The United States of America and Israel share one of the strongest bilateral relationships in the world. While the alliance between the two countries is fairly new, dating back to America’s recognition of Israel on the day it declared independence in 1948, it is one that has strived for decades. While President Truman who was a Democrat, was the first President to support Israel, every successive administration regardless of party affiliation has worked to retain a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. How has this relationship survived the political currents of each respective country for decades? The success of this relationship can be explained by having a broad bipartisan consensus in Congress and the American electorate.
The leading Israel advocacy organization in America, known as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee or AIPAC, recognizes the importance of this bipartisan consensus. For decades, AIPAC has worked to establish ties across the political divide around shared values. Their mission statement includes the following: “We work to expand the U.S.-Israel alliance by cultivating relationships around shared values and empowering pro-Israel leaders across America, including those from the Jewish, African American, Hispanic, Christian, Progressive, Veteran and student communities.” AIPAC enjoys broad support in Congress, including its leadership, Democrats and Republicans alike. This couldn’t be more critical to ensuring longlasting support for Israel and we’ve seen the benefits of it. Most recently, AIPAC was able to secure $500 million in missile defense funding that will both support Israel’s defensive capabilities and be used by U.S. military forces to implement our own Iron Dome systems.
Currently, we are in an election year and with less than 80 days to go. The campaigns are kicking into overdrive and passion is running high from each candidate’s respective base. However, a new issue has come up in this political football arena, support for Israel. Supporters and opponents of Israel are both trying to use Israel as a political wedge issue in this competitive and highly partisan election. Anti-Israel activists on the far left throughout the Democratic primaries worked excessively to make Israel a contention point of the race. Activists would flood townhalls and plant questions about leveraging U.S. security assistance to Israel to force concessions out of Israel on the Palestinian issue. Organizations such as MoveOn created campaigns in 2019 and 2020 to encourage Democratic candidates for President to skip AIPAC’s annual Policy Conference, which brings together 18,000 activists, and hundreds of sitting Members of Congress of both parties to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship. Once Joe Biden had clinched the Democratic nomination, these same activists pivoted to force changes to the Democratic Party Platform that would weaken the pro-Israel language and insert more pointed language about issues such as BDS, proposed annexation, and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. After the personal intervention of Vice President Biden himself, their efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, and the platform remains solidly pro-Israel, to the disappointment of many on the far left flank of the Democratic Party.
On the right, you’ve seen efforts to broadly paint the Democratic Party as anti-Israel due to problematic comments of members of the Squad, most notably Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, two Muslim women of Congress who were elected in the Democratic sweep of the House of Representatives in 2018. Organizations such as the Republican Jewish Coalition have attacked the DNC due to an appearance by Linda Sarsour on a panel of the Muslim caucus at the Democratic convention. President Trump himself has seized on these talking points in a bid to peel of traditional Jewish support for the Democrats and please his Evangelical Christian base. At a campaign stop in Wisconsin this week, the President openly declared that he moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem for the “Evangelicals” and claimed that Jews were less enthusiastic about that. The President also ignited a firestorm last year after suggesting that Jewish voters who support Democrats were “disloyal”.
However, attempts by both the anti-Israel camp and political partisans to make support for Israel a political wedge issue are incredibly dangerous to Israel’s long term security. We must push back on these types of efforts. The danger of having single party support for Israel would mean that any time that party is in the minority, you would have a hard time advancing legislation to strengthen our relationship. There is also a risk of one party becoming not only apathetic to Israel but aggressive, and we could run the risk of that party undoing decades of work to strengthen our alliance. Additionally, if Israel was to get into a major conflict, action would need to be taken swiftly to stand firmly behind them, which would be virtually impossible without a broad consensus. The leading Israel advocacy organizations know this and have made broad bipartisan support in Congress the linchpin of their work.
I implore everyone who cares about the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship to commit to working in a bipartisan manner to both sustain and grow support in Congress. We must each work individually in our respective parties to educate elected officials about the mutual benefits to each nation through our strategic partnerships. We also must work to support those across the aisle in their efforts to ensure that the other side of the aisle remains committed to strengthening our alliance. Both the United States and Israel will be much stronger and more secure through this relationship, and it takes all of us putting aside our political differences to ensure our collective success. This election will come to a close, but our work together will not. The absolute best thing for both countries’ future is to ensure that our mutually beneficial relationship is longstanding and strong enough to weather these periodic political currents, even during a highly polarized election year. Israel cannot and should not become a political wedge issue in this country.