The Democrats are sending mixed messages to Jerusalem

On the same day that Joe Biden picked Kamala Harris as his running mate, Ilhan Omar handily won her primary battle.

US Senator Kamala Harris in Las Vegas, Nevada, June 14, 2019 (photo credit: REUTERS/MIKE SEGAR/FILE PHOTO)
US Senator Kamala Harris in Las Vegas, Nevada, June 14, 2019
The US Democratic Party sent Israel a mixed message on Tuesday.
First, the good news: Kamala Harris was selected as presumptive Democratic nominee for Joe Biden’s running mate. Harris, and not Elizabeth Warren. Harris, and not Susan Rice.
Warren is deep in the Progressive wing of the party, and said during her presidential campaign that she would consider withholding military assistance for Israel, and pointedly boycotted the AIPAC policy conference this year.
Rice is someone with whom Jerusalem had a difficult relationship when she served as Barack Obama’s national security adviser from 2013-2017 – a period of US-Israel ties that will be remembered as one of the rockiest ever.
So Jerusalem heaved a sigh of relief when Harris was selected. Like the head of the ticket, she is a Democratic moderate who understands the significance of the Israel-US alliance and Israel’s genuine security concerns.
Harris stood up to pressure during her short-lived presidential run to take a more critical position toward Israel. She came out against aid cuts to Israel and refused to join those candidates slinging insults at Israel’s government and leaders.
She is aligned with the traditional pro-Israel camp inside the Democratic Party. As a JTA article put it last year, “She’s more AIPAC than J Street,” which is very welcome news for Jerusalem. This does not mean that she supports all Israel’s policies – she has come out solidly against annexation – but it is clear that she still views Israel as the “good guys.”
And that is not something that cannot be said of Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar – which brings us to the bad news.
On the same day that Biden picked Harris as his running mate, Omar handily won her primary battle, all but ensuring that she will be reelected from her solidly Democratic Minneapolis district in November. Omar, as her tweets, rhetoric and record over the last two years have amply shown, takes a dark view not only of Israel, but also those American Jews who lobby on its behalf.
One of a group of four Progressive women of color – the “Squad” – elected into Congress in 2018, all of whom handily won primary races so far and are pretty much assured reelection, Omar has been an outspoken critic of Israel and is one of those pressing a need for the US to re-evaluate its relations with its strongest Middle East ally.
Any hope that these positions – shared by the other Squad members – were ones that could cost representatives their seats have been laid to rest. Not only did the Squad not lose any traction this primary season, but they gained at least two other members with the election of Cori Bush in Missouri and Jamaal Bowman, who both beat staunch pro-Israel congressmen: Eliot Engel in New York and Lacy Clay in Missouri.
There is a twofold message for Israel from the developments inside the Democratic Party on Tuesday. On the one hand, they show that the moderate, traditional pro-Israel wing in the party still rules – Biden’s apparent nomination and his selection of Harris are proof of this. Looking at the Democratic candidates who started this marathon run for president on the debate stage in Miami in June 2019, a Biden-Harris ticket – at least from an Israeli point of view – is probably as good as Jerusalem could have hoped for.
In addition, the party’s platform on Israel that is expected to be ratified at next week’s convention is positive, declaring that a “strong, secure and democratic Israel is vital” to US interests, committing the party to upholding the Jewish state’s “qualitative military edge,” and stating that Jerusalem should remain Israel’s capital. Biden himself stepped in to ensure that the word “occupation” would not appear in the plank.
But on the other hand, Tuesday’s victory of Omar, and the strong primary run of the Progressives prove that they are a serious and growing force inside the party, and that in today’s deeply polarized America, this wing of the party not only has staying power, but is on the ascent.
And that needs to concern Jerusalem, even if at this particular moment in time the party picked as its standard bearers two candidates with whom Israel should be able to find strong common ground.