Veteran Democrats launch group to shore up progressive support for Israel

The pro-Israel group seeks to assert the the Democrat's “majority pro-Israel” stance, just as some of the most vocal of the party's new lawmakers have criticized the Jewish State.

A man wears a kippah with the Obama campaign symbol (photo credit: AP)
A man wears a kippah with the Obama campaign symbol
(photo credit: AP)
WASHINGTON – Senior Democratic advisers with decades of experience in Washington launched a group on Monday designed to maintain the party’s historic support for Israel, amid concern that its progressive wing has grown increasingly hostile to the Jewish state.
Mark Mellman, a veteran pollster who closely tracks US attitudes on Israel and voter priorities within the American Jewish community, will serve as CEO of the new organization, called the Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI), according to a statement from the group.
The group will “focus its education and advocacy efforts first around the 2020 presidential and congressional elections,” it said. “The organization will engage with grassroots activists, elected officials and Democratic candidates who promote progressive values, to advocate for continued support of a strong US-Israel alliance based on shared values and shared interests.”
The goal of the group will be to assert the party’s “majority pro-Israel” stance, just as some of the loudest Democratic freshmen lawmakers on Capitol Hill express a desire to break from Washington’s traditional thinking on Israel policy.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries both welcomed the formation of the group, in a sign of the leadership’s interest in preserving Democratic support for the state.
“Democrats understand a strong US-Israel relationship is vital for our country and a key element of our party’s agenda,” said Hoyer of Maryland. “Knowing the leadership of Democratic Majority for Israel, I’m confident they will play a central role in ensuring our party remains steadfast in its support for our ally and fellow democracy, Israel.”
Pew Research polling has found an increase in hostility to Israel within the Democratic Party, but a historic overview of its data shows that support for the Jewish state has ebbed and flowed over time.
One Pew poll on the matter released last year found that Republicans are more sympathetic than ever towards Israel, but that Democrats are increasingly divided, now equally likely to support the Palestinian cause.
Overall, 79% of Republicans sympathize with Israel in the survey compared to only 27% of Democrats, according to that Pew report.
Americans who are more favorably inclined to Israel are less likely to believe a two-state solution is possible than those inclined to the Palestinians. And belief in the possibility of peace is correlated with age: the younger you are, the more hopeful you are likely to be that an agreement can be reached.
Among those joining the board of DMFI are Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and former adviser to Bill Clinton; Ann Lewis, also from the Clinton administration; and Mark Gerstein, Cliff Chenfeld, Anton Gunn, Meghan Stabler and Sam Lauter, among others.
“The Democratic Party has a long and strong track record of support for Israel,” Mellman said. “Our mission at Democratic Majority for Israel is to strengthen the pro-Israel tradition of the Democratic Party, fight for Democratic values and work within the progressive movement to advance policies that ensure a strong US-Israel relationship.”
Another Democratic group that more broadly represents Jewish Democrats – on Israel matters as well as other policy concerns – welcomed Mellman’s efforts.
The Jewish Democratic Council of America “welcomes the establishment of the Democratic Majority for Israel,” the group said in a statement on Tuesday. “While our mission is distinct from DMFI’s, we welcome additional pro-Israel voices and look forward to working with DMFI to elect Democrats in 2020.”