Democrats drift further away from Israel

The Pew Research Center is “a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions.”

It was no surprise to me when Pew’s analysis showed that Republicans express more sympathy toward Israel over the Palestinians than do Democrats. I was surprised, and disappointed, however, by the growing disparity between the two political parties.

“The partisan gap remains wide. Three-quarters of Republicans (75%) say they sympathize more with Israel (just 7% say they sympathize more with the Palestinians). And though a larger share of Democrats sympathize more with Israel than with the Palestinians, that margin is much narrower (43% vs. 29%). Republican leaners sympathize more with Israel by an overwhelming margin (72% vs.9%), in line with the views of Republican identifiers. The sympathies of Democratic leaners, however, are divided: 34% say they sympathize more with Israel and 33% say the Palestinians.

“While independents are more likely to express sympathy toward Israel by a 52% to 19% margin, there is a large difference between those who lean toward the Democratic Party and those who lean toward the GOP. Republican leaners sympathize more with Israel by an overwhelming margin (72% vs.9%), in line with the views of Republican identifiers. The sympathies of Democratic leaners, however, are divided: 34% say they sympathize more with Israel and 33% say the Palestinians, while another third either volunteer that they sympathize with both (3%) or neither (16%), or do not offer an opinion (13%). Democratic leaners are less likely than Democratic identifiers to sympathize with Israel.”

How things have changed. When I was a child, the Democratic Party was more identified with being pro-Israel than the Republican Party. From Franklin Roosevelt and on, Democratic candidates, with a couple exceptions, had been thought more amenable to Jewish causes, one which was Israel, than Republicans. Unless the Jewish causes are left of center or social in some fashion, that is no longer the case. I remember the GOP being known as the snobby, WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant), country club party. How many honestly think of the Republican Party that way now?

A generation ago and before, even religious/observant Jews, more right wing socially than their liberal counterparts, voted Democratic for the most part. Not anymore. No, not Jews as a whole – the majority still vote for Democrats. But many observant Jews, especially the very observant vote Republican.

The Democrats had its liberals for sure, but its centrists as well, including former senators Richard Stone and Henry (Scoop) Jackson to name just two. Today, as the Republican Party has moved right, the Democrats moved further left. The party and its voters.

The party of Henry Jackson became the party of Jesse Jackson in ideology, and while you can easily find centrist Republicans in elective office, with the Democrats, not so much. Also, because the Democratic Party has moved so far left, it has less patience for right-leaning Israeli governments.

Two thirds or more of Jewish voters supported the Democratic candidate for US president since 1960 when John Kennedy received 82%. Lyndon Johnson received 90% of the Jewish vote in 1964. Jimmy Carter got only 45% of the vote in 1980 – an independent candidate, John Anderson, siphoned off 14% of the vote, and Ronald Reagan got 39%, the highest of any Republican since Dwight Eisenhower. In any event, it was a hit on the Democrats. American Jews still punished Carter because he was rightly viewed as not friendly to Israel, and many Democratic Party voters were not as left wing as they are now.

During Carter’s term, Menachem Begin, a right-wing politician, was Israel’s Prime Minister, and the Camp David accords were signed by Egypt and Israel. Had the Democratic Party’s demographics and ideology been in 1980 what it is today, Carter would have done much better among Jewish voters. Barack Obama still received 69% of the Jewish vote in 2012, after a first term where he rightly became judged as unfriendly to Israel. (Obama garnered 78% in 2008.)

So what is it with the Jews? Simply put, most Jews are liberal and so, they identify with the party that cares more for social issues than foreign policy ones, and they find a kinship with those they perceive as underdogs. Israel is not a social issue and in the minds of liberal Jews, it is not the underdog. By the way, if you think about it clearly, Israel is very much an underdog. But the Palestinians are “occupied,” and liberals don’t like that, regardless of why the status quo exists.

Liberal American Jews identify with Israel’s left-wing Labor Party or whatever iteration it morphs into, and its leaders, naturally, thinking there is always agreement, not realizing that is far from the truth. As one example, their hero and martyr Yitzchak Rabin, as Labor Defense Minister in 1988, instituted the “iron fist” policy of using force including beatings of civilians to stop Arab rioting. Not Likud, not Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but Labor and Rabin.

As another example, it was only last year when Israel’s current Labor (Zionist Union) leader, Yitzchak Herzog called the Iran nuclear agreement a “horrible deal, one that will go down as a tragedy of the ages.” Liberal American Jews felt Netanyahu was doing too much to stop the deal, Herzog felt the Israeli PM did not do enough.

It was striking at the Democrats’ convention in 2012, when after leaving the identification of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital out of the party platform (it had been there for years, but to better reflect President Obama’s view that the status would be negotiated, it was left out), trying to put it back when the omission became public, turned into even more of an embarrassment.

When the convention’s chairman, then Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, reading from the teleprompter went through the motions to reinstate, what was supposed to be a slam dunk, a sure thing it was not. Three times it was clear that at least as many delegates were against the Jerusalem motion as for it, but Villaraigosa went with the teleprompter anyway in the end, to the very visible chagrin of Arab-Americans delegates and others.

Does anyone think that four years later, after refusing-to-lay-down-his-weapons, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders’ attacks on Israel and with him having so much support, especially from younger voters, the Democratic Party’s inclinations will be reversed? No way. In fact, just the opposite.

Also, as I suspected would happen, Sanders is already making waves about the platform becoming more “even-handed” when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians. Regarding Jerusalem, who knows? Now platforms don’t mean much to be honest, and candidates ignore them for the most part, but the demands by Sanders will be embarrassing, even if former Secretary of State and definite (barring some occurrence other than political) Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton stops or waters down any negative verbiage.

The Republicans go first in a couple months (July 18 – 21) and their convention’s platform will as usual, and without any doubt, have very strong pro-Israel language. No wishy-washy words on Jerusalem, no calls for “even-handedness.” Then the Democrats will gather (July 25 – 28), and we will see if Clinton can minimize the shame of a party that was once steadfast in its support for the Jewish State.

About the Author
Shia Altman who hails from Baltimore, MD, now lives in Los Angeles. His Jewish studies, aerospace, and business and marketing background includes a BA from the University of Maryland and an MBA from the University of Baltimore. When not dabbling in Internet Marketing, Shia tutors Bar and Bat Mitzvah, and Judaic and Biblical Studies to both young and old.
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