By Steve Sheffey
Democratic support for Israel remains strong. If members of Congress cast weighted votes based on how many followers they have on Twitter or on how many media hits they get, it would make sense to extrapolate from two media savvy freshmen the views of the party as a whole. But no matter how much attention they get, those two only add up to two votes. A review of key legislation brought to the floor by Democratic leadership in 2019 and enacted by the Democratic-controlled House presents a more accurate assessment:
- In February, Republicans moved to include language clearly and specifically condemning anti-Semitism in an unrelated bill. Democrats unanimously voted to include the language, and then 177 Republicans voted against the entire bill, including the anti-Semitism language. But the bill passed with 100% Democratic support and 18 Republican votes.
- In March, the House passed H. Res. 183, which again clearly and specifically condemned anti-Semitism. No Democrats voted against, but 23 Republicans did.
- In July, the House passed H.R. 1837. The bill passed unanimously (that means no Democrats opposed it) and provides for enhanced cooperation between the U.S.and Israel, security assistance for Israel (including codification of the record $38 billion Memorandum of Understanding entered into between the U.S. and Israel during the Obama administration), and justice for United States victims of Palestinian terrorism.
- In July, the House passed H.R. 1850 unanimously. This bill imposes sanctions with respect to foreign support for Palestinian terrorism.
- In July, the House passed H. Res. 246, which condemned BDS and supported a two-state solution, with support from over 90% of House Democrats. More Democrats than Republicans voted for this resolution (the Democratic majority is large because moderate Democrats replaced Republicans in toss-up and Republican leaning districts, not because a couple of left-leaning Democrats replaced other left-leaning Democrats).
- In December, the House passed H. Res. 326, which reaffirms the U.S. commitment to a two-state solution, our “ironclad” commitment to maintaining military assistance for Israel, and support for humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians. The resolution is almost a definition of what it means to be pro-Israel.Yet Republicans overwhelmingly opposed it.
Some on the far left, outside the Democratic Party, do hold anti-Israel views, as do some on the far right. But the overwhelming majority of Democratic members of Congress, which includes some who voice disagreement with particular policies of the current Israel government, remain firmly supportive of Israel’s safety and security. The votes prove it.
Every leading Democratic candidate for president supports a strong U.S-Israel relationship, supports a two-state solution, opposes the global BDS movement, and supports Israel’s right to self-defense and military and security assistance for Israel.
It is not whataboutism to maintain a sense of perspective and priority: Two out of 435 members of Congress on one side. On the other, Donald Trump, President of the United States. Let’s not play the “both sides have a problem game” when both sides have problems of markedly different magnitudes. The Democratic problem starts and ends with some outliers. The GOP problem goes straight to the top.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) wrote that for “Trump to to state that American Jews have dual loyalties is not only a disgraceful use of his platform as the leader of the free world, but it’s also an anti-Semitic attack” and that “Trump’s attempts to use Israel as a diversion tactic to drive a political wedge between Democrats and Republicans, Jews and non-Jews, is divisive, dangerous and reprehensible.” We do not have a friend in the White House.
Thirty of the 32 Jewish members of Congress are Democrats for the same reason nearly 80% of Jews vote Democratic: Only the Democratic Party is true to the values of most American Jews, which is why the Democratic Party remains the home of American Jewry. That’s not changing.
A two-state solution remains in Israel’s best interests. A two-state solution is not around the corner, but an impressive group of former Israeli military and security officials believe that “a negotiated two-state agreement is essential to preserve the kind of Israel we dedicated our lives to fighting for.”
They oppose unilateral annexation of any portion of the West Bank, including areas that likely will be included as part of Israel in a permanent status agreement, because anything that puts a two-state solution at risk is a “real threat to Israel’s security.”
Neither Trump, Netanyahu, nor Abbas seem to share these views, which is why it is important for pro-Israel advocates to distinguish between support for any particular government and support for Israel.
Working toward a two-state solution is the best defense against the Global BDS Movement. The BDS movement seeks not a return by Israel to the 1967 lines, but the destruction of Israel itself as a Jewish state. But many people, especially in the United States, support BDS under the misimpression that its goal is simply to end Israel’s control of the West Bank.
Michael Koplow explains that “most people who embrace BDS do so because they view it as the best avenue for protesting the occupation, even if the BDS movement has far more nefarious aims…the reason that BDS remains an idea relegated to the radical sidelines is because there is still a widespread belief that the occupation is a necessary security measure but a decidedly temporary one. Once the status quo is declared permanent…the current state of support for Israel will become untenable, and BDS will move from the sidelines to the front and center.”
Knesset Member Stav Shaffir wrote that the BDS “movement is anti-progressive. Instead of working to create a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the movement’s leaders unabashedly seek an end to Israel. Instead of seeking justice for Palestinians and Israelis alike, they prize one narrative over another. In doing so, they mislead most BDS supporters who do indeed want to see a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
The most recent Democratic Platform opposes “any effort to delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement” and supports a “two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiated directly by the parties.” Unfortunately, the Republican Party removed support for a two-state solution from their platform.
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Steve Sheffey is Strategy and Policy Adviser to the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) and the publisher of the weekly Chicagoland Pro-Israel Political Update. The views expressed here are his own.