Speaks for the
Democrats on Israel?
By Jonathan S. Tobin
November 7, 2018
Have radicals taken over the Democratic Party? The
victories of some self-described “socialists” and other left-wing individual
candidates in some highly publicized races this year might lead you to think the
answer is “yes.”
The growing number of critics and outright opponents of
Israel among party activists has been a concern for several years. Their
increasing prominence has added to the worries of those who worry the Democrats
could be going the way of Britain’s Labor Party, which has fallen under the
control of radical anti-Zionists, as well as an open anti-Semite like their
leader Jeremy Corbyn.
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But instead of panicking at the prospect of a House of
Representatives controlled by the Democrats in 2019, those fearing for the
future of the U.S.-Israel alliance should calm down. While the next two years
promises to be one of escalating conflict between the Democrats and U.S.
President Donald Trump, Israel won’t be part of the argument. Just as
important, the election results gave far more comfort to those who wish to keep
the Democrats as part of a bipartisan pro-Israel coalition than those who want
to break it up.
Opponents of Israel will have something to celebrate in
Rashida Tlaib will become the first Palestinian-American to
serve in Congress. Tlaib, who will represent a suburban district outside of
Detroit with a large Arab-American population, is an avowed opponent of
Israel’s existence and a supporter of the BDS movement. She will find a
kindred spirit in fellow freshman Democrat Ilhan Omar, who will be first
Somali-American in Congress when she takes the oath to represent Minneapolis.
Omar is a fierce critic of Israel, who has called it an “evil” country that
has “hypnotized the world”—a standard anti-Semitic meme—and an
Both are allied with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a socialist
who will represent Queens, N.Y. Ocasio-Cortez said she wanted to end the
“occupation of Palestine,” though she didn’t seem able to say whether that
meant the West Bank or, as Palestinians define the term, all of Israel.
This trio of congressional newcomers is also allied with
the Women’s March, whose leaders combine anti-Zionism with a soft spot for
anti-Semitic hate-monger Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam.
We can expect them to unite with other Democrats to
undermine the U.S.-Israel alliance, such as the dozens who signed letters last
year championed by figures such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth
Warren (D-Mass.) calling for the lifting of the blockade of the terrorist Hamas
regime that rules Gaza.
Intersectional ideology, which falsely analogizes the
Palestinian war on Israel’s existence with the struggle for civil rights in
the United States, has become fashionable in progressive circles. But those
running the Democratic caucus are still firmly in the pro-Israel camp.
House Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)—and
the presumptive Speaker of the House next year—has been a fairly reliable
friend of Israel, though not necessarily a fan of the Netanyahu government. The
No. 2 Democrat in the House, current Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is
an even more ardent supporter of Israel who has done his best over the years to
keep left-wing members of his caucus in line with respect to the Middle East.
Some of the Democrats who will run powerful House
committees, such as Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), are not friendly to Israel.
But her leadership of the Financial Services Committee probably won’t cause
any trouble for it.
On the other hand, other veteran Democrats are in a
position to bolster the alliance.
The current ranking minority member and presumptive chair
next year of the House Foreign Affairs Committee is Rep. Eliot Engel, who
represents the Bronx, N.Y. Engel’s views about the Middle East could be fairly
described as aligning perfectly with the Likud Party in Israel. He is the last
person who would champion an attempt to reverse Trump’s policies, such as
cutting back U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority to force them to cease
The new chair of the powerful House Appropriations
committee is likely to be Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), another reliable pro-Israel
Just as important is the fact that left-wing foes of Israel
received some sharp setbacks in the midterms.
Despite the general swing towards the Democrats in
Virginia, anti-Israel propagandist Leslie Cockburn failed to win a vulnerable
Republican-held seat for the Democrats. Scott Wallace, a left-wing
philanthropist who had funded BDS causes, also failed to capitalize on
anti-Trump sentiment in his effort to flip a Republican seat to the Democrats in
the Philadelphia suburbs.
Democrats expanded their numbers throughout the country,
but those who ran as unabashed progressives, rather than as moderates in
districts and states that were not deep blue, generally failed. Indeed, while
the gubernatorial contest in Florida was more of a test of the lingering appeal
of the Trump brand, it was also one that pitted a fervent ally of Israel in Rep.
Ron DeSantis (who eked out a win) against Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who
had ties to groups that are critical of Israel.
It remains to be seen whether Democrats will conclude that
the mistake in Florida and other races was nominating left-wingers, and now look
for a presidential nominee in 2020 who is more of a moderate, rather than one
who can appeal to the anti-Israel intersectional crowd on the left. But as much
as people like Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Omar will get publicity for their cause,
the fact remains that most congressional Democrats will be counted among
Israel’s friends. Alongside a Republican caucus that is nearly unanimous in
its support for the Jewish state, it creates a political atmosphere that is
still very friendly to Israel.
The future of the Democratic Party with respect to Israel
is by no means assured as the party shifts to the left. But for the present, the
radical anti-Israel faction remains in the minority, at least as far as Congress
is concerned. It will be up to pro-Israel liberals to make sure it stays that