One of the perks of being a United States senator or a member of the US Congress is travel to Israel. Last week saw a leading Republican, Lindsey Graham visit Israel and literally, right on his heels, a group of seven Democratic congresspeople, under the leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, landed at Ben-Gurion Airport.
These trips are always whirlwind. The special visitors are kept busy with meetings, briefings, often obligatory trips to the Knesset and/or Yad Vashem and sometimes, a local falafel stand. While one would think that the primary purpose politicians have for visiting Israel would be briefings about security – especially briefings on Iran and other threats in the region – that would only be partially true.
The trips are a two-way street. While foreign politicians come to show solidarity, bipartisan solidarity, with Israel, they are at the mercy of the Israeli government and their agenda items. These high-profile US politicians were treated to a barrage of “briefings” that were really arguments against signing an agreement with Iran.
It’s no secret that Israel did not like the original nuke deal. And this new, watered-down, weaker version is even more worrisome and less popular within Israeli political circles.
Democratic leadership is fully aware that under the Trump/Netanyahu nexus, mainstream Democrats were marginalized. They know that the voices of “the Squad” and people like Senator Bernie Sanders were the voices that were grabbing Israeli headlines.
With House Speaker Pelosi at the helm, this visit was essential for Democrats. It was a play for pro-Israel voters in the US that could only be accomplished by visiting Israel. It was a public pronouncement to voters that in the almost imminent, upcoming, midterm elections Dems are not represented by the Squad. And that like in the past – support for Israel is bipartisan.
DESPITE WHAT we hear from the Squad, support for Israel is still a broad-based policy of the US. Poll after poll reveals that US voters almost universally support Israel, and that they support Israel significantly more strongly than they support the Palestinians.
Look no further than this past September when the House voted to refill and reoutfit Israel with missiles for the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system that was depleted in the previous conflict with Gaza. It was a $1 billion deal.
The vote was 220-9. Only 2% of the House voted against the deal. That’s an eye-opener. Even Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, AOC as she is called, one of the leaders of the Squad and a very vocal critic of Israel who finds every chance to criticize the Jewish state, did not vote against the deal.
AOC voted “Present.” Present means I am here and I do not vote against it. Not quite a “yes,” but certainly not a “no.” The takeaway is clear – Democrats and Republicans support Israel.
After that vote, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett tweeted: “Thanks to members of the House of Representatives, Democratic and Republican alike, for the overwhelming support for Israel and the commitment to its security.
“Whoever tries to challenge this security received a convincing answer today.”
And during this visit, Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy referred to House Speaker Pelosi and said she would be remembered in history for that vote. The vote was proof-positive that Israel is more popular than it is often thought to be.
THE REAL reason for this trip, led by Pelosi, and accompanied by her dream team, had more to do with American politics than solidarity with Israel. In the absence of a strong dynamic president and with a weak vice president, Nancy Pelosi is filling the gap. She is the face of national US Democratic leadership.
Pelosi knows that most of the US voters (not unlike most Israeli voters) are middle of the road. And support for Israel runs right through the middle. Pelosi does not want to lose the pro-Israel vote to Republicans in November.
She said it outright: “The US remains ironclad, I keep using that word, in our support of Israel’s security and its regional stability.” And in the Knesset’s Chagall Hall she said it again: “We are together in the fight against terrorism posed by Iran, both in the region and also its nuclear development… The nuclear threat of Iran is a global one... Israel’s proximity to Iran is of concern to all of us.”
Pelosi also reconfirmed the commitment of the US to a two-state solution. In her words: “Our delegation is also here to reaffirm America’s commitment to a just and enduring two-state solution, one that embraces, enhances stability and security for Israel, Palestinians and their neighbors.”
Ultimately, US Democratic leadership was not just in Israel to get publicity and attend briefings. They were not just there to attract voters back home. They were also on a visit to the Jewish state to firmly emphasize that they want to move ahead with the two-state solution. It is right there in her comments.
This is the modus operandi of the US, Democrats and Republicans, alike. The US pressures and pushes. This time they were not too pushy – but the point was made.
The writer is a columnist and a social and political commentator.