The Very Model of a Modern Pro-Israel Democrat

By Richard Baehr

Israel Hayom

September 7, 2015

With all due respect to Gilbert and Sullivan, the current charade on display among Democratic U.S. Senators with regard to their announcements of support for the Iran deal presents the very model of a modern pro-Israel Democrat.

In short, the senator announces his or her support for the agreement, but admits it was a very close call and a difficult decision. The senator concedes that the deal is imperfect and less than was hoped for in many areas. The senator indicates unhappiness with the relaxation of sanctions on weapons and ballistic missiles and admits to being unhappy about Iran’s calls for death to Israel and the United States, its support for terrorist groups, and what Iran might do with all the frozen funds (perhaps as much as $150 billion) once the money is released. The senator then restates firm support for Israel, and indicates that he or she is prepared to introduce or at least vote for new measures providing weapons and aid to Israel. Of course, the senator never explains why, if the deal is good for the U.S., Israel and our Arab allies, Israel and the Arab states would need new security guarantees and offensive or defensive weapons from the U.S. as a result of the agreement.


But, in the end, the senator lets everyone know why, despite these many concerns, he or she is prepared to support the deal. Here is the argument: The senator believes the deal will shut off Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon for a few years and that alternatives short of war are not promising (renegotiating the agreement, or keeping American sanctions in place, while other countries eliminate their own). Virtually no Senate Democrat, however, will be heard mouthing some of the administration’s logic behind the deal — that Iran should have its place as a regional power, and that this kind of agreement may lead to a change in Iran’s aggressive behavior.


Despite this supposedly tortuous decision leading up to the announcement of support for the agreement, seemingly close to a 50-50 call, the senator indicates that he or she is prepared to vote as many times as necessary to make certain that deal supporters are happy — U.S. President Barack Obama, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the Iran lobby, the Iranian mullahs, J Street and the progressive activists who now control the Democratic Party. Of course with his or her decision, the senator will disappoint the two-thirds of Americans who oppose the deal (support for the agreement keeps sinking — now 28% in a recent poll), as well as Israel and the pro-Israel community in the United States.


When Obama vetoes the rejection of the agreement by both houses of Congress, the senator will vote to back the president a second time, and defend his veto on the override vote. If any senator or congressman is concerned about the Iranian threat to America, they would be well advised to read the statement made by Democratic Congressman Dan Lipinski of Illinois announcing his opposition to the Iran deal [ADD LINK: https://lipinski.house.gov/press-releases/rep-lipinski-statement-on-iran-nuclear-agreement1/]. It is shocking that there are actually a few free thinkers left in the Democratic Party.
If voting against Israel multiple times in a few days is not pro-Israel behavior, then what is? The test will presumably come the next time these senators and the House Democrats, who march in lockstep with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in backing the president, face their voters. Will all be forgiven? Will these members elicit the kind of support incumbents usually receive from the pro-Israel community for meeting minimal expectations (such as voting for the foreign aid bill or signing onto some meaningless, toothless letter)?


Obama knew that this thin gruel of an agreement would have many skeptics in Congress. Kerry also admitted this, acknowledging they did not have the two-thirds vote necessary to pass a treaty in the Senate. As a result, they went the safer route, calling the deal an executive agreement, and threw a bone to Congress by allowing the Corker/Cardin legislation, which put the two-thirds burden on deal opponents, rather than on the administration.


Journalist Caroline Glick has argued that Obama has largely succeeded in destroying the pro-Israel consensus in Congress, which, historically, has always been bipartisan. She maintains that Israel has now become an issue like abortion — Republicans go one way (support for Israel has become a litmus test), and Democrats the other way (pay lip service to Israel, but vote the wrong way on the biggest vote testing their support). This may overstate a bit where the alignment is now, though it certainly captures the trend over the last few years, and the president’s desire to recast Israel in partisan terms.


The president and his supporters helped create and cultivate J Street, a leftist group designed to peel congressional Democrats off from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Israel. When it came time to declare on the Iran nuclear agreement, AIPAC heroes such as New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, hailing from a state with one of the highest Jewish concentrations in the country, felt free to back the Obama line and stiff his pro-Israel supporters. So did Kirsten Gillibrand from New York, who tried to undercut her fellow New York Senator Chuck Schumer’s opposition to the agreement by announcing her opposition a day earlier.


Jennifer Rubin says support for the deal among ostensibly pro-Israel Democrats suggests there is no payoff for angering the leftist activists in the party, while angering pro-Israel supporters is not a great risk. The pro-Israel community cannot afford to give up and become a single party operation, so they will probably still love you in the morning as long as you vote for foreign aid and come to their conferences and maybe say a few Yiddish words to their audiences to get some chuckles from the older folks.


But the leftist activists despise Israel, and their hatred has become a cause — in colleges and universities, in newsrooms, on the campaign trail, at town meetings and in street protests. These days, being identified too closely with Israel is like being seen as a climate change skeptic, or someone who believes that “all lives matter.”


There were of course those who warned of Obama’s hostility toward Israel when he began his campaign for the White House. Some of the same Jewish organizations currently unhappy with Obama’s smash mouth tactics toward Israel and its prime minister, were in those early days unhappy that the Obama’s critics were damaging their wonderful relationship with the Illinois senator catapulting toward the White House.


What this all really suggests is that these organizations may have had some of the same fears about Obama, but thought that by playing nice they could win him over. It is not clear whether to be more disturbed by those who were completely delusional and thought Obama was really a great friend of Israel, or those who were only a bit less delusional to think they could have some influence on him if he won. In any case, great damage has been done. When you can no longer count on Cory Booker, or Congressman Jerry Nadler, or Kirsten Gillibrand, you know that self-preservation — a politician’s strongest instinct — no longer leads Democrats on a pro-Israel path. That is the path less traveled (three Senate Democrats so far!). It is far easier to march behind hacks like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and keep the Left and the president happy, Israel be damned.