The inauguration of US President- elect Donald Trump will mark the first time Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ever had a Republican to work with in the White House.
Bill Clinton was president during Netanyahu’s first term (1996 to 1999) and repeatedly pressured Israel to make dangerous concessions to Yasser Arafat.
When Netanyahu resisted, Clinton deployed his top political advisers – James Carville, Bob Shrum and Stan Greenberg – to run Ehud Barak’s campaign to oust Netanyahu.
When Netanyahu returned to office in March 2009, Barack Obama had just been inaugurated. The Illinois Democrat proceeded to skip Israel on his first visit to the region. He suggested creating “daylight” between America and Israel would help make peace. He aggressively pressured Israel to divide Jerusalem and to retreat to the indefensible pre-1967 lines. And when Netanyahu balked, Obama made Hillary Clinton his “designated yeller.”
Obama deserves credit for supporting Iron Dome and a $38 billion, 10-year military aid deal with Israel. But this hardly absolves him for cutting a naïve nuclear deal with Iran, abandoning his own red line in Syria, withdrawing all US forces from Iraq and repeatedly underestimating the Islamic State threat, all of which put Israeli security at risk.
In his final days in office, Obama doubled down on this disastrous legacy, refusing to back Israel at the UN and supporting a pointless “peace conference” in Paris that excluded Israelis and Palestinians.
For Netanyahu, Friday can’t come soon enough.
Dismissing recent moves by Obama and the French as the “final palpitations of yesterday’s world,” Netanyahu told reporters, “Tomorrow will look a lot different, and tomorrow is very close.”
The Israeli public overwhelmingly agrees. Fully 83% of Israelis say they expect Trump to be “pro-Israel,” according to a December poll.
This may prove true, but a new strategic challenge is emerging: a growing number of Democrats are turning against the Jewish state.
“There is now a 41-point gap between the shares of Republicans (74%) and Democrats (33%) who say they sympathize more with Israel,” finds a new Pew Research survey. “This is the largest party gap in views on this question in surveys dating to 1978.”
Liberal support for Israel, in particular, is cratering. In 2001, 48% of self-described liberal Democrats said they sympathized with Israel. But the latest Pew poll found that number has plummeted to just 26% today.
Such poll numbers help explain why Hillary’s advisers urged her to avoid openly discussing support for Israel during the primaries.
They help explain why Bernie Sanders refused to speak to the AIPAC Policy Conference and even accused Israel of killing “10,000 innocent civilians” in the most recent Gaza war. MK Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to Washington, called this a “blood libel.”
The real number of civilian deaths in Gaza was under 1,500. Sanders apologized, but still came close to winning the Democratic nomination.
Plummeting liberal support for Israel also helps explains how Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison is a serious contender to be the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee despite widespread criticism of his hostility toward Israel. “Keith Ellison’s record is one of overwhelming anti-Israel and antisemitic activities,” argues Mort Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America. Haim Saban, a billionaire donor to the Democrats, says Ellison is “clearly an antisemite and anti-Israel individual.”
A new survey of American voters further highlights Israel’s emerging challenges among liberal voters, as well as among Independents and Millennials.
Last week, I asked John McLaughlin, the respected American pollster, to test competing arguments in the recent dust-up over the UN vote. The results were sobering.
We asked 1,000 likely American voters: Which of the following statements is closest to your personal views about US policy toward Israel? A. I believe that President Obama was right to abstain on the recent UN Security Council vote that condemned Israel. Israel is morally wrong to build settlements in the West Bank for Israeli citizens. Israel is also wrong to build homes for Jewish citizens in east Jerusalem since that should be the capital of a Palestinian state. I hope that the US and the UN will get tougher with Israel over the next four years if the Israeli government won’t agree to a Palestinian state and refuses to retreat to the pre-1967 boundaries.
B. I believe President Obama was wrong for throwing Israel under the bus at the UN Security Council. Israel is America’s most reliable ally in the Mideast.
President Obama betrayed our ally by refusing to veto that anti-Israel resolution.
As their eternal capital, the Israelis have the right to build in any section of Jerusalem. If Palestinian leaders want Israel to stop building settlements in the West Bank, they should agree to direct talks with Israel, recognize Israel as a Jewish state and negotiate a final peace treaty once and for all. Israel needs defensible borders, and it is wrong for the UN to dictate what those are. I want the Palestinians to have freedom, dignity and security, but I also hope that the US will be more supportive of Israel over the next four years and will defend Israel against unfair political attacks by the UN and others.
While a plurality of Americans (37%) say Obama was wrong to betray Israel, a large number of Americans (29%) say Obama was right. Perhaps even more troubling: 25% say they can’t decide between the two arguments, and nearly one in 10 say they don’t care about the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
Of self-described liberals, 53% believe Obama was right to go after Israel.
Among those describing themselves as “very liberal,” 56% want Washington to get tougher on Israel.
Moreover, nearly one-in-four Independents (23%) agree with Obama’s attack on Israel. So do 33% of Catholics, and 41% of Millennials (age 18-29).
True, the Trump-Pence administration is expected to be pro-Israel. But growing numbers of liberals, Independents and young people are breaking against Israel. This is a serious strategic challenge and one Israeli leaders and American friends of the Jewish state urgently must analyze and address.
The author is a former aide to several American and Israeli leaders. He is also the author of a dozen political thrillers about the Middle East. His latest, Without Warning – about a wave of ISIS terror attacks inside the American homeland – will be released in March.
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