The Party’s Over for Pro-Israel
By Jonathan S. Tobin
May 24, 2016
The names of those chosen to be on
the Democratic Party platform committee were
announced yesterday, and the headlines were about Bernie Sanders getting his due. Sanders
was able to name five of the 15 members of the committee with Hillary Clinton
getting six and Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz
naming four. The group will have plenty to argue about as they decide just how
far to the left they will tilt as Democrats prepare for the general election.
But it is also painfully obvious that one of the clear points of disagreement
will be about Israel and the Palestinians. Three of Sanders’ picks are
outspoken opponents of Israel. While there are some clear supporters of the
Jewish state among the others chosen, there are also others who are deeply
critical of Israel. It is not clear that such a group can possibly arrive at a
consensus and avoid a painful floor fight about how “even handed” Democrats
will claim to be about the Middle East conflict, we do know one thing, any
pretense of this being a pro-Israel party is now officially exploded.
The reports that the Sanders camp
is planning on making demands that the platform move away from the unambiguously
pro-Israel document it has put forward at past conventions were confirmed when
we learned the names of the committee members his campaign selected. They
include: Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim in Congress
and a fierce critic of Israel though he does have good relations with
Minnesota’s Jewish community; James Zogby, president of the Arab-American
Institute and someone who has fought for many years to distance the Democrats
from the Jewish state; and academic Cornel West, an
advocate for the BDS — boycott, divest, sanction — movement that
advocates for economic war on Israel in order to isolate and ultimately destroy
Among Clinton’s picks was Neera Tanden, head of the Center for American Progress think tank, who is not an opponent of Israel per se but a fierce critic of the Netanyahu government, even if her group did allow the prime minister to speak at one of their events.
Wasserman Schultz chose the
committee chair Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland as well as
Representatives Howard Berman of California, both of whom are generally
considered strong friends of Israel and Jewish philanthropist Bonnie Schaefer.
But she also chose Rep. Barbara Lee of Texas who joined those ganging up against
Israel during the time of the 2008 conflict with Hamas. As
JTA noted, the left-wing J STREET lobby has endorsed all five of the
members of the House that are on this committee.
It would be wrong to prejudge what
they will produce but suffice it to say with such a group no one should expect
their work to say anything about Jerusalem being Israel’s capital or to note
that Israel has already taken risks for peace and been repeatedly rejected.
At best, such a committee will
give the country a platform plank that will be, as Sanders intends, one that
puts democratic Israel on the same moral plane as the terror-supporting Fatah
kleptocrats of the Palestinian Authority and the Islamists of Hamas who make no
secret of their desire to eliminate the Jewish state and to commit genocide
against its people. Democrats will spin it as an approach that is pro-peace and
recognizes Israel’s right to exist alongside a Palestinian state, but it will
almost certainly disingenuously label Israel as being as much to blame for the
conflict as the terrorists seeking to destroy it.
As for the Iranian nuclear threat,
we already knew that Democrats regard support for President Obama’s policy of
appeasement of that regime. There was never any doubt about the platform
supporting a pact that ensured Iran would not only get international approval
for its nuclear program but would be able to get a bomb within a decade after it
expired since President Obama made the deal a partisan litmus test. But the
presence of Wendy Sherman — chief administration negotiator with the Iranians
as well as the architect of Bill Clinton’s failed nuclear deal with North
Korea and a Hillary Clinton choice — on the committee is an interesting touch.
All of which should leave
pro-Israel Democrats wondering where they stand in their party.
Over the last 40 years as
Republicans have switched from being the party that was ambivalent about Israel
to the one where support for it was nearly universal. At the same time, the
growing influence of the left led many Democrats to drift away from a position
of strong support for the Jewish state. During this period, pro-Israel Democrats
have taken umbrage at the effort of Republicans to use their party’s stands on
this issue to persuade Jewish voters to abandon their longtime political home.
They branded such discussions as an illegitimate attempt to turn Israel into a
political football and dismissed the notion that Democrats could no longer be
relied upon to back the Jewish state, even though the presence of opponents of
Israel grew within their ranks. Congressional Democrats' decision to choose to
back President Obama on Iran rather than to stand with the pro-Israel community
was the culmination of this process.
In that sense, the composition of
a platform committee is a minor affair that merely confirms what we all already
knew. But the point about the platform is that up until now Democrats still
cared enough about being perceived as friends of the Jewish state that they
still bothered to write a document every four years that, at least on paper,
reconfirmed their position as a pro-Israel party.
Given the number of adamant
opponents of Israel on the committee, we know there can be no plank about the
conflict that will not place the party at odds with what has been a bi-partisan
consensus on the issue. Moreover, if the Sanders forces are not satisfied with
what will already be a departure from past stands, then the Clinton camp can
have no confidence that an attempt to tilt the party even more towards the
Palestinians will fail on the convention floor. As
I noted yesterday, the spectacle of the will of the majority of the
delegates being thwarted by party officials intent on passing a pro-Israel
document won’t be repeated.
That means that although they may
find the GOP alternative to be so repulsive that it gives them no choice but to
stick with their party, pro-Israel Democrats must, if they are honest, now admit
they are no longer a clear majority within their party. Sanders and the far left
may not yet be in complete charge of the Democrats, but their influence is
undeniable and increasingly decisive.
Democrats may argue, as Sanders
does, that even-handed doesn’t mean anti-Israel. But in practice, as Sanders
illustrated this spring when he not only wrongly blasted Israeli efforts at
self-defense as “disproportionate” but also made wild, exaggerated claims of
Israeli killing civilians that show his mindset. It is one thing to be
“pro-Israel and pro-peace” as J Street claims to be or even to assert that
appeasement of Iran is in Israel’s interests. But it is quite another to have
prominent Israel-bashers and BDS advocates among those in charge of declaring
where the party stands on important issues.
The Democrats have ceased to be a
pro-Israel party and become one where Israel-haters are not only welcomed but
given honor and power. If they are honest, pro-Israel Democrats must understand
that they are on their way out in their old political home. Anyone who doesn’t
understand that’s one of the clear outcomes of the 2016 campaign is in a state