Steve Sheffey
Pro-Israel writer and activist

Democrats Remain Pro-Israel

The Democratic Party is the natural home of American Jewry, and recent events illustrate why American Jews won’t be leaving home anytime soon. Both parties have anti-Israel and anti-Semitic fringes, but the Republican Party has mainstreamed bigotry and intolerance to a level not seen before in our lifetimes.

Donald Trump is the leader of the Republican Party and the President of the United States, not some activist who doesn’t hold office. His presidential campaign was marred by classic anti-Semitic imagery, including an ad featuring images of Jews in the context of “global special interests” and an image of Hillary Clinton superimposed on a Star of David atop a pile of cash.

Trump somehow managed to not mention Jews in his January Holocaust Memorial Day Statement, prompting historian Deborah Lipstadt to accuse Trump of “softcore Holocaust denial.” Trump omitted attacks in Israel from a long list of underreported terrorist acts. He repeatedly refused to speak out against anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. He was the first president in years not to attend a seder at the White House. To add insult to injury, Trump has left vacant the post of Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, and he does not have a White House Jewish liaison.

But Trump does have Sebastian Gorka, a senior advisor who wears a medal from a group that collaborated with Nazis. Trump does have Steve Bannon, formerly the chairman of Breitbart News, which the Anti-Defamation League called “the premier website of the alt-right.” Trump does have Omarosa Manigault, who has close ties with Louis Farrakhan. And the Republican Party doesn’t seem to care.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party remains a bastion of support for Israel and the values of the Jewish community. There is anti-Semitism within elements of the left, but unlike Trump, Gorka, and Bannon, the Chicago Dyke March Collective (honestly–had you even heard of this small group until it gained infamy for its anti-Semitism?) and Linda Sarsour (had you heard of her before this year?) do not set policy for the government or for a major political party, and none of their anti-Israel views are reflected in the policies or values of the Democratic Party. But if Trump, Gorka, and Bannon do not represent the Republican Party, why aren’t Republican members of Congress calling for their resignation?

In 2012, the Democrats reiterated their support for Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital by amending the party’s platform during the convention. Many of those in the mostly empty arena who booed were not delegates and were upset about other issues. But when President Obama reiterated his strong support for Israel to a packed house during that same convention, there were only cheers. The 2016 Democratic platform too was strongly pro-Israel, and progressives like Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) supported the platform.

Jewish Democrats in Congress supported the Iran Deal by a more than 2-1 margin, and even President Trump has been forced to admit that Iran is in compliance. Strong Jewish support in Congress does not by itself mean that the Iran Deal is good policy, but it does show that the pro-Israel community was divided on this issue, and for anyone to claim that one side or the other had Israel’s interests more at heart is a good working definition of chutzpah. In the House, not one Democrat voted against the recently enacted Iran sanctions legislation (three Republicans voted no).

But the silliest attempts to question Democratic commitment to Israel are the recent attacks against Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), two strong friends of Israel and the Jewish community. Booker believes that, in his words, “PA support for terrorist payments is plainly reprehensible and must be stopped.” But Booker also said that “As recently as the day before the vote [in committee for the Taylor Force Act] there was confusion among State Department officials over provisions in the bill and exactly what impact they would have on Israel’s security and the stability of the region.” So he withheld his support in committee and said that “I hope these concerns are addressed quickly and well before the full Senate considers this legislation, so that this bill can receive my support.” Is that unreasonable?

Gillibrand is reconsidering her support for the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. She opposes the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Act against Israel, but she is concerned that the ACLU believes that the legislation as written could unconstitutionally infringe on free speech and is seeking clarification. The ACLU is wrong, but is it unreasonable for a U.S. Senator to reexamine her position when presented with contrary views from a respected organization? The question is whether the legislation will be better drafted before reaching the Senate floor and how Gillibrand will vote when it does. Until then, it is premature to draw any conclusions.

In both cases, Republican partisans attacked Booker and Gillibrand for engaging in a cognitive process known as “thinking.” Barack Obama committed the same sin. But where some are threatened by thinking, others are less insecure about their support for Israel, and know that we are better off with friends of Israel whose support is based on reality rather than the fictions that some pro-Israel organizations demand adherence to.

Booker and Gillibrand simply want honest answers to legitimate concerns. Neither has voted on the Senate floor against the legislation in question. If our cause is just, and it is, we should welcome such inquiries in the spirit of friendship with which they are given.

Can one possibly imagine a presidential candidate as vulgar, bigoted, and ignorant as Donald Trump emerging from the Democratic primaries? Can one possibly imagine Donald Trump thoughtfully considering an issue the way Booker and Gillibrand are? We don’t know who the Democratic candidate for president will be in 2020, but we can be certain that he or she will be a strong friend of Israel and aligned with Jewish values–because that’s what the Democratic Party stands for.

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About the Author
Steve Sheffey was formerly the president of CityPAC, a pro-Israel political action committee based in Chicago. He is active in the Chicago Jewish and pro-Israel political communities.
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