Should Jews welcome the support of both Democrats and Republicans for the cause of Israel? That used to be a bedrock principle of American Jewry. But it isn’t true anymore for many on the left. Instead of seeking to promote bipartisanship on this issue, they are now doing their best to kill it on the altar of a partisan tribal culture war. It remains to be seen how successful they will be.
That’s ironic because for the past generation, Jewish Democrats have been decrying what they’ve called a Republican assault on the principle of building a bipartisan coalition to support Israel.
Their complaints were disingenuous. The GOP wasn’t arguing against the idea of having members of both major political parties join together to back the Jewish state. Reacting to the seismic shift in the way both parties regarded Israel over the last half-century, what they were doing was pointing out that a lot of Democrats were becoming increasingly unfriendly to Zionism, while Republicans had become far more supportive of it than they had been in the past.
As far as the Democrats were concerned, saying aloud something that everyone knew was true but preferred to ignore was not playing fair. They claimed that the only way to ensure bipartisan support for Israel was to treat both positive GOP attitudes towards Israel and the way Democrats were turning on it as irrelevant. That this was a formula that was leading to the disintegration of a coalition that they supposedly cared so much about didn’t matter. If treating support for Israel and its security, which involves not just voting for military aid but opposing measures that endangered it—like former President Barack Obama’s disastrous nuclear deal with Iran—was a priority for Jewish voters, then it would involve holding both the parties and lawmakers accountable for their actions and stands. That was something that Jewish Democrats simply couldn’t accept since doing so would call into question their stranglehold on the votes of American Jews.
This dispute has persisted since it first became a major issue in 2004 when Republicans highlighted former President George W. Bush’s record on Israel. It continued through the Obama presidency when Democrats either downplayed that president’s often hostile attitude towards the Jewish state or attempted to rationalize it as “tough love” aimed at “saving Israel from itself.” And it became a source of cognitive dissonance for Democrats who care about Israel when former President Donald Trump—someone they despised—recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and facilitated the Abraham Accords, actions that made him the most pro-Israel president in history.
But in 2022, the Democratic argument has shifted away from preserving bipartisan support for Israel to outright spurning it. That’s the only reasonable interpretation of a recent attack by J Street and other Jewish Democratic groups on AIPAC’s list of endorsements of candidates for Congress. As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported, Democrats are demanding that the pro-Israel lobby and everyone else shun most Republicans, no matter how ardent they are about backing Israel and opposing its foes.
Their excuse is the vote on Jan. 6, 2021, on the certification of the Electoral College vote in the 2020 presidential election. In that vote, some 147 cast largely symbolic votes against certifying Joe Biden’s victory. It wasn’t the first time members of the losing party had done this. But since protesting the certification motivated those who took part in the Capitol riot that day, Democrats have sought to label all those who opposed the certification as supporters of the so-called “insurrection”—the term they use to inflate for partisan advantage a disgraceful example of unlawful protest into the moral equivalent of an actual civil war or attempted coup d’état.
There was no proof of the kind of widespread fraud that some of Trump’s supporters alleged. But it’s true that the election was held under makeshift pandemic rules involving voting by mail that were both unprecedented and largely discarded the system’s guardrails. The mainstream media and Big Tech companies that control social media had put their thumbs on the scale in such a manner as to tilt the election towards Biden by refusing to report on stories relating to corruption within his family. That gave Republicans a legitimate reason to complain even if there’s no reason to believe that the election was actually stolen.
But for Democrats committed to the “insurrection” narrative in which Republicans are treated as enemies of democracy if not outright fascists, it’s reason enough to consider the majority of the GOP caucus that voted against certification as beyond the pale.
That’s become an issue because AIPAC, which last year formed a PAC to be able to directly aid pro-Israel candidates for Congress, endorsed 61 Republicans and 59 Democrats in its first list. Of the Republicans on the list, 37 of them voted against certifying Biden’s election.
Though the entire foundation of the bipartisan coalition always rested on the idea that politicians with very different views on other issues should be brought together on Israel, J Street and other prominent liberal Jews now say that has to be discarded in favor of a policy of treating the Republicans who joined the pro-Trump protest as pariahs, despite their stands on Israel.
At the same time, many of them are still willing to back anti-Israel Democrats.
This is deeply wrong as well as hypocritical.
The first point to be noted is that if voting against Electoral College certification is a sign that someone is a traitor and opposed to democracy, then that same label should be put on some Democrats.
In January 2017, when Congress met to certify Trump’s Electoral College victory, congressional Democrats protested the votes of nine states that voted for him, more than the total that were disputed by Republicans four years later. Among those raising objections were prominent Democrats like Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.). Their protests were based on the “big lie” of that moment—the false accusation that Trump had colluded with Russia to steal the election. But no one called them traitors. All they were doing was the same thing the GOP would do in 2021: acting like sore losers.
Yet all of them would later brand GOP members who behaved in the same manner as insurrectionists or worse. In a turnabout of epic irony that few in a biased media noted, Raskin, who is considered something of a hero by the Jewish left, led the House impeachment effort against Trump following the Jan. 6 riot.
So even if you think the Republicans were wrong to protest the 2020 vote, treating their gesture as treason or something that should cause decent people to drive them from the public square is rank hypocrisy.
Still, what is at work here is something more insidious than mere hypocrisy.
To brand Republicans who are ardent supporters Trump as ineligible for Jewish support even if they are also strong backers of Israel is to effectively say that the whole concept of bipartisanship on Israel is dead, and that ensuring its security is less important than partisan gamesmanship. That’s a sentiment that is actually shared by many Jewish Republicans who believe the Democrats’ refusal to disavow the anti-Semitic members of the left-wing “Squad,” and their acceptance of intersectional myths and critical race theory ideology by much of the left, have made the party a hostile environment for Zionist Jews.
AIPAC disagrees with both of these factions, and though there are good reasons to believe that generational and ideological trends are moving the Democrats away from Israel, AIPAC is right to do so. It may well be that Democrats are increasingly hostile to the Jewish state; however, the way to combat this disturbing trend is to get behind members of that party who are willing to stand up to “The Squad” and their pop-culture cheerleaders—something that many in the nominally pro-Israel Democratic establishment have failed to do.
Those demanding that AIPAC oppose the majority of Republicans—no matter how pro-Israel they might be because of the 2020 election issue—are doing more than merely demonstrating that Israel isn’t a priority for them. They are signally they are willing to sacrifice support for Israel entirely if it advances their partisan goals.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.
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