The practical and political implications of Democrats pressuring Israel
Four years ago, the Wall Street Journal published our commentary headlined, “Democrats Turn Against Israel,” in which we raised alarms about the growing number of our fellow Democrats attacking the Jewish state.
With the latest conflict in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas — and with the Democrats wielding a unified government in Washington — we are now seeing the practical impact of the Democrats’ influence on Israel in U.S. policy and politics.
During the 11-day long conflict, the Biden administration and key Democratic leaders executed a carefully calibrated effort to put increasing amounts of pressure on Israel.
Hamas — the group that rules the Gaza Strip, which is recognized as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department — fired over 4,000 rockets at Israel, and Israel retaliated with airstrikes. The death toll in Israel so far is 12 people, while at least 243 people were killed in Gaza. To be sure, this death toll discrepancy is not due to any restraint by Hamas but, rather, is a result of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.
A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was reached on Friday. But earlier last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated that an immediate ceasefire would be damaging to Israel’s efforts to stop Hamas from waging future terrorist attacks.
Initially, President Biden seemed to be taking Israel’s anti-terrorist objectives into consideration, as he was at first careful not to call for a ceasefire. However, on Monday, Biden did call for a ceasefire, though not ‘immediate.’
Yet, just one day after Biden called for a ceasefire for the first time explicitly, an Israeli spokesman said that a ceasefire would be coming within days — clear evidence of the practical, and potentially damaging, implications of the Democratic Party influencing Israel’s behavior.
Separate news reports also confirmed that Biden was much tougher in private with Netanyahu than he was publicly, consistent with the position that many Senate Democrats and House members have advocated.
Indeed, 29 Senate Democrats issued a statement last Sunday urging an immediate ceasefire, which may have seemed innocuous. However, such a premature ceasefire would have drastically harmed Israel’s efforts to prevent Hamas from waging further attacks in the future.
Concerningly, even prominent Democrats who have been strong advocates for Israel in the past — like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) — joined in on calls for an immediate ceasefire.
Along with Schumer, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) — who is considered one of the strongest supporters in Congress of the U.S.’s relationship with Israel — also spoke out harshly against Israel’s actions last week.
Ultimately, the Democratic Party’s increased pressure on Israel must be viewed through the lens of the party’s overall leftward shift. The latest criticism was largely initiated by far-left Democratic politicians — like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) — who have succeeded in pushing more prominent Democrats to embrace many of their extreme positions on a number of issues.
Sen. Sanders has repeatedly suggested cutting the nearly $4 billion in vital annual U.S. aid to Israel. Likewise, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez — along with other members of “the squad,” including Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) — are among the most vocal Democrats who have criticized Israel for its response to the rocket attacks from Hamas, and also advocated for cutting U.S. military funding to Israel.
Similarly, some Democrats have criticized Israel for “disproportionate” attacks on Gaza terrorist tunnels and terrorist commanders — yet they neglect to mention that Hamas’ founding charter called for the destruction of Israel, not simply for the creation of a Palestinian state.
Biden has thus far made it clear that he supports Israel, despite growing pressure from far-left Democrats. But how long will Biden’s steadfast support for Israel last? And practically speaking, is there any chance that the far-left’s outrageous calls to cut the $4 billion in military funds to Israel will be seriously considered?
Already, one of Biden’s top foreign policy priorities is to reenter the deeply flawed nuclear deal with Iran (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA). However, Iran has provided invaluable aid to terrorist groups like Hamas in assembling rockets used to target Israel.
Regrettably, the United States has not singled out Iran for delivering weapons to Hamas — and most likely to Hezbollah, in Lebanon — which are being used against Israel. The Biden administration must stand up to Iran and tighten sanctions, and also make it clear that any effort to restart the JCPOA would be conditioned on Iran working constructively to end the conflict between Gaza and Israel.
However, we fear that Biden — along with other prominent Democrats — may be pushed even more by the far-left to work against Israel’s interests. Further, as increased violence against Jewish Americans has swept cities across the country over the last several days, a number of Democrats—and even Jewish Democrats—have remained dishearteningly silent.
To be sure, this has both practical implications and political implications for the Democratic Party. A March Gallup poll confirms that the Democratic base sympathizes less and less with Israel. Only 43 percent of Democrats say their sympathies lie more with the Israelis, while 38 percent say the same of the Palestinians. Comparatively, 80 percent of Republicans sympathize more with the Israelis.
The Democrats’ latest actions on Israel — and their failure to stand up to Hamas and to Iran — carry negative consequences not just for Israel, but also for the Democratic Party’s political viability with Jewish voters.
While Jewish voters comprise a small sect of the overall electorate and tend to vote Democratic, small shifts toward the GOP among Jewish voters in key states that Democrats lost in 2020 — like Florida, which has a relatively high Jewish population — likely damaged Democrats in 2020, and will continue to do so in future elections.
According to the AP VoteCast 2020 national election survey, Biden won Jewish voters by a 38-point margin, 68 percent to 31 percent. However, in 2016, Clinton won Jewish voters by a 47-point margin, 71 percent to 24 percent, according to Pew Research Center 2016 exit poll data.
Ultimately, supporting Israel while standing up to Hamas and Iran is the right thing for Democrats to do — practically, morally, and even politically.
Douglas E. Schoen is a political consultant who served as an adviser to President Clinton and to the 2020 presidential campaign of Michael Bloomberg. His new book is “The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat.”
Andrew Stein is the former Democratic president of the New York City Council and founder and chairman of “Democrats for Trump.” He is the brother of The Hill’s chairman.