Trump’s decision to assassinate a leading Iranian official in Iraq yesterday has contributed to the split inside the Israel lobby in the United States. Republican Israel supporters celebrate the killing, and see it as destroying the hope of saving the Iran deal. Democratic Israel supporters question the decision, and some are very critical.
Thus the killing seems to have advanced a process that Israel supporters have lamented in recent years: the politicization of Israel support, which has opened up political space to critics of Israel.
Early today, Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unreserved in hailing Trump. The president acted “swiftly, forcefully and decisively” in supposed self-defense, just what Israel does, Netanyahu said. Rightwing pro-Israel organizations have also embraced the assassination. The neoconservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies sees a tremendous upside in the attack. One of its fellows, Reuel Marc Gerecht, says, “This ends any possibility of nuclear negotiations.”
But Democratic supporters of Israel have voiced mild to harsh criticisms. Even the hawkish Eliot Engel says the assassination will have “unpredictable” consequences and endanger the lives of Americans around the world. Speaking on the Senate floor, Chuck Schumer criticized the decision as thoughtless and possibly illegal, leading to a “potentially endless conflagration in the Middle East.”
Schumer went on, “The risk of a much longer military engagement in the Middle East is acute and immediate. This action may well have brought our nation closer to another endless war.”
Another Israel supporter was even more scathing. Sen. Chris van Hollen of Maryland says the attack could close “the door on the Iran deal.” In a speech on the Senate floor, he also said the attack makes Americans less safe and blames “warmongering ideologues.”
Schumer and Van Hollen have J Street at their back. The liberal Zionist organization now can say that it represents the majority of congressional Democrats (with Nancy Pelosi and Schumer appearing at its recent conference); and its statement on the killing is strong and vehement:
J Street is deeply alarmed by the Trump administration’s targeted assassination of Iran’s General Qassem Soleimani. This highly dangerous step, taken without congressional authorization, could trigger a disastrous escalation costing the lives of thousands and lead our country into a devastating new war of choice in the Middle East….
Congress must now take immediate, decisive action to prevent a new war which the American people do not want….
That statement does include the Democratic Party talking point of blaming the targeted general, Qasim Suleimani, for the deaths of hundeds, but it is emphatic in denouncing the attack.
[T]he assassination of such a senior figure is an extremely reckless step taken by an out-of-control administration that has repeatedly signaled its contempt for diplomacy and its interest in provoking an armed conflict with the Iranian regime. Carrying out a strike that is likely to be viewed as an act of war, without explicit congressional debate or authorization, shows flagrant contempt for the Constitution.
David Harris of the American Jewish Committee is enraged by the liberal Israel lobby. He tweets:
To those lambasting US action against #Soleimani, what was your alternative plan?
To allow him to continue to kill & terrorize across region—& plot against Americans?
Or maybe to dialogue w/ him about peace & coexistence?
Or to seek arbitration?
Or to pray for his redemption?
Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street responds by lauding the Iran deal, or JCPOA.
To @DavidHarrisAJC and others asking “what alternative” there was, I say world safer when Iran, US engaged in diplomacy, limiting Iran’s nuclear program and moving away from war than w/ ME on brink of war, US isolated and Iran ginning up centrifuges. Alternative clear + better.
Matt Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition also lands angrily on Ben-Ami:
whoa, what? are you seriously arguing that Soleimani started his reign of terror and destabilzation only after we pulled out of the JCPOA? That’s awfully naive. In fact he was doing it WHILE we were negotiating and after the deal was signed and in fact, aided by $150bil cash.
Ben-Ami responded that “you celebrate an extrajudicial assassination w/o Cong notice or authorization, intl support or legal authority.” He then cited a thread by Elissa Slotkin, a Democratic congresswoman from Michigan and former White House security aide to Bush and Obama and a strong supporter of Israel. Slotkin’s thread is very hawkish and deep-state, though in the end critical of the assassination given the likelihood of severe retaliation. An excerpt:
What always kept both Democratic and Republican presidents from targeting Soleimani himself was the simple question: Was the strike worth the likely retaliation, and the potential to pull us into protracted conflict?
The two administrations I worked for both determined that the ultimate ends didn’t justify the means.
Clearly some Democrats and centrist Israel supporters back the assassination. Josh Gottheimer, a new hawk in the Democratic Party, pretty much applauds the action. (As does a leading rabbi, David Wolpe of Temple Sinai in LA, who gave the benediction at the Democratic convention 8 years ago but loves what Trump did.)
The wedge here would seem to be the Iran deal. The partisan divide that emerged in 2015 inside the Israel lobby over the deal has become more bitter and partisan with Trump’s apparent willingness to do whatever Netanyahu and Sheldon Adelson want him to do, from moving the embassy to recognizing the Golan to tearing up the Iran deal.
Chuck Schumer was one of four Dem senators to vote against President Obama on the Iran deal, but has said since that he supports it as a matter of stability.
Trump took an extreme action yesterday to demolish the deal forever. In doing so, he also further undermined bipartisan support for Israel.