Spirit of Israel lives in Democratic Party

Spirit of Israel lives in Democratic Party
© Getty Images

In the lead-up to and aftermath of the recent Israeli elections, many people are openly talking about the future of the U.S.-Israel relationship, and some, going a step further, are questioning the link between Jewish Americans and the Democratic Party. None more offensively than my colleague, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who took his typically bombastic rhetoric to a new and disturbing level by accusing Jews of putting party before religious values, and invoking potential anti-Semitism by some Democrats as a motivating factor.

What we are witnessing is a serious and unprecedented politicization regarding support for Israel, and as chair of the Democratic National Committee and a Jewish woman who brings her love of Israel to work in Congress every day, I am compelled to set the record straight.

ADVERTISEMENT

We have seen the right wing attempt to make support for one of our most staunch friends and allies a conservative agenda item, and in doing so, they are challenging Jewish Americans whose core values allow them to both support Israel and the Democratic Party. They spew irresponsible rhetoric in order to try to scare our community, and have mischaracterized our positions, and more importantly, our actions for political gain.

Sadly, the misguided and cynical goal of Republicans is to use distortions and fearmongering to turn Israel into a wedge issue and lure Jewish voters toward their party. They are making Israel a political issue to try to win elections. It won’t work.

That’s because the Democratic Party is the natural home of Jewish Americans. Democrats’ values are embedded in our Judaism: of recognizing injustice and striving to improve our societies, of tikkun olam, of advocating for those who have no voice.

Recent polling confirms what those in our community already know.  Sixty percent of Jews in America identify with the Democratic Party while only 29 percent identify as Republican or lean Republican. Further, the vast majority of Jews voted for President Obama in 2012.

American Jews are overwhelmingly Democrats because of our values, and yes, because of our deep connection to and support of the State of Israel.  But Democrats don’t just talk about tikkun olam, we actually practice it by working to enact policies that make the world a better place.

Jews overwhelmingly favor women’s rights, workers’ rights, and gay rights. We believe in separation of church and state.  We believe in immigration reform and providing the opportunity to others that our ancestors had when they arrived on America’s shores. And simply put, the Republican Party of today does not.

We will not be bullied or cajoled as Democrats, Jews, or Americans – there is too much at stake in our domestic politics, our enduring bilateral relationship with Israel and the long-term security of the Middle East. 

To those ends, we are proud of the way President Obama has supported Israel over his tenure – from unprecedented military and intelligence cooperation and economic collaboration to affirming Israel’s right to exist, to defend herself, and to thrive.

I have seen this support materialize firsthand from my seat on the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, where I am an active voice and vote for Israel and her people. In recent years, from foreign aid to diplomatic support to the Iron Dome defense system, U.S. support for Israel has helped save countless Israeli lives.

As in any democracy, in any vibrant democratic process, different politicians will drive home different messages – particularly in a heated campaign.  Yes, many of us were deeply concerned about some of the regrettable comments from Prime Minister Netanyahu. But having concerns about comments from a politician or the stance of a party should not indicate a loss of faith in the entire system. When I criticize a leading opposition figure of the Republican Party, I am doing just that and my actions do not make me un-American or unpatriotic.

Our fundamental support of Israel – rooted in our shared Jewish and Democratic values – will never change, and the most important thing we can do as American supporters of Israel is to keep this connection growing, bolstering the only true democracy in the region. The most important fight we can have amongst ourselves about the State of Israel is the fight to stop the politicization of Israel.

As a community, we must work with both sides of the aisle and both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to ensure that Israel will always remain a bipartisan bedrock of American foreign policy. Israel’s lasting peace and security depend on nothing less.

Wasserman Schultz represents Florida’s 23rd Congressional District and has served in the House since 2005. She sits on the Appropriations Committee and serves as the chair of the Democratic National Committee.