On Israel: Do The Actions of a Few Define The Many?

If I read one more article about the two new Democratic House members, out of the 235 Democrats there, who are suspect or worse on Israel, I think I’ll plotz.

These pieces, usually written by Republicans, tend to suggest that the Democratic Party in Congress is led by first-termers Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI).

These predominantly Republican writers refer to offensive remarks about Israel made by the two newcomers rather than the statements and votes of the Democrats’ leaders on Israel: Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Eliot Engel, Chuck Schumer, Bob Menendez, Nita Lowey, Ben Cardin, Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler, Carolyn Maloney, Ted Deutch, Brad Sherman, Joe Manchin, Albio Sires, Josh Gottheimer, and Brad Schneider, among many others.

Clearly, however, each political party has some who are not fully supportive of America’s strongest ally in the Middle East, the Jewish State of Israel.

For example, in August of 2018 and continuing today, Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has put a “hold” on final passage of the U.S.-Israel Security Assistance Act of 2018, which would have officially recognized the $32 Billion aid package for Israel that was first negotiated by President Barack Obama. As of this writing, the Republicans have been unable or unwilling to persuade Senator Paul to drop his objections, and the bill is still in limbo.

Also, on January 11, 2019, Republican Justin Amash (R- MI) was the only Representative to vote against the Establishment of a Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism; a position President Donald Trump did not fill in his first two years in office. More Republicans abstained on that vote than Democrats. Interestingly, Democratic Reps. Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib voted in favor of the Envoy.

On the other hand, on February 5, 2019, by a vote of 77 to 23, the Senate voted to approve the bipartisan Anti-BDS Act of 2019 which authorizes state and local governments to prohibit a boycott, divestment or sanctions against Israel or “Israeli controlled territories.” I would have voted in favor of the Act.  But some federal courts, one Republican Senator and 21 Democratic Senators, all of whom oppose the BDS movement, voted against the bill arguing on First Amendment grounds.

If you intend to discuss the views of the two parties on Israel objectively, you cannot paint either party accurately with a broad and dirty brush.

Otherwise, one could claim that the Republican Party accepts White Supremacists (think Charlottesville, about which President Donald Trump said “you also had some very fine people on both sides);” is Isolationist (recall the 2016 campaign when candidate Trump said he would “certainly look at” pulling out of NATO because “it is obsolete,” a position he explored as President with senior administration officials, according to the New York Times, throughout 2018; or Trump’s December 23, 2018 surprise tweet that he was going to “pull out [all] U.S. troops from Syria” in coordination with one of the world’s worst Israel antagonists, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip; and is mostly populated with people who are coarse, ungracious and demeaning to the dignity of their federal office (see President Trump’s statements and conduct as President).

Most Republicans’ lack of criticism of Trump’s offensive and dangerous pronouncements and behavior, while troubling and unacceptable, perhaps should not be taken as their blanket agreement with the President on those things.

But when either a Democrat or Republican is wrong, I believe each elected official, and all intellectually honest people, are obligated to publicly express disapproval.

In addition, and most important, the imperative for all Americans regarding the presence in our government of those who speak and vote unfairly about the Jewish State, or worse, advocate that we isolate our country and Israel, is to hold those elected officials accountable at the ballot box.

As to whether, as many Republican writers argue, the Democratic Party is particularly at fault in these matters, I would profoundly disagree and suggest that they need to focus most of their attention on their own vineyards.

Steven R. Rothman of Englewood served eight terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.  He has been an attorney for 40 years and formerly served as Englewood mayor and as the Bergen County Surrogate Court Judge.

The opinion piece appeared in the February 8, 2019 edition of The Jewish Standard under the title “Political Parties and Israel: Spread the Blame Equally.”

About the Author
Steven R. Rothman served eight terms in the U.S. House of Representatives representing the 9th Congressional District of New Jersey. He is an attorney of 40 years and formerly served as Englewood Mayor and as the Bergen County Surrogate Court Judge. He resides in Englewood, New Jersey.
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