Nikki Haley's pandering to Jewish Republicans is bad for Israel - opinion

What Haley and so many partisans like her fail to understand is that working across party lines is the secret of Israel’s success on Capitol Hill.

Then-US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley addresses the 2017 AIPAC policy conference in Washington. (photo credit: JOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS)
Then-US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley addresses the 2017 AIPAC policy conference in Washington.
(photo credit: JOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS)

Nikki Haley is not a stupid politician. She just plays one when pandering before rich Jews.

That’s what she was doing in Las Vegas kissing up to the Adelson-funded Republican Jewish Coalition and its members by telling them bipartisanship is bad for Israel.

“I want all Democrats to support Israel,” she declared, but apparently only on her terms and issues.

She feigned outrage over how AIPAC could continue to deal with Democrats who had the audacity to support the Iran nuclear agreement, especially by inviting them to its annual policy conference. AIPAC should banish and shun all supporters of “the disastrous Iran deal,” she said. And if it were up to her, Israel shouldn’t waste any time waiting for “an American green light” to attack Iran because it “might never come.”

Another Mideast war is not her problem. If Iran and its allies launch thousands of missiles against Israel, she is confident none can reach her home in South Carolina.

Nikki Haley speaks during a news conference at U.N. headquarters in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 20, 2018 (credit: JEENAH MOON/REUTERS)Nikki Haley speaks during a news conference at U.N. headquarters in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 20, 2018 (credit: JEENAH MOON/REUTERS)

I don’t question the sincerity of her spirited defense of Israel during her two years as US envoy to the United Nations. When she resigned, one wag said it meant that Israel would be left with only one ambassador there. Jewish groups, mainly conservative, repeatedly invited and cheered her based on her UN record, none less than AIPAC.

So it is puzzling that she would attack the lobby group. Maybe it is because of her audience-of-one last weekend at the Venetian Casino in Las Vegas: Miriam Adelson, widow of Sheldon, who cut support for AIPAC because it backed the two-state solution.

Sheldon Adelson was so incensed that he even started his own competing group, the Israel American Council. The Adelsons are the largest contributors to the GOP and to the RJC. The current leader of AIPAC, Howard Kohr, is the former deputy director of the RJC’s predecessor, the National Jewish Coalition.

The disgraced former leaders of the US and Israel have been turned down by voters and are under criminal clouds while their successors try to rebuild the bipartisan foundation of US-Israel relations, one that Haley apparently thinks hasn’t been damaged enough.

She plunged ahead in undermining the consensus that has been so critical for so long to Israel’s support in America. Miriam Adelson spoke to RJC about the need to work “across the aisle” and “strive for more unity among Jews,” but the focus of her and her husband’s political giving suggests a one-sided definition of unity.

Adelson’s money has played an influential role in that destructive polarization, but the real father of the movement is Newt Gingrich. The former speaker of the House worked closely with Netanyahu – an upcoming and ambitious Israeli politician in the 1980s – and like-minded friends at AIPAC to transform the bipartisan consensus for Israel into a highly partisan wedge issue.

Gingrich understood that winning Jewish votes was a long shot – Jews still vote overwhelmingly Democratic despite all that Republican love – but it was really campaign money he was after. The Adelsons are currently the largest GOP contributors and were the biggest contributors to the previous president’s campaign.

Despite efforts by Sen. Ted Cruz to take credit last weekend for the former guy’s decision to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, well-placed White House insiders say it was a phone call from Sheldon Adelson urging the move be announced quickly.

Portraying itself as the party that loves Israel more, and with the support of the right-wing Netanyahu government, Republicans have successfully driven the wedge so deeply that support from Democratic and Jewish voters has been diminishing to the point that the new Israeli government is genuinely worried and openly trying to change course.

AIPAC took a right turn in the 1980s following Ronald Reagan’s election and aligned itself with Likud and Netanyahu. 

The organization’s lobbying continued to be bipartisan under Tom Dine, but the mindset persisted as influential forces in the group pushed to refocus attention to the “proactive” executive branch, since Reagan was so friendly, and away from the Congress, a “reactive” branch that was just a sideshow.

That proved problematic when Democratic administrations returned, and AIPAC tried to deny its Republican fealty. Democratic criticism grew louder, especially as Netanyahu veered further to the right.

One result was the growing influence of J Street, a leftist lobby that demanded Israel do more to make peace with the Palestinians. 

In their Las Vegas meeting, Republican wannabes piled it on, extolling their love for Israel and damning Democrats’ disloyalty. “President Joe Biden has turned his back on Israel,” said former vice president Mike Pence. His former boss appeared by video and modestly declared, “No president has ever been a better friend to the State of Israel.”

None of the speakers tried to explain why Jews consistently vote and donate overwhelmingly Democratic and few are ever elected on a GOP ticket. 

Haley’s and the Adelsons’ view of bipartisanship requires sharing their point of view on a range of critical Mideast issues. It doesn’t work that way. Every advocacy group understands the necessity to work across party lines, and that today’s opponents could easily be tomorrow’s allies. As Dine explained, “AIPAC would soon fail as a lobby and come crashing down if it relied on one party today and the other party tomorrow.”

No one will agree on all the issues all the time – Iran nukes and settlements are prime examples – but to demand blind obedience suggests other motives, starting with rank partisanship. What Haley and so many partisans like her fail to understand is that working across party lines is the secret of Israel’s success on Capitol Hill. Her formula is one for disaster.