Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a lightning trip to Israel today to meet with PM Benjamin Netanyahu and his new governing partner Benny Gantz. A special visit: Israel broke its own pandemic ban on foreign visitors to allow the masked official in. And as for Pompeo, it was only his second trip abroad since the pandemic began.
NPR says Pompeo is trying to get evangelical Christians on board for the election. Though Dan Shapiro writes in Haaretz that Trump is also appealing to some Jews by pushing Israel’s annexation of the West Bank.
Annexation has no groundswell of support, and much mainstream opposition, among the U.S. public at large and in the American Jewish community. But for Trump’s evangelical and right-wing Jewish base, Israeli annexation — and the last rites it will administer to the dying two-state solution — is wildly popular.
I don’t think it’s a play for Christians. Republicans already have those Christians. On the other hand, the Republicans have something to gain by politicizing the issue: Take away Israel-loving Jews who usually vote Democratic, so as to make a play for Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, and win the presidential election, as rightwing Zionist Gil Troy said in 2016.
Democrats have a lot to lose if the issue is politicized: they are painted as the anti-Israel party and they could hemorrhage Jewish voters in those swing states, and big donors too. “In a political system addicted to funds and fundraising, Jews donate as much as 50 percent of the funds raised by Democrats and 25 percent of the funds raised by Republicans,” Troy said.
Republicans feel they can get some of those Jews by pushing on Israel. “Israel is being instrumentalized as an issue,” Seffi Kogen of the American Jewish Committee said yesterday in a Zoom webinar. He relayed some Republican messaging: “if you like Israel, the Republican Party is the place to be, and Trump is the best president for Israel.”
The argument was dismissed by a liberal Zionist. Batya Ungar-Sargon of The Forward said:
I would disagree with that. I would say, Yes, Israel is being instrumentalized, but very poorly. It has failed to become a major issue during the Democratic primary race despite every newspaper telling us that it was going to be and every leftist and every rightwing person telling us, “2020 is going to be about Israel.” 2020 is not going to be about Israel. And why isn’t it going to be about Israel? Because there’s huge consensus, Americans like Israel. You know, there’s really like nothing going on there so yes, people are trying to instrumentalize it but they’re doing a very bad job of it.
While Seth Mandel, a conservative with the Washington Examiner, said politicization is a good thing: Politicians really ought to openly discuss issues of foreign policy.
These are political issues… You have to let people into the debate… Instead of saying so and so is politicizing support for Israel we can say, Well, yeah the president of the United States runs American foreign policy. And Israel is American foreign policy so… let’s talk about the issue, let’s talk about whether he’s right or wrong. I think it’s a copout to say that something is being politicized….
Ungar-Sargon’s difference with Mandel reflects the fact that establishment Democrats are terrified of the issue becoming politicized. It can only fracture the uneasy alliance in the party’s base, between establishment AIPAC types and anti-Zionist progressives, with the potential to alienate major donors such as Haim Saban if the views of Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib gain traction.
Republicans notice the fracture and want to drive it. Like Trump saying that Jews who vote Democratic are disloyal to Israel. Crazy like a fox.
The playbook here is the 1980 election, when Jimmy Carter’s vocal opposition to Israeli settlements cost him dearly. Ronald Reagan won the election with 40 percent of the Jewish vote and Carter got only 45 percent (while John Anderson got the rest). Democratic presidential candidates typically poll 75 to 80 percent of American Jews.
J Street is working hard keep pro-Israel Democrats in the fold, and keep Israel a bipartisan concern, by seeking to triangulate pro-Israel AIPAC types with more critical political actors. It has pushed a letter calling for some Israel-critical language in the Democratic platform to reflect the “consensus” of the Democratic Party, as Jeremy Ben-Ami says. I don’t know if that consensus actually exists. But J Street doesn’t want division among Democrats; doesn’t want Republicans to be able to politicize the issue. The AIPAC-like group Democratic Majority 4 Israel says there is merely an “anti-Israel fringe,” that it wants to keep marginalized.
Of course the left has an interest in politicization. Finally we can get politicians to express their views about human rights in Palestine. Some rightwingers are with us. Bari Weiss of the New York Times was frank about the politicization.
[The term Trump curious] describes my dad and a lot of other Jews that I know. It’s a very real thing. We are talking about Israel, and in certain ways Trump has enacted policies that have been the fantasy of many conservative Jewish pro-Israel supporters, and there’s no way around that.