In recent days Trump and the Republican Party have done their utmost to cast the Democrats as anti-Israel. In his speech to an Israel lobby group on Saturday night, Trump said Democrats were harboring the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS). And last week when the Democratic majority in the House passed a resolution affirming the two-state solution and expressing mild criticism of the settlement project, Republicans lambasted Democrats as anti-Israel.
The Democrats are clearly worried about the charge. The party’s base is beginning to fracture on the Israel question. Polls show younger Democrats are highly supportive of the idea of conditioning aid to Israel; and three Democratic presidential candidates have said they are open to doing so. The House resolution specifically ruled out conditioning aid, saying the $3.8 billion we send Israel is “ironclad” at a “critical” moment in history, in Rep. Ted Deutch’s words.
Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey said only a “splinter” group wants to condition aid. “This vote officially puts to rest the splinter view of adding new conditions on aid to Israel and reinforces our historic commitment to restoring a two state solution.”
So Buttigieg, Sanders and Warren are a splinter? In a sign of that fracture, four first-term Democrats voted against the two-state resolution because its references to Israel’s illegal occupation had been stripped. And Rep. Betty McCollum, who wants to condition aid to Israel, voted present.
The Democratic leadership is clearly worried that the Republicans are going to use the British playbook: the Dems will be accused of harboring anti-Semitism because their base is pushing for Palestinian human rights.
What leaped out to me from the House debate was how much Democrats were bending over backwards to affirm their love of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic” state. Indeed, they were endorsing “the Zionist dream,” as one liberal Zionist lobby group wrote in celebrating the vote.
Leading the debate for the Democrats, purposely, was Rep. Eliot Engel, the firebreathing Israel supporter from the Bronx and Westchester. Engel bewailed Jews becoming “the minority in their own country.”
We cannot get to the point where Israel’s role as a Jewish and democratic state is at risk…Do you know what a one-state solution means? It means a state where Jews could become the minority in their own country. It means one Palestinian state with no determination for the Jewish people or for the Palestinians. Israel’s right to exist as a state that is both Jewish and democratic is incompatible with a one-state solution, period.
The good progressive from Illinois, Jan Schakowsky, sounded a lot like Engel– and an old segregationist — when she said in a statement that equal rights for Palestinians is a bad thing.
All Americans need to think about the alternatives to two states. There are only 2 likely options that I see. The first is an ugly, one-state nightmare in which Israel’s government tries to retain the West Bank permanently but does not grant equal rights to Palestinians. Were this to happen, Israel would actually become an ‘apartheid’ state as many wrongly accuse it of being today. The second option is to move toward one state, but with equal rights and equal votes for all. In this scenario, in short order the Jewish population would be in the minority, and Israel as a Jewish state would cease to exist. Would Israeli Jews accept that outcome? Do Palestinians really want that shared state instead of a state of their own? Is that really a state we imagine could live in peace? Every poll we have shows us that Israeli Jews and Palestinians both still prefer two states for two people. And that’s what we should help them to achieve…
Imagine for a moment Schakowsky deploring minorities taking over an American political district, and how much white people are opposed!
Schakowsky also boldly declared her Zionism as the answer to Jewish history. Her language is very generational (she’s 75). Many young Jews don’t feel that Israel is a “miracle” and source of pride:
As both a Zionist – that is, someone who believes that the Jewish people have the right to a state of their own — and a person that believes the Palestinians have rights and deserve a viable state of their own, I felt duty-bound to help facilitate the passage of this resolution….
History has proven the necessity of a Jewish State, and the Jewish State of Israel is a modern miracle and a source of pride, as well as a valued friend of the United States of America. And history has also shown that the Palestinian people are likewise linked forever to the land.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer denied the Palestinian Nakba in his statement embracing the Jewish return to their “homeland.”
Since even before its independence in 1948, Israel has sought to achieve a secure peace with its neighbors on the basis of the principle of self-determination for both the Jewish people and for the Palestinian people…. The Jewish people deserve to live in peace and security in their ancestral homeland, and Palestinians deserve the opportunity to chart their own future of peace and opportunity in a land of their own.
That statement is pure myth. The U.N. partition resolution of November 1947 calling for a Jewish state and an Arab state led directly to the creation of 750,000 Palestinian refugees due in large part to Zionists’ militant policies aimed at ethnically cleansing as much of the land as possible, well beyond the UN’s proposed boundaries, to establish a Jewish majority in the Jewish state. Palestinians call this the Nakba, or “catastrophe.” They never got the state that they were promised in that resolution.
