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Polarization offers false choices on support for Israel

Jewish Community Center, Israel, Bomb threat
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American Jewish political activists are ensnared in a political debate that’s as ugly as it is hyperbolic: are they worse off with a) President Trump, who equivocated on condemning Neo-Nazi marchers in Charlottesville or b) a Democratic Party, with markedly declining levels of support for Israel. If those are really the choices, I’ll go with c) a decent condo in Toronto.

But those aren’t the choices. The debate is a sign of the times: a polarizing exchange of sound-bytes with no real underlying analysis. 

Here’s what’s really going on.

{mosads}Yes, support for Israel among Democrats is falling. According to a January survey by the Pew Research Center, just 27 percent of Democrats sympathize more with Israel than Palestinians in the regional conflict. This is an 11 percent decline since the same question was posed in 2001.

For supporters of Israel, the trend is not only troubling, it’s one of the most consequential long-term political challenges in the relationship since 1948.

Still, there are brakes on this momentum.

First, the talking point that the House Democratic Caucus is moving towards the left, and, therefore, less supportive of Israel is just plain wrong. In fact, the upcoming midterm elections will move the caucus more towards the middle on most issues. 

Democrats have won all the “blue” districts on the map. The only path to winning the majority is to win elections in historically Republican leaning districts. And in those districts, Democratic House candidates reflect local values and sentiment. In these places, and others, House Democrats will vote to protect Medicare, health care and our alliance with Israel. 

The midterm elections will pull House Republicans further to the far right (because GOP moderates retired, were defeated in primaries, or lost to Democrats) and nudge the Democratic Caucus more to the middle.

Of course, there are those on both sides who don’t want their tribal loyalties inconvenienced by such facts. Partisan Republicans gleefully point to data that shows the left turning against Israel. Partisan Democrats try to score points on the – at last count – 5 avowed neo-Nazis, White Supremacists, or Holocaust deniers running for Congress on the Republican line.

But how are these arguments helpful to the long-time health and stability of American Jews or the relationship between the United States and Israel? Since when do we advance a cause in a race to the bottom?

I don’t agree with many decisions of Israel’s current government. I believe in a two-state solution where both populations live with enforceable security and full dignity. Then again, I’m not a citizen of Israel, so I register my policy disagreements from 5,700 miles away. As an American, I do want an end to the recklessly false binary that Republicans tolerate neo-Nazis and Democrats nurture Israel’s opponents. I want those in each political party who take cold comfort in the anti-Semitism or opposition to Israel in the opposing party to realize they do no service to Jews in America. 

Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years. He served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is a novelist whose latest book is “Big Guns.” You can follow him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael and on Facebook @RepSteveIsrael.

Tags Donald Trump Israel Israel lobby in the United States Politics of the United States Steve Israel

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