I was recently standing in line at a pro-Israel event when a woman, wearing a Romney for President button, turned to me in disgust and said, “Can you believe that many of these people (Jewish supporters of Israel) continue to support Obama?”
It’s election season, when the heated rhetoric of both parties tends to melt all rational thought and make otherwise rational people highly irrational. It’s that time when you hear people say such things as “I’m moving to Canada” if so-and-so wins. Pro-Israel Jews on both sides of the political aisle are not immune from these partisan excesses. Those of us who care about maintaining strong American support for Israel, however, should be clear headed and remember that Israel needs to remain a two party issue, no matter which party or candidate is perceived to like Israel more and no matter how the election turns out. We would also do well to recognize that while there are differences between parties and among candidates, Americans of both parties remain far more sympathetic to Israel than citizens of other Western democracies.
Now that woman who stood next to me in line was not wrong, though, that the Republican Party has become more pro-Israel than the Democratic Party (yes, I do realize I’m using a traditional definition of “pro-Israel” and that loving critics of Israel can lay claim to the term as well). With the neoconservative rise to become the dominant intellectual force in Republican Party and the growth of the political influence of evangelical Christians, Republicans have doubled down on support for Israel while Democrats have allowed some slippage. There’s no use denying it. One can see and hear it in the political rhetoric coming from both parties, votes in Congress, and numerous surveys of public opinion.
But this growing disparity on Israel between the two parties is not a cause for a wholesale shift to one party. The majority of Democrats still profess and show support for Israel. Those who aggressively call on all Jews to abandon the Democratic Party are not doing Israel any favors. In fact, such a public call for a shift in party loyalty is likely to alienate Democratic support for Israel and hasten its decline. Anybody who wants the US to continue to support Israel at its current high levels should be glad Jews and other supporters of Israel are active in and voting for both parties.
It’s not hard to imagine what could happen if either party lost pro-Israel support and then gained power in both the Executive and Legislative branches of government. The more extreme, anti-Israel interests would move in and attempt to turn the party against Israel. The US could conceivably go through a reconsideration of US foreign policy in the Middle East a la former French President Charles De Gaulle and leave Israel to the wolves on the international scene. Given this danger, it’s good that there are strong pro-Israel voices in both parties.
Furthermore, precisely because the Democratic Party is more at risk on Israel than the Republican Party, it’s in our interests that a high percentage of American Jews continue to vote for Democrats and stay involved in Democratic causes.
On the other hand, it’s also in our interest that a significant percentage of the Jewish vote be at play—that there’s elasticity in our voting pattern. That way, neither party feels it can take Jewish support for granted. Just as a wholesale switch to the Republican party would not be in our interest, neither would it be to our benefit to give Democratic politicians 80% of our support regardless of their positions or record.
In other words, that some of the Jews who voted for Obama might now vote for Romney is good for support for Israel. That some stay firmly behind Obama is also in our interests. It prevents Democrats from taking us for granted and Republicans from feeling they can’t win us over. It makes both parties work harder for our vote and support.
I don’t understand why some pro-Israel Jews are so uncomfortable with the spectacle of Romney and Obama vying for Jewish support. Exhibit A is Obama’s attempt to upstage Romney’s recent trip to Israel with his signing of the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act. Such public displays of competition both strengthen our voice with both parties and remind Americans, particularly those sitting on the fence, that Israel is a two party cause.
In the next few months, we will be treated to a steady stream of talking heads on TV and radio, and numerous opinion pieces in the pages of this esteemed publication and others by pro-Israel partisans on both sides telling us why Jews who care about Israel should vote for Obama or Romney. It’s an important discussion, and will undoubtedly impact the way many of us will cast our votes or write checks.
But stepping back for a moment from the political fray, we should all thank our lucky stars that both parties care enough about Israel–and us–to offer their support.