Divisions among Americans in Israel Reflect Those in US

Republicans, Democrats in Jewish state blast each other’s national confabs as GOP gathering enters third day.

Protesters demonstrate outside the prime minister's residence in Balfour. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Protesters demonstrate outside the prime minister's residence in Balfour.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Republican National Convention entered its third day on Wednesday amid controversy over US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s taped address from Jerusalem, with American partisans in Israel criticizing each other’s presidential nominating sessions.
Following Pompeo’s four-minute Tuesday night address to convention goers – which was recorded on the rooftop of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel during his Monday visit to the Jewish state – Democrats and former State Department officials cried foul, accusing the secretary of breaking the law and abusing his office.
The Media Line spoke with several American-Israeli political figures about the accusations, as well as about the parties’ conventions.
“The Democrats are grasping for things. Pompeo is not taking advantage of [his office] to promote the party,” Ruth Liberman, an Israel-based political consultant to public figures in Jerusalem and Washington, told The Media Line.
“I understand who pays his plane ticket and why he came to Israel. I’m not the expert who decides what’s legal and what’s not,” Liberman added, “but the fact that it’s not clear, in my mind, makes it just another thing that’s being turned into politics.”
Marc Zell, chairperson of Republicans Overseas Israel, agrees.
“The Democrats are making a mountain out of a molehill. Pompeo’s remarks were appropriate, measured and accurate,” Zell told The Media Line.
“He was very meticulous about segregating the official aspects of his visit and the political activity he engaged in by addressing the RNC in support of the administration he represents,” Zell said.
In the midst of a week-long tour of the Middle East and against the backdrop of Jerusalem’s Old City walls, Pompeo lauded US President Donald Trump’s foreign-policy record.
Noting restructured trade deals, successful attacks against Middle Eastern terrorist chiefs and negotiations with North Korea as examples of the president’s achievements, Pompeo did not forget his hosts, calling Jerusalem “the very city of God, the rightful capital of the Jewish homeland.”
Trump, who is running for a second term, moved the US Embassy to the city in 2018 after recognizing it as Israel’s capital.
The speech was widely condemned by Democrats as violating not only longstanding tradition, but the Hatch Act, which prohibits government officials from engaging in political activity.
According to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s campaign, the remarks amounted to an “abuse of taxpayer dollars” and “undermine the critical work being done by the State Department.”
Biden’s camp added that the “inherently partisan address” was the “latest instance of this administration seeking to use Israel as a political wedge issue, when the historic bipartisan support in Washington for Israel and her security should never be subordinated… for personal gain.”
Dr. Elana Sztokman, Democrats Israel Abroad’s vice chairperson for media and policy, blasted Pompeo for his convention address.
“It’s against the law. It’s illegal and unethical,” she told The Media Line.
Pompeo, Sztokman added, was “politicizing” US support for Israel.
“It puts the current work that the State Department does in Israel in danger,” she explained. “It’s an emotionally manipulative stunt that violates the law.”
Pompeo's critics also point to instructions he delivered to the staff of the State Department, published last month, in which he issued a ban on “partisan political behavior while posted... abroad, even on personal time.”
Republicans in Israel liked the speech.
“The fact that he chose to make it in Jerusalem, on his way to other Arab states in the region, says a lot about this administration’s priorities and achievements in foreign policy in the Middle East,” Zell noted.
Republicans in the Jewish state are also pleased with the party’s convention.
“I’m really happy with what I’ve seen, and proud of the party,” Liberman said.
“I think the press was looking for Trump and the Republicans to be over the top and too much. Instead, they got something responsible and understated, real leadership,” she stated. “I’m very impressed.”
Zell contrasted the GOP convention with last week’s Democratic confab, both of which were produced to be almost entirely online.
“I’m glad to see they [the Republicans] made an actual attempt to bring real people to one place, however constricted the crowds [have been] due to the coronavirus. That’s at least an improvement over the Democratic convention,” he said.