Has a turn left affected the Democrats’ long-standing consensus on Israel?

For the most part, declared candidates have aligned themselves with conventional Israel policy views.

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (photo credit: REUTERS)
U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – Early in the 2020 presidential race, an ever-growing field of Democratic hopefuls has begun to reflect a leftward shift in the party, competing for progressive voters on healthcare, immigration and taxes.
But has that turn left affected the Democrats’ long-standing consensus on Israel? An early survey of those running for their party’s nomination suggests not.
For the most part, declared candidates have aligned themselves with conventional Israel policy views – opposed to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, in favor of robust military aid and cooperation and supportive of a two-state solution to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians.
While they do not shy away from criticism of the Israeli government, their positions stand in contrast to an increasingly vocal wing of the party in favor of the boycott movement, opposed to aid and supportive of a one-state solution that would fundamentally undercut the project of Israel as a Jewish state. No Democratic candidate thus far holds any of these far-left views.
Cory Booker
Booker has repeatedly voted for Israel aid and also supports federal legislation that pushes back against the BDS movement – a position that took some time for Booker to reach, and to the Right of most of the field.
The New Jersey senator has deep ties to the Jewish community, including a long-standing personal relationship with Shmuley Boteach, a prominent rabbi with conservative policy views on the Jewish state. The two engaged in heated debates ahead of a critical vote on the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, and, to Boteach’s dismay, Booker ultimately chose to support the agreement.
Elizabeth Warren
The Massachusetts senator has priorities other than foreign policy, and has focused her tenure in Congress on bank regulations, social welfare, tax reform and other financial policies. But she has walked a fine line with her progressive voter base on Israel matters.
At a recent campaign event, Warren said that “Israel lives in a dangerous part of the world where there are not a lot of liberal democracies.
“We need a strong Israel there,” she added.
She opposes settlement activity as contrary to the pursuit of peace and corrosive to Israel’s democratic nature, and on free speech grounds has opposed recent legislation targeting BDS.
Bernie Sanders
Still not officially a candidate, but expected to join the race, Sanders, himself Jewish, has long been critical of the Israeli government, its military “occupation” of the West Bank and its use of force in Gaza.
He has called for a national conversation on Palestinian rights and dignity that runs parallel to, and not in contravention of, Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
While he opposes the BDS movement – and has resisted activists who have lobbied for his support – Sanders has also opposed federal legislation on the matter, citing concerns that such bills violate First Amendment protections of freedom of speech and assembly.
Kamala Harris
The junior senator from California has hinted at a conservative approach to Israel policy despite largely avoiding the topic in her short time in the Senate.
Married to a Jewish man, Harris has spoken of her personal experiences with Judaism – and even smashed a glass at her wedding ceremony in 2014. She has visited Israel with her husband and has addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Once referring to Israel as a “beautiful home to democracy and justice,” Harris has voted in favor of a Senate resolution commemorating the unification of Jerusalem and condemned the Obama administration for abstaining on a controversial settlements resolution in 2016 at the UN Security Council. She has been absent on recent legislation on BDS.
Joe Biden
During Barack Obama’s presidency, Biden, also undeclared as a candidate yet, was one of the administration’s most reliable and frequent ambassadors to the Jewish community. He would frequently tell advocacy groups of his interactions with Golda Meir and express his personal commitment to the security and vision of the Jewish state.
In his capacity as Obama’s vice president, many of Biden’s appearances with Israel advocacy groups were part of a defense strategy for the administration, amid its push for a nuclear deal with Iran vehemently opposed by Israel as well as rancorous personal relations between Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
He opposes the BDS movement and strongly supports continued military assistance to the Jewish state.
Kirsten Gillibrand
For a senator from New York, you might expect Gillibrand would take a conservative line on Israel policy. Not so. She has repeatedly broken with her fellow New York senator, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, hedging support for federal legislation she once sponsored on combating the boycott movement. She also supported the Iran nuclear agreement at the conclusion of international talks in 2015.
Gillibrand has supported a statement of US policy that it is in the national security interests of the US to maintain “defensible borders” for Israel, and to reject a return to the pre-1967 armistice lines.
Amy Klobuchar
One of the Senate’s most centrist figures, Klobuchar of Minnesota, formally announced her bid this weekend and weighed in on this issue within a matter of hours, after one of her fellow statesmen, Rep. Ilhan Omar, published a series of tweets widely interpreted as antisemitic.
“I think that Israel is our beacon of democracy,” Klobuchar said, calling the remarks antisemitic and condemning Omar. “I have been a strong supporter of Israel, and that will never change.”
Klobuchar has voted in favor of aid to the Jewish state, although she bucked AIPAC – Omar’s recent target – and backed the Iran nuclear agreement in 2015.
Beto O’Rourke
O’Rourke has yet to decide whether to run for president – he has told Oprah he’ll decide by the end of the month – but if he jumps in, his candidacy will likely light a fire under an already contested race.
The former Texas congressman has distanced himself from town hall activists seeking his support for a more aggressive stance on Israel. But in his losing campaign for a Senate seat against incumbent Ted Cruz, his vote against emergency Israel aid during the last war there provided easy fodder for Republicans. O’Rourke explained his vote by stating that he wanted a chance to read the legislation before approving it.
Mike Bloomberg
Bloomberg, another Jewish candidate, has strong ties to the Jewish and Israel advocacy communities that are virtually all based in New York, where he served as mayor.
He opposes the BDS movement and has been a strong proponent of US-Israel cooperation, signing off on a major project during his tenure that brought the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology to New York City for a collaboration with Cornell.
In 2014, during Operation Protective Edge, he protested an FAA warning against flights into Israel over incoming rocket fire by flying to Israel himself. In a press conference, he warned that such actions by the FAA hurt Israel and emboldened Hamas.
While Bloomberg has yet to announce a run, he has flirted with a centrist campaign that would challenge the newfound popularity of progressive causes.
Tulsi Gabbard
Perhaps the most unique voice yet to join the field on foreign policy, Gabbard has frequently defended the Bashar Assad regime in Syria and has also called herself a friend of Israel, addressing groups such as Christians United for Israel and calling on Iran to “come clean” in its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
She has not shied away from criticism of Israeli forces. “Israel needs to stop using live ammunition in its response to unarmed protesters in Gaza,” she wrote last year in response to clashes on the Gaza border.
Pete Buttigieg
Buttigieg, the first openly gay candidate for high office, has served only as a small-town mayor and thus has virtually no foreign policy experience. But he does have formed opinions. Asked on The View to comment on Omar’s recent comments questioning Israel’s nature as a democracy, Buttigieg rejected her characterization, while reserving the right to criticize Israeli government policies.