(May 30, 2018 / JNS) A group of 76 Democratic U.S. Congress members has sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asking that Israel stop demolishing homes in the Palestinian village of Susya.
“These actions unilaterally change facts on the ground and jeopardize the prospects for a two-state solution,” as well as Israel’s chances of remaining a Jewish, democratic state, they wrote.
Although the two-state idea is irrelevant right now and the homes are being demolished because of security considerations—and the demolitions require the approval of the High Court of Justice—this is of no particular interest to Jewish Congresswoman Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, one of the signatories. Unsurprisingly, she has the support of the leftist group J Street, which takes an anti-Israeli stance on almost every issue, including the nuclear deal with Iran.
Despite its bias, the letter itself was not particularly disturbing, other than the fact that everyone who signed it was from the Democratic Party, which in the not-too-distant past was considered a consistent supporter of Israel. One of the main reasons for this shift—and possibly the most important one—is that U.S. President Donald Trump, who is loathed by the left, supports Israel, making it a target in the intensifying conflict between the American political camps.
Unlike in the past, when support for Israel in America was bilateral, the Trump administration’s support amid the heated relations between the two political poles have made Israel into a legitimate target for attack in the eyes of the left wing in the Democratic Party. Democratic politicians were notably absent from the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. Rather than admit that Democratic presidents, as well as Republican, had gone back on their promises to relocate the embassy, Democratic lawmakers preferred to punish Israel for Trump’s “sin” of actually living up to his commitment.
Shalom Lipner, a research fellow at the Brookings Institute in Washington, published an article last Tuesday titled “Netanyahu’s risky romance with Trump.” One of his supposed pieces of proof is the similarity of the U.S.’s and the Netanyahu government’s stances on Iran. Even though even Netanyahu’s political opponents in Israel see the issue as one of existential significance, if it’s Trump who takes action against the Iranian threat, then it is apparently out of bounds. Lipner disparages what he calls “short-term gains,” but forgets that reining in Iranian aggression is the opposite of “short-term,” and that it is obvious that Israel can breathe a sigh of relief after eight years of a U.S. president who had a negative stance towards Israel from his first day in office.
It could be that the current good relations with the Trump administration won’t last forever. There is also no way of knowing what the U.S. Congress will look like five months from now, after the 2018 midterm elections, or how the next presidential election will turn out. This is why the internal fight between the center and the populist left in the Democratic Party should be a concern, especially given that judging by some of the party primaries, the left could gain strength. Not all of them are necessarily anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian, but their traditional emotional connection to Israel is far from a sure thing.
Israel has no desire to become part of the American domestic political game, and it hopes that the Jews there will differentiate between their interests and positions as Americans and their identification with Israel. Israel’s strengthening ties with the evangelical Christian community remains a thorn in the side of many American Jews. But the evangelicals are natural partners—not because of their opinions on religion and their beliefs on the end of days, but because of their worldview on Israel. The fact that there are millions of African-American and Hispanic evangelicals is also important.
Some of the evangelical slogans are certainly not to our taste. And it is clear that evangelicals can never replace the connection that Israel—as the sole Jewish nation in the world—has with U.S. Jewry. But the practical partnership with them is a political asset that every Israeli government should foster.
Ambassador Zalman Shoval is chairman of the Friends of the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute. He served twice as Israel’s Ambassador to the United States. He was elected to the Knesset and served there for more than 10 years, originally as a member of Rafi, and later, of the Likud.