PM Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington. (Brian Snyder/Reuters).
(photo credit: REUTERS/BRIAN SNYDER)
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in Washington began on Sunday, just weeks after an antisemitic storm cast a shadow over the US capital.
It started with Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota tweeting that political support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins,” a rap lyric referring to $100 bills – which bear a portrait of Benjamin Franklin – and clarifying that she was talking about AIPAC. The remark was rightly condemned by members of her own Democratic Party, as well as Republicans, for being an antisemitic comment on Jews caring only about money and using it to influence politicians. It came just a few weeks before another tweet in which she accused Israel supporters in Congress of dual loyalty.
Omar’s tweets led to a shameful political imbroglio in which the Democratic-majority House failed to pass a resolution dedicated to condemning antisemitism in response to Omar’s remarks. A central reason the original draft of the resolution – which gave antisemitism the attention it was due after a sitting member of Congress recycled well-worn anti-Jewish tropes – was gutted and broadened to the point that no one would know this had anything to do with Jews or Israel, is because members of the Democrats’ progressive wing rushed to defend Omar.
Then last week, several Democrat presidential candidates for the 2020 election announced that they will not be attending the AIPAC Policy Conference.
Candidates are traditionally not invited to speak at AIPAC when it’s not an election year. Had they appeared, it would have been to show support and stand in solidarity with Israel and its alliance with the United States.
Yet, senators Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke and others made their planned absence known. This came after the progressive advocacy group MoveOn called on candidates to skip the conference, because of the lobby’s opposition to the Iran deal and alleged Israeli war crimes, among other things. Few of the other issues MoveOn brought up are new this year, and yet Sanders said in 2016 that he would have gone to AIPAC if there hadn’t been a scheduling issue, and Harris attended in recent years.
If anything, the current situation indicates the growing influence of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which seems like it is increasingly hostile to Israel.
On the other hand, US President Donald Trump’s claims that the Democratic Party is “anti-Jewish” and “anti-Israel” is hardly accurate. American Jews overwhelmingly identify with Democratic politics and the great majority of Democratic elected officials are traditional supporters of Israel.
From Israel’s standpoint, it can’t turn its back on the Democratic Party and only pledge allegiance to the Republican leadership of Trump, despite recent, much-welcomed moves like his announcement that he plans to recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel.
Yes, Trump is very friendly to Israel and has a great relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But Trump won’t be president forever. Before he came into office, Netanyahu spent eight years facing off against a Democratic president with whom he had poor relations, even though the US mostly continued supporting Israel’s security during the Obama years.
We don’t know who will be the president of the United States in 2020 and such relations could return in two years or in six.
The political acrimony in the US sadly means that being identified as a Trump ally is hurting Israel more and more among progressives and Democrats.
Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, who is also attending AIPAC, should take this opportunity to try to reach out more to the American Left. This would be in line with AIPAC’s longstanding policy of working with both sides of the aisle to ensure that support for Israel does not turn into a partisan issue. That doesn’t mean rejecting Trump – the US is our greatest ally, and we need them now, as well as in the future.
And maybe Omar and her ilk are a lost cause. But Israel must find a way not to alienate greater segments of the Democratic Party and avoid being turned into a partisan football, to ensure that the alliance between Israel and the US remains strong, regardless of politics – for the good of both countries.
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