Hoyer refused to criticize Israeli settlements and said the big problem is Palestinian “attacks” that undermine the peace process. He sanctified the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel as vital to American security: “[T]here are few alliances as critical to America’s national security, to global stability, and to our Nation’s values as the U.S.-Israel relationship. Israel and America share common values and together are committed to the principles of democracy and individual freedom.”
Engel also denied the Nakba. Notice his focus on Jews’ human rights, not Palestinians’.
The Jews accepted [U.N. Partition resolution of 1947]. And the Palestinians, the Arabs, rejected it and tried to push Israel and the Jews into the sea. It didn’t work. The war of independence happened. In 1948 Israel was declared a democracy and a nation state….
The Democratic debate was led by Engel so that Democrats could blunt the charge that Israel has become a political football.
I would caution all Members to bear in mind that before making charges in this debate about who supports Israel and who doesn’t, about who is turning this issue into a political football, there is no Member of this body who is a stronger supporter than I am of the U.S.-Israel relationship, of Israel’s right to exist and defend itself.
Josh Gottheimer also sought to marginalize Israel’s critics inside the Democratic Party. He said that the “lifesaving” assistance to Israel should never “be subject to politics.” But Gottheimer seems to recognize he has his finger in the dike:
This language is absolutely necessary because of the extreme and misguided views of some, especially several currently running for our Nation’s highest office, who seemingly believe that assistance to Israel should be held hostage until Israel makes concessions according to their beliefs, including how Israel treats Gaza, which is controlled by the foreign terrorist organization Hamas. We must stand together in rejecting that harmful view—as one Senator called it, the view of having leverage against Israel, our ally.
Republicans are trying to push the Democratic fracture. Here’s Steve Chabot of Ohio arguing that the Democratic base is for BDS.
What is really happening here is this resolution is meant to paper over a deep division within the Democratic Party between responsible voices who understand the importance of our relationship with Israel, and many of those are here today speaking, and a campus radical left that pushes BDS, welcomes anti-Semitic attacks on Israel, and believes that Israel is the problem while the Palestinians are just helpless victims.
Forceful, principled Democratic leadership would take seriously their responsibility to educate the public and clear up these misbegotten notions. Instead, they have opted to cover over this serious problem with their flawed legislation today.
Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York:
House Democrats should bring bipartisan legislation forward with teeth that will support Israel and fight the BDS movement. But rather than move forward and build on our longstanding history of bipartisan support of the U.S.-Israeli alliance, House Democrats have decided to play partisan politics with what is a powder keg.
Back to the Dems. Here’s my pet peeve. Liberal Zionists go to Palestine, see apartheid before their eyes, then come home and say nothing about it. Rep. Andy Levin of Michigan went on a J Street trip to Israel and Palestine and was enraged by what he witnessed, in early November in the West Bank:
Yesterday, I traveled to the southern West Bank, including the Palestinian village of Susya, which the Israeli government has destroyed twice and currently denies access to water.
It was simply incredible. As angry as the situation made me, the resilience of the Palestinian villagers left an even stronger impression.
Yet we watched the government utility, right before our eyes, lay in pipes right across the village’s land to deliver tap water to an illegal Israeli outpost nearby.
The Israeli press and government came down on Levin. And when he spoke up for the two-state resolution last week in Congress, he said nothing about what he had seen. No, he just talked about attacks on Israelis.
My trip left me more committed than ever to seeing, in my lifetime, a two state solution: a democratic Jewish state living in peace alongside a democratic Palestine. That is why I am here today…
Because, make no mistake, without a two-state solution, Israel’s future as a secure democratic homeland for the Jewish people will be in jeopardy. And Israelis, like the ones I visited in Netiv HaAsara, will continue to live in fear of rocket fire that gives them 8 seconds to reach a bomb shelter.
These Democrats were well whipped! Here’s Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston saying she’s been sending young people to Israel forever:
It is well known that the United States, all of my life, has been a strong supporter of Israel, rooted in shared national security interests, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
I have sent to Israel young people, through the Mickey Leland Kibbutzim program, from my district for 25 years—almost 25 years—to develop the understanding and friendship that we continue to promote for the values of what Israel stands for.
Mickey Leland was a former civil rights activist and congressman from Houston who started a program under Clinton. It sounds a lot like the Elijah Cummings program in Baltimore to send young people to Israel.