Our world: The hour of the pro-Israel Democrats

Israel has a case to make to liberal Democrats that is just as compelling its case to religious Christians.

US Congress. (photo credit: REUTERS)
US Congress.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It works out that President Barack Obama is a multi-tasker. Even as he and Secretary of State John Kerry have been devoting their attention to capitulating to Iran, they still managed to open a new front against Israel by buffeting the anti-Israel boycott movement.
Last week State Department spokesman John Kirby announced a radical new US policy regarding free trade with Israel that paves the way for all of Israel to be placed on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) chopping block. The announcement came against the backdrop of two recent events. 
First, the US Supreme Court overturned a law that enabled US citizens whose children are born in Israel’s capital to list Israel as the country of their birth. As far as the administration is concerned, any official acknowledgement that even West Jerusalem -- which has been under Israeli sovereignty since 1948 -- is part of Israel, is a danger to US national security.
Second, last month Obama signed the Trade Promotion Authority bill. Weeks before he signed it, both houses of Congress added a provision to the bill instructing US trade negotiators to “discourage politically motivated actions to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel,” by foreign governments. The provision relates both to “business in Israel or in Israeli controlled territories.”
As Prof. Eugene Kontorovich pointed out in a recent article in The Washington Post, Congress’s action was in line with nearly 50 years of US policy.
Kontorovich explained, “US laws have long applied the same economic treatment to all areas under Israeli jurisdiction (including Jerusalem).
For example, the pair of anti-boycott laws passed in the late 1970s treat Israeli companies the same regardless of their location in relation to the Green Line. And the US-Israel Free Trade Implementation Act, first passed in 1985, affords ‘areas under Israeli jurisdiction’ the same treatment as all ‘Israeli’ products for US trade purposes.”
This brings us back to Kirby. On June 30, days after Obama signed the law, Kirby indicated that the administration will be less than aggressive in implementing the anti-BDS provision. To justify this unlawful behavior, Kirby claimed – falsely – that the provision “runs counter to longstanding US policy towards the occupied territories, including with regard to settlement activity....”
Kirby elaborated, again nonsensically and falsely, “The US government has never defended or supported Israeli settlements and activity associated with them, and by extension, does not pursue policies or activities that would legitimize them.”
As Kontorovich noted, there is no connection between supporting settlements and defending free trade. By conflating the two, the US government is now saying that it opposes all economic activity by Jews in areas that the US does not accept as part of sovereign Israel. It doesn’t matter if the business activity is a tourist site – like the Western Wall – in east Jerusalem which Obama visited during his run for the presidency in 2008, or an industrial park in the suburbs of Jerusalem or a winery in Samaria.
Then there is western Jerusalem. Since Obama insists that the US will not recognize that west Jerusalem is part of Israel, it naturally follows that his administration will not defend Jewish economic activity in the city from foreign governments who seek to boycott Jewish businesses and other activities. Since the Knesset is located in Jerusalem, it may very well be the case that the US will not object to parliamentary boycotts of the Knesset.
Given that there is no legal distinction between west Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, since both of them have been under Israeli sovereignty since 1948, it is reasonable to view the administration’s radical (and illegal) policy toward Jewish economic activity in areas the US doesn’t consider part of Israel as a stepping stone toward legitimizing full economic warfare against all Israeli territory.
While the administration’s position is alarming, it is far from clear that Obama will be able to advance his anti-Israel economic agenda.
Obama will be out of office in 17 months. And as the unanimous passage of the anti-BDS provision in the trade law makes clear, there is no significant public to sustain it once he is gone. If Israel’s supporters in the US play their cards right, there is good reason to believe that the next president will bury many of Obama’s anti-Israel positions, regardless of his or her party affiliation. Indeed, if they are smart, there is every reason to believe the Democrats in Congress will reject Obama’s anti-Israel policies while he is still in office.
Over the past several months, reports that Democratic support for Israel has collapsed have been rampant. Last week US pollster Frank Luntz came to Israel waving the results of a survey he had conducted and proclaimed dramatically, “Israel can no longer claim to have the bipartisan support of America.”
ON THE surface, Luntz’s data seem to back his claims. Luntz polled Democratic elites. 47 percent of them said Israel is a racist country. Only 32% said Israel isn’t racist. 32% said that they would be less likely to support a politician who supports Israel.
But a closer look at his data shows that Luntz was grossly exaggerating the significance of his results. It is true that Republicans are much more supportive of Israel than Democrats are. (Only 13% of Republicans say that Israel is racist while 76% say it isn’t. And a scant 7% of Republicans would be less likely to vote for a pro-Israel politician.) But Democratic support for Israel is not collapsing.
It has remained steady for decades.
Luntz’s survey was a one-off. There is no way to judge from his data whether Democrats are abandoning Israel or not because he gave no historic context for his findings.
Gallup on the other hand has been asking Americans the same questions about Israel since 1988.
On the question of whether you support Israel more than the Palestinians, in 1988, 47% of Democrats answered yes. In February 2015, 48% said yes.
For the past 15 years, Democratic support for Israel has been steady at between 47%-55%. In February, 48% of Democrats told Gallup they supported Israel over the Palestinians. In June, 51% told Luntz they support Israel more than the Palestinians.
The only dramatic change in US support for Israel over the past 15 years has been among Republicans. Between 2000 and 2002 Republican support for Israel jumped from 53% to 77%. Today it stands at 83%.
Luntz’s findings are useful not because they show that Israel is no longer a bipartisan issue, but because they indicate that Israel is not successfully making its case to liberals. The fact that 47% of Democrats believe that Israel is racist is proof that whatever Israel is telling them is not helping matters.
Israel has a case to make to liberal Democrats that is just as compelling its case to religious Christians.
Luntz argues that Israel should highlight its support for human rights and liberal legal code. He’s right. But even more importantly, Israel should highlight the fact that Jews are the indigenous people of the Land of Israel and the Palestinians’ legal rights to sovereignty are far weaker than Israel’s.
So too, every exposition on Israel’s human rights record should be a mere prologue to a discussion of the Palestinians’ wretched human rights record and the absence of the rule of law in Palestinian- ruled areas.
This brings us back to Obama, and his abandonment of nearly 50 years of US policy on Israel, in contempt of the unanimous position of both houses of Congress, 83% of Republicans and 51% of Democrats.
Obama will be out of power in 17 months. With an utter absence of significant support for his anti-Israel policies among members of his own party, his policies can only survive his presidency if supporters of Israel surrender their party to the Israel bashers.
If the 48%-51% of Democrats who support Israel and want the US to support Israel decide to take the actions necessary to ensure that their party leaders abandon Obama’s hostile policies toward the Jewish state, their leaders will follow them.
If Democratic Israel supporters tell the Democratic lawmakers in safe Democratic districts that they will face primary challenges if they do not disavow Obama’s policies on Israel and Iran, then by 2017, Obama’s legacy on Israel will disappear.
Obama’s policies toward Israel are a radical departure from those of all his predecessors. They are out of line with the bipartisan positions of the American people. They can be defeated by his fellow Democrats while he is still president. And they can certainly be abandoned once he is gone.
The Democrats have not abandoned Israel. And now is their time to support it.