B. Shira Levine
Navigating new wilderness

Reflexive U.S. partisanship endangers our homeland

Dear Zionist Republicans: You’re wrong about Democrats. And the only loser from your casting off the entire Democratic Party because of Israel…is Israel.

Having now published two pieces on why Jews should support Jon Ossoff in the 6th District Congressional race, the main (if not only) non-frivolous objection I’m seeing from the Jewish right is “Jews should always vote Republican because of Israel.” This post is not about Ossoff, but it’s both an important outgrowth of the 6th District race here and a make-or-break crossroads for American Jewry .

Voting along party lines is a valid choice, but to the extent one is rationalizing this based on Israel’s future, this mentality does Israel a grave disservice.  Israel is far too serious an issue for American Jews to relegate to absolutist partisanship.  Politics in this country consists of two giant, ever-polarized monoliths whose platforms have involved into a haphazard list of unrelated issues (low taxes and no abortions?  affirmative action and socialized medicine?).

So where does Israel fit in?  And why?

Republicans have now planted their flag upon Israel, but Jews risk much by taking this at face value. GOP hawkishness on Israel is convenient rhetoric that won’t lose Republicans any votes among their historically-evangelical base.  But Jewish critics of the Iran deal cannot rely with any confidence on Republican opposition as any more than more obstructionism of Democrat-led initiatives, something that epitomized the Obama years (by contrast, several Democrats broke ranks to oppose the deal including now-Senate minority leader Schumer).  But as the Republican base drifts further away from intellectual neoconservatives toward blue-collar nationalism, the Israel-GOP bromance is by no means guaranteed to last.  We are already seeing skittishness among Republicans in public, as they test the waters through actions like the Trump administration’s “Holocaust-denialism lite” in defending their decision to omit the Jewish people from their official statement commemorating it, and his lazy approach to Israel-Palestine issues?  And how can so many Jews turn a blind eye to recent alarming actions like compromising an Israel intelligence asset within ISIS, or announcing that the Western Wall is not a part of Israel?

By contrast, Democrats–whose platform is and has always been unequivocal about its support for Israel, by the way–have consistently opposed anti-Israel initiatives like BDS and have tirelessly worked for peace in the Middle East.  You may not agree with the actions they take to accomplish it–I too find some misguided–but this is by and large a disagreement in strategy and not an indication of anti-Israel philosophy.  There are fringe elements within the Democratic-leaning constituencies that go too far in their “free Palestine” obstinacy, but Republican-leaning constituencies such as voracious readers of Breitbart articles such as “Bill Kristol: Republican spoiler, renegade Jew” are hardly better.

But Republican propaganda has successfully inculcated in many Jews a “with us or against us” mentality.  “Pro-Palestine = Anti-Israel,” they imply.  “With us or against us” is the long and short of what Jewish defenders of Karen Handel have to say.  They dig for evidence of any action over the last decade to suggest she’s spent five seconds thinking about Israel, and come up short.  They avoid talking about Handel much at all, instead skating around to other Republicans with more Israel street cred, and whipping out the classic anti-Democrat script about the UN abstention and the Iran nuclear deal.  Apparently, a chunk of our community will shut their eyes tight and jump all the way down the rabbit hole with Donald Trump.  But this rabbit hole leads nowhere good for the Jews.

Let me be clear on this–“with us or against us” thinking is very very very bad for Israel.  Judaism teaches us to love all humans and hold all human life in highest regard.  Judaism also teaches us to defend ourselves, but these two values do not conflict. To fall into the trap of painting an entire nation as the enemy of our tribe is precisely the seed that leads to anti-Semitism–Palestinian leadership plants it in their people as they themselves oppress those people.  And yet, the discourse here veers closer and closer to perceiving “anti-Israel” or even “anti-Semitic” sentiment in anyone daring to articulate an ounce of empathy toward Palestinian civilians.  The more this fear manifests itself within Jewish consciousness, the more we allow ourselves to dehumanize suffering on “their side,” the more we unwittingly embrace the abhorrent and discriminatory attitude we purport to fight against.

Further, the moment we concede Israel as a partisan issue, we permit the vile narrative creeping across Europe and into the far-left here to seep further into the U.S. mainstream, and we jeopardize the unique longstanding bipartisan support Israel has enjoyed here. Instead, to promote Israel’s sustainable future we must keep our seat at the table.  Abandoning the Democratic Party is a fatal mistake in that regard.  Of course there are fringe elements within the Democratic-leaning constituencies that go too far in their “free Palestine” obstinacy.  If you haven’t noticed, Republican-leaning constituencies such as voracious readers of Breitbart articles such as “Bill Kristol: Republican spoiler, renegade Jew” are hardly better.  

And for all its fringe elements, the Democratic Party leadership has shown no indication whatsoever of abandoning us–the same cannot be said of Republicans.  Even setting aside the unthinkable recklessness in sharing Israeli intelligence with Russia unilaterally, the GOP in its current iteration has turned a blind eye to anti-Semitism, gaslighted Jewish concerns, and displayed utter ignorance about Israel.   If the trend continues, the Republicans will jump ship as soon as it becomes politically convenient.  

I expect to persuade exactly zero Handel supporters to vote Ossoff here–I’ll get back into Ossoff and Handel later no doubt, but it’s not my goal here.  I’m also not in any way contending that an informed decision to vote Republican in a given election is somehow a betrayal of the Jewish state.

Here is the bottom line: as Jews, we must think critically about the grave consequences of dumping all of Israel’s eggs into one of two giant, chaotic, warring boxes.  

Along those lines, I ask those Jews who have, after thinking critically, concluded that Karen Handel is the better candidate for Israel in the upcoming race: please do Eretz Yisrael the favor of thinking twice before you accuse another Jew of not caring about Israel (or worse) because they support a Democrat in this election or any other.  Hearing these insults is deeply painful, and does nothing but divide our community.  I’d certainly love it if you could open your mind to our views on Israel and Democrats–but even if you can’t, accept that many of us support a given Democrat with our unwavering love for Israel in the forefront of our minds and hearts.

About the Author
B. Shira Levine writes about Jewish spirituality and observance, parenting, intersectionality, and the U.S. and Atlanta Jewish communities. Views are her own and not those of her employer, synagogues, or any other organization.
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