American Jews, and Israel, have long taken pride in the fact that support for the Jewish state is a bipartisan issue among political leaders in this country. Whether a Democrat or Republican was in the White House for the last three decades, Israel was viewed as a strong ally in every sense of the word.
But there are cracks in the façade of late, perhaps inevitable in an age of increasing partisanship in Washington, yet troubling nonetheless and in need of attention.
Seventy-six U.S. senators signed on to a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in recent days that reaffirmed commitment to the “unbreakable bond” and “extraordinary closeness” between Israel and the U.S., and regretted the “highly publicized tensions” between Washington and Jerusalem. It called on the administration to work out its differences with Israel “quietly, in trust and confidence, as befits longstanding strategic allies.”
Of the 24 senators who did not sign the letter, it has been noted that 20 are Democrats. Similarly, while three-quarters of the U.S. House of Representatives signed on — 333 members — 91 Democrats chose not to sign the letter, compared to seven Republicans.
It is true that some members of Congress look upon such symbolic letters as a nuisance and rarely if ever sign them, regardless of the topic. And since the letter offered a rebuke, however mild, to the Obama administration, some Democrats abstained from signing as a way of showing party loyalty, not because they don’t support Israel.
Still, the gap is significant, and there are other signs of it growing between Democrats and Republicans these days when it comes to Israel, and not just in Washington.
A Gallup poll in February found that 67 percent of Americans have positive feelings about Israel; on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 63 percent take Israel’s side as opposed to 15 percent for the Palestinians. But in terms of party breakdown, 85 percent of Republicans surveyed sided with Israel, as did 48 percent of Democrats.
These numbers may well reflect the kind of public pressure the Obama administration has put on Israel in recent months, while for the most part giving the Palestinians a pass. The impression is that Israel is delaying the peace process by refusing to put a halt to settlements, most recently in east Jerusalem, and not that the Palestinians refuse to recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, if at all.
It is difficult to make these observations in such a highly charged political atmosphere, but this is not about favoring one party or another. It’s about the obligation for our community to make its case to both parties for a strong and secure Israel, one that bases its decisions on the democratic process and out of confidence rather than vulnerability.
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