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91 Democratic congresspeople need a little space on the special relationship

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What the openly pro-Israel Jeff Jacoby describes here ("Support for Israel runs on party lines") is not a new phenomenon although the gap between registered Democrats and Republicans when it comes to Israel has grown wider. That 91 Democrats refused to sign the recent Hoyer-Cantor letter to Secretary Clinton on the “unbreakable bond’’ and “extraordinary closeness’’ between the United States and Israel may reflect what they have heard from their constituents– whereas the most vocal Republicans are the Christian Zionist evangelicals.

This ultimately presents a problem for a party that has historically been dependent for the bulk of its funds on wealthy Jews and labor unions run by pro-Israel bureacrats. At what point will that funding either switch to Republicans or, what is more likely to happen in the case of those labor bureacrats, they will campaign only half-heartedly or worse for the party, sit on their hands? Jacoby:

The letter was polite, but there was no mistaking the implicit rebuke of the president for treating Israel so shabbily. Nor, one might think, was there any mistaking its bipartisan appeal: It was signed by 333 members of the US House, more than three-fourths of the entire membership….. 

But look at the disparity that emerges when those results are sorted by party affiliation. While support for Israel vs. the Palestinians has climbed to a stratospheric 85 percent among Republicans, the comparable figure for Democrats is an anemic 48 percent…. …And behind Israel’s “Top 5’’ favorability rating lies a gaping partisan rift: 80 percent of Republicans — but just 53 percent of Democrats — have positive feelings about the world’s only Jewish country.

Similarly, it is true that 333 US House members, a hefty bipartisan majority, endorsed the robustly pro-Israel Hoyer-Cantor letter to Clinton. But there were only seven Republicans who declined to sign the letter, compared with 91 Democrats — more than a third of the entire Democratic caucus. (Six Massachusetts Democrats were among the non-signers: John Olver, Richard Neal, John Tierney, Ed Markey, Michael Capuano, and Bill Delahunt.)

From Zogby International, meanwhile, comes still more proof of the widening gulf between the major parties on the subject of Israel. In a poll commissioned by the Arab American Institute last month, respondents were asked whether Obama should “steer a middle course’’ in the Middle East — code for not clearly supporting Israel. “There is a strong divide on this question,’’ Zogby reported, “with 73 percent of Democrats agreeing that the President should steer a middle course while only 24 percent of Republicans hold the same opinion.’’

Jeffrey Blankfort
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