Steve Sheffey
Pro-Israel writer and activist

Don’t Fall for It

The pro-Israel community should be celebrating today’s strong bipartisan support for Israel and resisting attempts to turn Israel into yet another issue separated by a partisan divide. Yet some Republicans continue to violate a cardinal principle of pro-Israel advocacy by distorting their opponents’ positions on Israel for partisan gain.

The Jewish vote can make a difference in many close races, and Republicans are trying to shift the focus from Trump to a handful of Democrats whose positions, to the extent even known, don’t reflect Democratic values. Don’t fall for this diversionary tactic.

Trump ran a campaign laced with anti-Semitic tropes, including a last-minute anti-Semitic ad. Israel’s biggest external threat is a nuclear-armed Iran. Against the advice even of people who initially opposed the Iran Deal, Trump pulled out of the deal without a Plan B. Israel is far less safe today than it was when Trump took office, and just recently, Trump slapped tariffs on aluminum and steel from Israel.

Israel’s biggest internal threat is losing its Jewish, democratic character, which underpins the Zionist dream. The two-state solution is the only solution for Israel and the Palestinians. Neither side has leadership ready and willing to make peace, but as Dan Shapiro explains, that’s all the more reason for the U.S. to do all it can to preserve the possibility of a two-state solution. And Trump isn’t doing that.

Democrats remain committed to Israel and to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. But instead of focusing on Trump, and instead of focusing on so many solid, pro-Israel Jewish Democrats like Dan KohlElissa SlotkinLauren Bauer, and other Jewish men and women likely to be elected as new members in November (not to mention good friends like Sean Casten and Ken Harbough), Republicans would have us focus on less than a handful of Democrats running for Congress whose views on Israel are troubling, at least as far as we know them.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who defeated Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY), called Israel’s response to the Gaza riots a “massacre.” Her membership in Democratic Socialists of America calls into question whether she agrees with its support for BDS. But Ocasio-Cortez didn’t run on Israel, and it doesn’t appear to be a priority for her. One of her first statements upon winning was to denounce anti-Semitism, so let’s not jump to conclusions before we know more about her views on Israel.

The other problematic Democratic candidates are Ilhan Omar (running in a crowded field to replace Keith Ellison and not even the nominee) and Leslie Cockburn. Hardly representative of an entire party and nowhere near as dangerous or powerful as the President of the United States. (Republicans must have felt like a baby losing her lollipop when it turned out that Democrat Scott Wallace, running in Pennsylvania, firmly opposes the BDS Movement.)

And that’s pretty much it out of more than 450 Democrats who will be on the November ballot running for the House or Senate (knowing what we know now, no self-respecting progressive should associate with Linda Sarsour or Tamika Mallory, but they are not running for office).

Each party has always had outliers. Remember that one time Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) voted against Iron Dome? Four Republicans voted against Iron Dome that time too. In the Senate, several Republicans actually succeeded in delaying funding for Iron Dome. On July 10, 2018, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) voted to eliminate all aid for Israel. If Ilhan Omar represents all Democrats, does Rand Paul represent all Republicans?

Sympathy for the Palestinians and support for Israel’s security are not contradictory, nor should criticism of particular policies of a particular Israeli government be confused with rejection of Israel as the Jewish homeland, fully deserving of American support. Not one Democrat supported Paul’s efforts to cut aid to Israel.

Worried about a few outlying Democrats? Maybe you should be worried about Republican congressional candidate John Fitzgerald, who is running as a Holocaust denier. Or Republican senate candidate Patrick Little, who has called for a country “free of Jews.” Or Republican congressional candidate Arthur Jones, an actual Nazi. Republicans have denounced these candidates, but they aren’t rushing to back their Democratic opponents (party above principle, of course). Isn’t it odd that white supremacists feel so at home in the Republican Party these days? It’s not just Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke anymore.

Yet our Republican friends would have us focus on a few outlying Democrats when their own party, starting with the President himself, contains so many worrisome actors. It’s not hard to see why. They would rather we don’t see what ex-Republican Max Boot sees so clearly: The GOP used to be a “conservative party with a white-nationalist fringe. Now it’s a white-nationalist party with a conservative fringe…a vote for the GOP in November is also a vote for egregious obstruction of justice, rampant conflicts of interest, the demonization of minorities, the debasement of political discourse, the alienation of America’s allies, the end of free trade and the appeasement of dictators.”

If Jews focus on the real differences between the two parties, expect Democrats to be rewarded handsomely at the polls, because the Democratic Party is the only party that supports Israel and the other values we cherish.

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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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