Democrats, Jews and Israel

Just a couple of days ago, The Times of Israel published a story with this headline: “ADL: Ellison’s comments on Israel ‘disqualifying’ for top DNC post”. Yesterday (Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016), ToI published two more news stories: one headlined “Haim Saban: Keith Ellison ‘an anti-Semite and anti-Israel individual’”, and another with the headline “Most Democrats consider Israel is ‘a burden’ on US, has too much influence on policy, poll claims”. Add to the mix this interesting fact: in last month’s presidential election, 71% of Jews voted for the Democratic candidate, while only 24% voted for the Republican candidate. In light of all the foregoing, one might be permitted to ask “what the heck is going on?”

One thing going on is that, after the defeat of Hillary Clinton, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is asserting itself. Mrs. Clinton, it is fair to say, represented the establishment wing of the party, particularly when compared with her primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Her defeat in the general election convinced many Democrats that the party must move in a new direction, and many believe that direction is leftward.

Two things can be said with certainty about the Democratic Party’s progressive wing. First, Congressman Keith Ellison of Minn., who is a co-founder of the Progressive Caucus in the House of Representatives and is also the first Muslim to be elected to Congress, is one of its leaders. Secondly, in dealing with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, progressives’ sympathies naturally flow to the Palestinians and not to the Israelis.

With regard to Rep. Ellison, it is not for me to say whether he is or is not anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist. He asserts vigorously that he is neither. He has said things in the past that might be construed as evidencing anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist attitudes, but he now says he either repudiates those statements or that they were distorted or taken out of context. His bid to head the DNC is supported by Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, who is certainly a strong supporter of Israel.

But Rep. Ellison’s personal proclivities are a side show.  What is in the center ring is the fact that the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is genetically predisposed to favor Palestinians over Israelis, because the Palestinians more nearly fit the stereotype of “the oppressed”, and Israelis more nearly fit the stereotype of “the oppressors”.  The Israelis are relatively wealthy; the Palestinians are poor.  The Israelis have advanced weapons; the Palestinians have relatively primitive weapons.  The Israelis control (some) Palestinians; the Palestinians do not control Israelis.  No credence is given to the Israeli claim that Palestinians must be controlled so long as a not insubstantial number of them believe they have a religious obligation to kill Jews and eradicate Israel.  In the rather simplistic logic of progressivism: Palestinians = good; Israelis = bad.

This predisposition surfaced in Sen. Sanders’ campaign. He asserted that Israel had used “disproportionate” force in 2014 when it responded to rocket attacks from Gaza, and also that the U.S. administration under Pres. Obama had been “one-sided” in favoring Israelis over Palestinians. He ritualistically conceded Israel’s right to defend itself, but immediately asserted that its defense had been disproportionate. This latter claim was based essentially on figures of “civilian” casualties provided by Hamas, the Islamist terrorist group that controls Gaza. And, in addition to relying on dubious casualty figures, Sen. Sanders never made any reference to the customary laws of war that make it a crime to hide combatants among a civilian population.

If combatants hide among civilians, and an opposing force kills some of those civilians in an attack on the hidden combatants, it is those hidden combatants who have committed a war crime, not the opposing force that attacked them. Israel has always claimed that Hamas hides its fighters and weapons among civilian populations; there is every reason to believe that is true. The details of the law of war, however, are of little interest to Sen. Sanders and his progressive allies. They are seemingly content with Palestinians = good, Israelis = bad.

Now a poll taken by the Brookings Institution indicates that Democrats view Israel much less favorably and are much more willing to have the U.S. government take positions that are contrary to Israeli government positions than Republicans. It comes as no surprise that, as a general matter, Democrats are much less sympathetic to Israeli government positions than are Republicans—this is a trend that has been evident in poll results over a number of years. With the ascension of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, it is reasonable to expect that that trend will only strengthen in the foreseeable future.

Whether or not the advancement of the Democrats’ progressive wing is a happy augury for the future of Israel and its relationship with the U.S. is a matter of perspective and opinion. If one believes that the people and government of Israel are not truly able to perceive what is in the long-range best interest of Israel, one should be encouraged that the “tough love” provided by progressive Democrats will put Israel, at long last, back on the right track. If, on the other hand, one is doubtful that progressive Democrats have a better understanding of what is necessary to protect Israel’s long-range future than do Israelis themselves, the shift in the Democratic Party might not be anything to applaud.

About the Author
David E. Weisberg is a semi-retired attorney and a member of the N.Y. Bar; he also has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The University of Michigan (1971). He now lives in Cary, NC. His scholarly papers on U.S. constitutional law can be read on the Social Science Research Network at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=2523973
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