Israel and the Democrats

Chuck Schumer and other liberal fence-sitters will have their reputations stained forever if they let this Iran deal pass.

By Bret Stephens

Wall Street Journal
March 2, 2015

The Democratic Party is on the cusp of abandoning the state of Israel. That’s a shame, though less for Israel than it is for the Democrats.

The Democrats’ historic support for the Jewish state has always been what’s best about the party. The understanding not only that Jews are entitled to a state, but also that a liberal democracy is entitled to defend itself—robustly and sometimes pre-emptively—against illiberal enemies, is why the party of Harry Truman, Scoop Jackson and Daniel Patrick Moynihan commands historic respect.

But that party is evaporating. A 2014 Pew survey found that just 39% of liberal Democrats are more sympathetic to Israel than they are to the Palestinians. That compares with 77% of conservative Republicans. During last summer’s war in Gaza, Pew found liberals about as likely to blame Israel as they were to blame Hamas for the violence.

That means the GOP is now the engine, the Democrats at best a wheel, in U.S. support for Israel. The Obama administration is the kill switch. Over the weekend, a defensive White House  put out a statement noting the various ways it has supported Israel. It highlighted the 1985 U.S.-Israel free-trade agreement and a military assistance package concluded in 2007. When Barack Obama must cite the accomplishments of Ronald Reagan and  George W. Bush as evidence of his pro-Israel bona fides, you know there is a problem.

True, there is also the administration’s financial support for the Iron Dome missile-defense system, along with votes at the U.N.’s General Assembly opposing the usual anti-Israel resolutions. The administration and its congressional lemmings are nothing if not heroic when it comes to easy votes.

But this week Democrats don’t have the luxury of an easy vote. Will they boycott the Israeli prime minister’s speech? Will they insist the administration put any deal it reaches with Iran to a vote in Congress? Will they support a fresh round of sanctions, vehemently opposed by the president, if no deal is reached?

The administration is now trying to dodge all this by waging an unprecedented campaign of personal vilification against Benjamin Netanyahu (of a sort they would never dream of waging against, say, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan ), accusing him of seeking political gain for himself in the U.S. at Mr. Obama’s expense.

Yet the calendar chiefly dictating the timing of Mr. Netanyahu’s speech was set by  John Kerry , not  John Boehner , when the secretary of state decided that the U.S. and Iran would have to conclude a framework deal by the end of this month. Mr. Netanyahu is only guilty of wanting to speak to Congress before it is handed a diplomatic fait accompli that amounts to a serial betrayal of every promise Mr. Obama ever made to Israel.

Among those betrayals:

In June 2010 the administration pushed, and the U.N. Security Council adopted, Resolution 1929, which “demands” that “Iran halt all enrichment activities.” But now the administration will endorse Iran’s “right” to an industrial-scale enrichment capability—a right, incidentally, that the administration denies to South Korea.

Resolution 1929 also states that Iran is “prohibited from undertaking any activity related to ballistic missiles.” But Iran continues to manufacture and test ballistic missiles, the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei demands they be mass produced, and Iran’s top nuclear negotiator is adamant that “we are not ready to discuss this matter with any foreigner.” All of which gives the lie to weak State Department protestations that a deal will halt the ballistic missile program.

In December 2013, Mr. Obama  personally assured a pro-Israel audience in Washington that, when it came to diplomacy, “no deal is better than a bad deal.” Now unnamed administration officials are selling the line that “the alternative to not having a deal is losing inspections, and an Iran ever-closer to having the fissile material to manufacture a weapon.” In other words, virtually any deal is better than no deal.

In March 2012, Mr. Obama insisted “my policy is not containment, my policy is to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.” He has said as much on some 20 other occasions. But the deal being contemplated now, with a sunset provision that will ultimately give Iran the right to enrich in whatever quantities and to whatever levels it wants, is neither prevention nor containment.

It’s facilitation.

All of this is dreadful policy for Washington. But it is a sellout of Jerusalem, one that can’t be rectified by some additional military funding or the usual token measures by which Democrats atavistically affirm their support for Israel. Chuck Schumer and other liberal fence-sitters will have their reputations and consciences stained forever if they let this one pass.

As for Israel, at least it will be able to say that it gave fair warning to the Democrats of the historic betrayal in which they are being asked by the president to participate. In the end, everyone is accountable to history. At moments like this, it’s better to be on the side of the brave.