In what has become a disturbing shift over the last 12 years, the Democratic party has moved away from supporting the State of Israel. Not only have they moved away from their support for the one and only Jewish state, but they have started to embrace some of the most radical anti-Israel (anti-Semitic) policy proposals, that until recently, were on the fringes of the American political system. This political shift has produced a number of anti-Semitic lawmakers (Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez etc.). The Democratic primary is going to be a battle for the soul of the party. On one side, you have the old guard Democrats. On the other side, you have the new progressive Democrats. The choice the Democratic voters make in 2020 will tell pro-Israel Democratic voters whether they are still welcome in their party.
The Democratic Party used to hold claim to the pro-Israel mantle. It was under President Harry Truman (a Democrat) that the State of Israel was recognized. In 2008, Barack Obama, speaking in front of AIPAC, declared that he would move the US embassy to Jerusalem. Needless to say, this was an empty promise.
The top tier of Democratic candidates consists of, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris. All of these candidates support a two-state solution, with a divided Jerusalem and a vacating of significant sections of Judea and Samaria by Jewish residents in those areas.
Let’s review the candidates one by one.
Joe Biden has a mixed record on Israel. He doesn’t support the expansion or annexation of Judea and Samaria. During his tenure as Vice President he supported the signing of the JCPOA. That deal potentially hands Iran nuclear capabilities within 10 years. The former Vice President did not speak up when President Obama had his U.N. Ambassador and confidant, Samantha Power abstain from a vote at the U.N. which condemned Israel (a few days before they both left office). Biden supports military aid to Israel. He calls Israel our greatest ally in the Middle East. He opposes BDS, and believes Israel has the right to defend itself. He will claim that he has stood by Israel, but unfortunately, that isn’t true. Biden has been a fair-weather friend to Israel and we should expect nothing more of him if he becomes President.
Bernie Sanders has a long, negative record on Israel. He voted against a resolution that stated Israel has the right to defend itself from the barrage of rockets coming from Gaza in 2014. Sanders supports the Iran nuclear deal, and has called for normalizing ties with Iran. He has repeatedly leapt to the defense Ilhan Omar each time she has unleashed an anti-Semitic rant. Sanders is on the record stating that he would cut military funding to Israel and give that money to the Palestinians. In short, Bernie Sanders is a self-hating Jew who exploits his Jewish identity when it is convenient for him. He would be a very dangerous President for Israel, the Middle East and the world with his naïve and warped foreign policy.
Pete Buttigieg does not have a record on Israel. As a mayor of South Bend Indiana, he has not needed to enact any foreign policy positions. Therefore, we can only judge him by what he says. His initial comments were encouraging. Recently though, he said that if Israel annexes portions of the West Bank, he will stop all military aid to Israel. The Mayor of South Bend doesn’t believe Israel has a partner for peace. He has largely left the blame for violence with Hamas and the PA. Mayor Pete has supported Israel’s right to defend itself while criticizing other members of his party for not doing so. On balance, the majority of his statements have been encouraging.
Elizabeth Warren used to not toe the progressive line on Israel. In 2014, Warren supported Operation Protective Edge. When Warren burst onto the national stage, she distanced herself from her previous lukewarm support for Israel. She constantly criticizes the current Israeli government. This past April when there were violent protests along the Israel- Gaza border, she placed the blame solely at the doorstep of Israel and absolved Hamas of any responsibility.
Recently, on a trip to New Hampshire, she failed to correct a member of the audience who called Israel an apartheid state. She has shown throughout her career that when it comes to Israel, she will make the politically expedient choice and not the right one. Warren is a very dangerous candidate for Israel’s security.
Kamala Harris is the final Democrat rounding out the top tier. Harris has an uninspiring record on Israel. Her first trip outside the U.S. as Senator was to Israel where she met with Benjamin Netanyahu. On that trip, the Senator declared that Israel has an absolute right to defend itself.
As Attorney General of California, Harris supported the Iran Nuclear Deal. She went as far to say that she would reenter the deal if elected president. Harris’s record with respect to Israel isn’t great, but it compares favorably to the likes of Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.
The conclusion is clear. Israel does not have a reliable ally in the Democratic primary. It maybe stunning to say, but Hillary Clinton would have been far ahead of the field in terms of her view and record on Israel.
If I had to identify one candidate, it would be Pete Buttigieg. Lamentably, this would be due to an absence of negative statements about Israel, rather than a presence of positive statements about Israel. It is that absence of negative statements that leads me to say he is the best of the worst.
There does remain an option for pro-Israel voters. For all of his personal flaws, Donald Trump has been the greatest friend the Jewish people could hope for. The voters who hold Israel near and dear have a clear choice.