Democrats' demonstrable leftist turn hurts Israel and US security

Democrats' demonstrable leftist turn hurts Israel and US security
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For five decades after President Truman granted diplomatic recognition to Israel, support for the Jewish state was bipartisan in American politics and widespread among Democrats. However, the recent ascendancy of the far left movement has led to greater hostility toward Israel within the party, as progressives project an aggressive stance toward that nation.

A recent letter signed by numerous progressive lawmakers, initiated by Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and signed by Senator Bernie Sanders as well as members of the “squad” of freshman members of the House, asked for American military aid to Israel to be conditioned in response to the plan by Israel to annex parts of the West Bank.

The letter, which has been met with criticism by groups and lawmakers who support Israel, called to condition the nearly $4 billion in American military funding to Israel to make sure that taxpayers “are not supporting annexation in any way” and said that annexation of the West Bank “would lay the groundwork for Israel becoming an apartheid state.”

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Annexation is a divisive issue in both Israel and here in the United States. A recent survey by Brookings Institution found 79 percent of Democrats oppose the proposed annexation, and 56 percent of Republicans support it. While there are credible reasons to oppose annexation, this demand by Democrats in Congress to condition military aid to Israel represents the latest manifestation of the progressive sentiment against Israel.

If support to condition military aid to Israel is seen among mainstream Democrats, it would damage the party in this election year. Moreover, it would harm our relationship with the most critical American ally in the Middle East. Together with the demonstrable leftward movement of the party on issues such as defunding the police and support for unfettered immigration policy, the stance of the progressive wing toward Israel has the potential to damage the chances of Democrats winning the White House and the Senate as well as keeping their House majority.

According to a survey conducted by Pew Research Center last year, liberal Democrats are less sympathetic toward Israel with regard to the conflict with Palestine than any other party or ideology, which includes moderate Democrats. Moderate Republicans and conservative Republicans have the highest net sympathy ratings toward Israel, the survey found.

The calls to condition military aid create the opening for Republicans to denounce the diminished support from Democrats for Israel, which could bolster Republicans nationwide, hurt Democrats in the vulnerable swing districts, and undermine the chances of Democrats winning the Senate. While there are a few leading elected Democrats who support Israel, we have witnessed the ascendancy of several members who do not.

In addition to the letter, this was evident during the Democratic primary election in the 16th District of New York. Progressive newcomer Jamaal Bowman defeated Representative Eliot Engel, who has been a stalwart advocate of Israel in Congress. During the campaign, Bowman would frequently attack Engel for his unwavering support for Israel.

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In many ways, the hostility toward Israel can be attributed to Democrats increasingly associating their growing dislike of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and thereby for President Trump, with Israel as a nation. But this forces those rank and file Democrats to walk a thin line of opposing Netanyahu while working to remain outwardly in support of Israel and tempering the fringe lawmakers within the progressive wing.

Nevertheless, as I have written before, Democrats as a whole have lost the connection that existed between civil rights and support for Israel, both of which they once supported as one response to discrimination. There was once the bipartisan recognition and appreciation that support for Israel is the justifiable and logical reaction to the horrors of the Holocaust, during which six million Jews lost their lives during World War Two.

Support for Israel is not just a political issue. It is also a national security issue. Indeed, Israel has received American military aid for decades, and the alliance between the United States and Israel is critical to stability in the Middle East. As the only liberal democracy in the region, Israel served as a fortification against Soviet Union influence during the Cold War, and it continues to be vital to our national security interests.

The United States partnership with Israel is beneficial to both nations in terms of defense as well as trade and technology. The calls to condition military aid to Israel is a bad move, and it has the potential to do lasting damage to our relationship with one of our closest allies.

Douglas Schoen is a consultant who served as an adviser to President Bill Clinton and to the campaign of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. His latest book is “Collapse: A World in Crisis and the Urgency of American Leadership.”