Dennis Ross: Israel must reach out to Democrats

The progressive Jewish community and its leadership believe that Israel has given up on their support for Israel and their connection to the Jewish state.

Dennis Ross at JPost Annual Conference (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Dennis Ross at JPost Annual Conference
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Former US Middle East coordinator and diplomat Dennis Ross has emphasized the importance of Israel maintaining and improving ties with the American Democratic Party, while relations between Israel and the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress have reached new heights in recent months.
Ross’s comments to The Jerusalem Post come following the publication of the Jewish People Policy Institute’s 2018 annual report, which underlined the importance of preserving the triangular relationship between Israel, American Jewry and Washington.
Ross, who serves as a co-chairman of the JPPI board of directors, noted that given the extreme political polarization in the US between Democrats and Republicans, it is critical for Israel’s relationship to focus on security and the Middle East region, and not broader issues and values.
“Given the strong opposition by Democrats to [President Donald] Trump, Israel risks getting caught up in that conflict,” Ross told the Post.
“There will be a post-Trump US, and we’re seeing a huge gap in Democratic and Republican approval of Israel,” in reference to a Pew poll done at the beginning of 2018 showing 79% of Republicans supporting Israel, compared to just 27% of Democrats.
Because of the hyper-partisanship within the US, which has now infected the debate over Israel, Ross said that Israel needs to reach out to Democrats in an attempt to retrieve their support and make support for the Jewish state part of the American consensus once again.
“Israel risks a backlash because the Trump administration has caused such deep alienation among Democrats, so it’s very important that there is outreach by Israel to Democrats on all levels, be it national, state and municipal,” he said. “If you identify with only one party, sooner or later another party might come to power. Historically speaking, Republicans used to be tougher on Israel, so the pendulum swings.”
The JPPI report itself points out that, along with increased political partisanship in recent years in the US, particularly since Trump took office, liberals in the US who identify with the Democratic Party also find it hard to relate to the notion of a nation state with a religious identity, such as Israel.
In addition, they are also concerned about Israel’s attitude to the Palestinians, discrimination against Israel’s Arab citizens, the close connection of religion and state, and the prioritization of Jewish values above democratic values, the report says.
Ross said that it would therefore behoove Israel to reach out to the Democratic Party leadership, speak with key Democratic leaders in the US House of Representatives and Senate, but also focus on the non-national leadership.
“Meet with governors, mayors and state legislatures. There are younger people serving in such roles now, and [eventually] they will come to Washington.”
He also said that outreach should be directed particularly at ethnic minorities, which make up a large section of the Democratic voter base, including Hispanics, blacks and Asians.
The JPPI report also discussed the issue of Israel-Diaspora relations, which have suffered in recent years due to deep disappointment felt by the progressive Jewish denominations and their leadership regarding the treatment of non-Orthodox Judaism in the Jewish state, particularly regarding the Western Wall and conversion.
It noted that the progressive Jewish community and its leadership believe that Israel has given up on their support for Israel and their connection to the Jewish state, based on the perception by Israeli leaders that the liberal Jewish camp in the US is on an irreversible path of decline.
The report said that this notion is mistaken, and that the government should continue to view progressive US Jews as an important source of support for Israel, and that further integration of such groups into American life does not necessarily mean they will become apathetic about the State of Israel.
During a weekly cabinet meeting in June when JPPI presented its report to the government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu felt the need to specifically reject the notion that he is no longer interested in progressive Jewish support, in light of conjecture that he sees the support of Evangelical Christians and Orthodox Jews, who support the Republican Party, as now more significant.
“We know that non-Orthodox and progressives have some concerns,” said Netanyahu. “Contrary to popular opinion, it is not true that I am writing off liberals, Democrats and non-Orthodox Jews. We know we have a problem. The Kotel issue will be solved, and we are very close to doing it, but the conversion issue is more complicated politically.”
Ross said that the presence of the religious and haredi parties in the government made it more difficult to address the concerns of the progressive Jewish denominations, but that “the long-term well-being of the faith is a function of all the streams having a place. Everyone has to feel comfortable under this umbrella. It’s not a simple challenge for either party.”