t see the light of day in our hyper-polarized climate, gives Israel a strong claim to legal rights over the Green Line. UNSC Resolution 242 made clear that Israel was never supposed to return to its indefensible ‘67 lines, as the territory was acquired in defensive wars, without a legal stakeholder.
Prof. Ruth Lapidoth, an expert in international law, said that the “legislative history [of Res. 242] calling for the complete withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from all the territories occupied in 1967 was rejected.”
Many members of the Progressive Caucus choose to ignore that Israel has offered multiple times between 92% and 100% of the disputed territory to the Palestinians with land swaps. This was never accepted for the simple reason that most Palestinians think Israel has no right to exist in any entity as a non-indigenous people, while the PA never prepared its people for the hard choices for peace. It has chosen the path of all authoritarian regimes, scapegoating to deflect attention away from its own incompetence and corruption.
J Street, a Jewish progressive organization along with anti-Israel organizations like Code Pink and MoveOn, took on the centrist AIPAC pro-Israel organization, demanding that Democratic candidates not share a stage on which Netanyahu stood. It is one thing to profoundly disagree with his views, but the condemnation bordered on delegitimization of him, as the democratically elected leader of an ally, not a disagreement with his policies.
It is not too late to stem the tide. Going forward toward 2020, Democratic candidates who previously supported Israel need to step up and say unequivocally that Israel’s right to exist is not up for discussion – and that America not only shares values with Israel, but American interests require a strong and secure Israel.
The writer is director of MEPIN™ (Middle East Political and Information Network™), and a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post. MEPIN™ does Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, MKs, journalists and organizational leaders.