We have heard it prophesied for decades, yet done little to address the issue head on — the death of bipartisanship on Israel. Since his appointment as US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman has frequently addressed the issue, speaking about the perception that the Republican Party has claimed the Israel agenda as their own as polls show an increasing divide among American voters. Just last month Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said “if we don’t have bipartisan support for Israel, if Israel becomes the domain of one party or another, Israel will loseץ” With both sides of the political spectrum on the same page in admitting the problem, why is the problem getting worse, and what can we in the Diaspora do to reverse the trend?
Bipartisanship can only be maintained through education. We lose understanding when we revert to political gamesmanship that divides the conversation. Recently, in Canada’s House of Commons, the Leader of the Opposition Andrew Scheer asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to “condemn Hamas and recognize its role in this tragic event,” referring to the clash at Israel’s border with Gaza in which one Canadian was shot. Trudeau responded by saying that the has repeatedly condemned violence by Hamas, “but I will express once again that I am proud of those countries in which support for Israel and friendship for Israel goes beyond partisan lines and our government has continued to be a friend to Israel. There is in fact only one issue on which we deeply disagree with conservatives in regard to Israel – we don’t think it should be a partisan domestic issue.”
Rather than answering Scheer directly by condemning Hamas for their terrorist operation at the border, and their use of the resulting deaths to slander Israel internationally, Trudeau took the long road in saying that he has already done so in the past, while simultaneously creating an adjacent argument by raising the issue of partisanship. Too often we find our politicians using this tactic, working around the issue at hand and creating a parallel argument that distracts us from important discussion.
To his discredit, Scheer failed to put Trudeau back on the track and instead doubled down on the politicization of the Israel issue. A heated exchange ensued in which each side pointed the finger at the other, followed by eruptions of applause by alternate sides of the House. Rather than using the opportunity to agree that their goals were aligned despite minor disagreements, the two leaders dropped the ball and pushed their respective parties further away from bipartisanship.
While this “battle of the soundbites” worked politically for Scheer and Trudeau, it did nothing to push the bipartisanship that both claimed to desire. Both men appeared to be speaking past each other rather than to each other. As Yitzhak Rabin said, “the quest for peace is not a contest between political parties.” If we truly want the Israel issue to be a bipartisan one, then we need to focus on it, rather than allowing the traditional fingerpointing to take precedence.
As concerned citizens in the Diaspora, it is on us to avoid this blurring of the issue. We must avoid the typical cheerleading for our political parties and instead we need to work to bridge the divide. We need to remind our politicians of what is at stake and hold them accountable for their words and actions. Menachem Begin once said, “literature which tries to create hair-raising effects achieves its purpose at the expense of valuable thought and often at the expense of truth.” By allowing ourselves to fall prey to the partisanship of politics and of the media, we do Israel a disservice.
Rather than furthering the divide, we need to come together through honest dialogue. This can be done when we push ourselves towards education. We need to avoid vague, dishonest, and superficial conversations that blur the truth and confuse. There are organizations such as IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace that thrive under this lack of education, particularly when it comes to indoctrinating our youth. The gap in our education is massive, but it goes all ways. In order to prevent others from falling for these tactics, we need to be preemptive in teaching our narrative.
When many discuss complex issues, they use reductive language that resonates with those lacking in familiarity. The two state solution sounds simple to many as “why not just split the land 50/50? Isn’t that fair?” What do “defensible borders” mean to the average person who can’t even locate Israel on a map? For most people, the settlements are shrouded in mystery. In the Diaspora, who can tell one settlement “bloc” from another, or explain the implications of the 2004 Bush-Sharon letter? We need to stop judging the statements issued by our governments on how they “sound” and start judging them based on their practical, real life implications.
Many announcements out of Israel are met with uniform condemnation without proper understanding. Through a more informed understanding of Israel’s choices, more in our community will come to see Israel’s actions as transcending a left-right framework. How many of us are doing our part to educate ourselves and others so that there exists an environment conducive to the bipartisanship we cherish? How many of us take into account how we would feel to be in the shoes of our Israeli counterparts whose every day decisions directly impact those they love?
We cannot lament the loss of bipartisanship while simultaneously taking actions that undermine it. If we want those who are hesitant to agree with us to understand our position, we can’t insist on shouting them down into a corner. We must cease to blur the lines of issues in an attempt to “score” unnecessary points that only serve to harm our narrative and push each other further away.
We can get to where we want to be, but we need to be willing to work for it and check our egos at the door. We’re a speck on the timeline of Jewish history. We can’t be “tired of trying”, especially when our task is easy in comparison to those of past generations. While our brethren do their part in Israel, it is important for us to do our part in preventing the divide from growing any larger. Bipartisanship hasn’t died yet, but if it does, we have only ourselves to blame.