Dems more deeply divided over Israel

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For more than half a century, American public support for Israel and its “special relationship” with the United States spanned the political divide and was a consensus issue for both parties, from the Eisenhower years through the beginning of the Obama administration. But an analysis of recent developments in the United States and Israel suggests emerging trends in both countries that are of great concern, both to the future of the American relationship with Israel and to Israeli security.

In the United States, polling earlier this year by the Pew Research Center found that, for the first time, Israel has become a partisan issue. Indeed, the study found that the partisan divide in pro-Israel sentiment is now wider than at any point since this survey of the issue began in 1978.

{mosads}While Republicans have become increasingly sympathetic towards Israel in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with 79 percent of Republicans saying that they sympathize more with Israel than Palestine, Democrats are now divided statistically quite evenly between those who sympathize more with Israel at 27 percent, those who sympathize more with Palestine at 25 percent, and those who say they sympathize with neither or both Israel and Palestine at 25 percent.

This is a profound shift from just two years ago, when a 2016 Pew study found that a 43 percent of Democrats at sympathized more with Israel. Meanwhile, nearly three times as many Republicans as Democrats have favorable impressions of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Looking beyond the numbers, we see this shift playing out within newly energized factions of the Democratic Party. While some members of the Democratic leadership like Senator Chuck Schumer remain staunchly pro-Israel, up and comers like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez have held no punches in denouncing Israel’s handling of the recent Gaza attacks, prompting the liberal Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz to refer to Ocasio Cortez as the “embodiment of the Democrats shifting away from Israel.”

It also is evident on liberal elite college campuses across the United States, including Stanford, Northwestern and the University of California, where the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, also known as the BDS movement, has gained traction among students and professors.

To be sure, the decline in pro-Israel sentiment among Democrats can be at least in part attributed to a manifestation of Democratic disapproval of President Trump, who has assumed a hawkish pro-Israel stance since assuming office, aligning himself closely with Netanyahu, transferring the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, and demonstrating a level of hostility toward the Palestinians that is unprecedented in administrations to date.

Indeed, the Pew survey this year found that nearly half of Democrats say Trump favors Israel too much, while just 21 percent believe he has struck the right balance, compared to the 65 percent of Democrats who said, in a 2010 Pew survey, that President Obama struck the right balance.

But while the Democratic Party is trending away from Israel here in the United States, in Israel, we see a polar opposite phenomenon as the country moves decidedly to the right. Netanyahu, Israel’s hawkish leader, has maintained a dominant position, notwithstanding three ongoing corruption cases in which he is being investigated. Put simply, corruption allegations notwithstanding, the Israeli left has not been able to put forward an alternative to Netanyahu that is credible.

This has been further underscored by the fact that the right-wing Likud movement that Netanyahu belongs to has been on an upswing during 2018, according to a series of public opinion polls. A July poll conducted by Israel’s Channel 2 finding that the Likud would hold 30 seats if Knesset elections were held today. This is a comfortable lead against of the centrist Yesh Atid and left-wing Zionist Union movements.

What is happening in both the United States and Israel is profoundly different from what I experienced while serving as a senior political adviser to President Clinton, as well as to former Israeli President Shimon Peres. During the Clinton administration, there was a close relationship between the Democratic administrations that wasn’t replicated during the Obama administration. In Israel, the now marginalized Labour Party provided a true counterbalance to the hawkish Likud.

By contrast, today we see the combination of the two trends with a divided United States, whose Democratic Party has taken a decided shift away from supporting Israel, and an increasingly hawkish and emboldened Israel. These trends are driving an arguably unprecedented level of polarization between key factions within the United States and Israel that could have profound policy implications, particularly if Democrats take control of the House of Representatives in November.

Douglas E. Schoen (@DouglasESchoen) served as a pollster for President Clinton. A longtime political consultant, he is also a Fox News contributor and the author of 11 books, including “Putin’s Master Plan: To Destroy Europe, Divide NATO, and Restore Russian Power and Global Influence.”

Tags America Chuck Schumer Democrats Donald Trump Israel Policy Republicans
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