Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shaking hands with US President Donald Trump at the Oval Office .
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
One of the primary objectives of all governments since the establishment of the State of Israel has been to ensure that Israel and its interests remain an issue that receives bipartisan support in the United States.
For the most part, this has held up. Harry Truman, a democrat, recognized Israel in 1948. Donald Trump, a republican, moved the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018. Between the two of them there have been presidents from both sides of the aisle, and all, to different degrees have kept US support for Israel as a top priority for their administrations.
This does not mean there have not been disagreements. There have been plenty. But throughout Israel’s 70 years of statehood, she has had no better friend than the US. For the IDF, this has been evident since August 1962 when John F. Kennedy became the first American President to sell Israel a major weapon system, the Hawk anti-aircraft missile.
In the almost six decades since, the two countries have established one of the closest defense and intelligence alliances in the world. Israel receives more than $3 billion a year from the US as well as the ability to buy America’s most-advanced military platforms.
Pivotal to this relationship has been the approach crafted by AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobby based in Washington which has helped preserve continued support for Israel in Congress, the White House and throughout different US government agencies. At the core of AIPAC’s operating strategy is a principle that whatever it does, it needs to ensure that it has bipartisan support. If it decides to lobby for a specific piece of legislation, it will always work to get congressmen or senators from both parties to sign onto it.
The idea behind this is simple but of great importance: for Israel to remain a bipartisan issue in the US, legislation pertaining to the Jewish state needs to have the support from both sides of the aisle. If not, the thinking goes, in the future, when the opposite party takes over Congress or the White House, support for Israel will be in jeopardy? It, potentially, could be lost.
Despite this risk, there are some members of the pro-Israel community who advocate forfeiting the bipartisan approach and having Israel align itself solely with the Republican Party.
They mention three arguments: that the Democratic Party has anyhow walked away from Israel and taken an irreversible turn to the far Left; that the need for bipartisanship ensures that pro-Israel legislation will be watered down; and that Israel will never have a better friend than Trump and the Republican Party.
We believe that this approach is wrong. It is true that the Democratic Party seems to be turning away from Israel and it could be that there is nothing Israel can do to change that. But, politics are a pendulum. They swing one way today and tomorrow could potentially swing in the completely opposite direction. Trump, a polar opposite of Barack Obama, was elected president two years ago. In two years, it is impossible today to predict who will be elected and what will then become of support for Israel?
In addition, sometimes, in order to pass legislation in the Senate there is a need for a 60-vote majority, not a straight majority like in the House. This means that even if all of majority senators support a bill, they still need buy in from some of the opposition.
And lastly, Israel cannot count on one president and one party. While Trump has demonstrated an amazing commitment to Israel and its security since taking office, he has also indicated that he expects Israel to return the favor by making concessions to advance the peace process with the Palestinians. How will that play out? When it comes to this unpredictable president, it is impossible to know.
We are concerned with the Democratic Party and with the positions of some of the candidates running for congress ahead of the midterm elections. Turning Israel into a partisan issue though is not the solution. Working to retain bipartisan support is.
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