Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Forget ObamaCare--Israel Will Be A Big Issue In 2010 Elections

Support for Israel, and its implications for US foreign policy, is already emerging as an issue in the upcoming Congressional races shaping up this year. Republicans have an easier time backing Israel as part of their criticism of Obama's foreign policy in general and towards Iran in particular. Not so Democrats, who while they like to claim to be solid friends of Israel, must also deal with the increasingly vocal group among them that say pressure on Israel is the way towards peace.

That might be reflected in last month's Gallup poll:
Over the last five years, support for Israel has increased slightly among Republicans (rising from about 77% for each of the past several years to 85% today) and independents, but has stayed roughly the same among Democrats. Since 2001, however, there has been a more dramatic shift in partisan attitudes: a 25-point increase in sympathy for Israel among Republicans and an 18-point increase among independents. Even on this longer-term basis, support for Israel among Democrats has been relatively flat.
As a result of these trends, there is a noticeable difference in the way the issue of Israel is being addressed in the House and Senate races, according to Politico:

The contrast between the two parties has been most apparent in big states with large Jewish populations — among them Pennsylvania, where GOP Senate contender Pat Toomey accused Obama of hammering Israel while coddling Iran.

“It’s illogical and outrageous,” blared a recent Toomey campaign statement.

Toomey’s Democratic opponents, however, spoke in far more muted tones. Sen. Arlen Specter took to the Senate floor to call on “all parties to cool the rhetoric, avoid public recriminations, determine exactly what happened and consider some fundamental questions.”

Specter’s Democratic primary opponent, Rep. Joe Sestak, offered a diplomatic statement highlighting the need for a “stronger U.S. leadership to move us down a road map for peace and to achieve a comprehensive peaceful resolution that includes a two-state solution.”

In Florida’s Senate race, a spokesman for Republican candidate Marco Rubio told the pro-Israel publication Commentary that the White House had “sent a message that America is not as committed to Israel as it once had been.” Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek, meanwhile, put out a coolly worded statement criticizing the administration for using “undiplomatic language” with Israel.

In Illinois, where GOP Rep. Mark Kirk faces Democratic state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias for the state’s open Senate seat, Kirk took to the House floor to accuse the White House of spending “more time working to stop Iran from building nuclear bombs and less time concerned with zoning issues in Jerusalem.” Giannoulias responded by blandly stating that the “tensions of the past week should not allow us to lose sight of the strong friendship between the United States and Israel.”

In California, GOP Senate contender Carly Fiorina, who has waged an aggressive campaign to brand primary opponent Tom Campbell as anti-Israel, went so far as to accuse the White House, in a speech at the Sacramento Press Club, of adopting “hysterical rhetoric” toward Israel and called on Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer to challenge the administration on its posture toward the Jewish state.

Boxer’s office, meanwhile, confirmed to POLITICO that the California Democrat had signed onto a carefully worded, two-page bipartisan letter with Georgia GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson, asking Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to “reaffirm the unbreakable bonds that tie the United States and Israel together and diligently work to defuse current tensions.”

Appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, issued a tersely worded one-paragraph statement calling Israel’s East Jerusalem move “regrettable,” while noting that the “close bond between the United States and Israel remains unbreakable and America will continue to show unyielding support for Israel’s security.”

That Gillibrand, who represents the state with the nation’s largest Jewish population, would have treaded gingerly on the issue is a reflection of the need to account for the wide variety of views in her party on America’s relationship with Israel.
Republicans have been forever claiming that they are the better friends of Israel, and that they are slowly weaning the Jewish vote away from the Democrats--a claim Democrats have consistently mocked.

Considering how carefully Democrats are treading right now, they appear to be taking the possibility of losing the Jewish vote more seriously now.

But what is at stake is more than some sort of readjustment on the political landscape.

Jennifer Rubin writes that the growing slide towards polarization is not to Israel's benefit:
It is not a good thing for support for Israel to break down on party lines. That has not been the case historically. As noted earlier, in 1991, three founders of the Republican Jewish Coalition — Max Fisher, George Klein, and Dick Fox — penned a letter to then President George H.W. Bush strongly protesting the cutoff of loan guarantees as a lever to get (yes, nearly two decades and not much has changed) Israel to knuckle under at the bargaining table (then it was Madrid). It is the bipartisan support for Israel in Congress and in the United States at large which has been critical to the maintainence of a robust and warm alliance between the two countries. That it is fraying now, when the most critical national-security threat to both (Iran’s nuclear ambitions) looms large, is especially troubling. And that, in the statements from pro-Israel Republicans, AIPAC, the ADL, and others, is what the administration is being asked to focus on. But then, they have no solution or game plan — it seems — on Iran. So beating up on Israel passes the time and excuses, in their own mind, the inactivity on that most critical issue.
A bipartisan coalition in support of Israel, in which stated principles trump partisan loyalty and political convenience, has been the cornerstone of the U.S.-Israel relationship. We are reminded now that for a president to enthusiastically lead, rather than decimate, that coalition is essential. What’s indispensible is a U.S.president who does more than mouth platitudes about our enduring relationship with the Jewish state. What is needed is a president who does not adopt the rhetoric and the bargaining posture of  intransigent Palestinians waiting for the U.S. to deliver Israel on a platter. Can our relationship survive without such a president? We are regrettably going to find out.
And so far, things do not look promising.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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