The pro-Israel Democrat’s dilemma

As President Trump further enhanced his pro-Israel credentials by recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, pro-Israel Democrats became increasingly uneasy.   Trump and his Jewish supporters sometimes sound like they believe that the entire Democratic Party has turned anti-Israel, which is not remotely true.  Still, there is a definite anti-Israel bias among many in  the progressive wing of the party, and  if you combine that concern with Trump’s high-profile support of Israel, it’s becoming increasingly uncomfortable for pro-Israel Jews to unqualifiedly support Democrats.  So what’s a pro-Israel Democrat to do?

Let’s start off by acknowledging that Trump’s policies have indeed been pro-Israel.  As I’ve written previously, his moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was a welcome step, long overdue.  His decision to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan, which it captured from Syria in the 1967 war, is justified in principle, but more questionable tactically.  Golan doesn’t have the symbolic firepower of Jerusalem, but the security justification for Israel’s retention of that strategic high ground is undeniable.  Nobody who cares about Israel’s survival and knows anything about the topography of its northeastern frontier can favor returning Golan to Syrian control, so that Syrian soldiers can once again use Israel civilians for target practice, as they did for the first nineteen years of Israel’s existence.  Moreover, while it was possible to argue against the embassy move on the ground thst it might impede efforts to revive negotiations with the Palestinians, there are not and never have been peace negotiations with the Syrians to worry about.  No one in Israel favors returning the sparsely populated Golan  to Syria, but some news reports indicate that the Israeli military commanders saw no particular need to call attention to the issue at his time.

Some argue that Trump’s decision to recognize Israel’s de facto annexation of Golan, coming on top of his decision to move the embassy,  is a cynical political move — whether to distract attention form the multiple scandals plaguing his administration, to take advantage of the Democrats’ foreign policy disarray or to help Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s  reelection bid. This accusation may be true, but so what?  In politics, purity of motive is not a realistic expectation.  I don’t care why Richard Nixon (an undoubted anti-Semite), helped Israel recover from the surprise attack of Egypt and Syria in 1973; I am grateful that he did so.  Conversely, it makes no difference how pure Dwight Eisenhower’s motives were when he forced Israel to withdraw from Sinai in 1956; he did more to endanger Israel’s existence than any other American President.

By itself, Trump’s pro-Israel actions are a cause for contentment, not anguish.  Whatever I may think of him otherwise — and I trust that I’ve made my opinion of the Trump presidency clear in previous blogposts — I’m happy to accept support for Israel, whatever its source.  The problem  — at least for those of us who find Republican domestic policies abhorrent — is that at the same time that Trump has been pursuing these pro-Israel policiess,  there have been multiple  incidents of late that have called into question the commitment of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing to Israel’s well-being.  First, there was the brouhaha over the women’s march, two of whose leaders had been publicly supportive of the rabid anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan.  Then came the remarks of freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) which not only put her implacable hostility to Israel on full display but crossed the line into outright anti-Semitism yet drew only a mild rebuke from the party’s leadership.  Next came the anti-boycott bill which half the Senate Democrats (including all but one of the Senators seeking the party’s 2020 Presidential nomination) opposed.  Finally, there was the absence of the Presidential candidates from the recent AIPAC conference, which was not intended as a snub but may have appeared to be one  to some supporters of the venerable pto-Israel lobby.

Some on the left argue that it’s not in Israel’s best interest for the US to follow the policies preferred by Israel’s government.  They claim that if Israel were a little more flexible, or a little less eager to build settlements in the West Bank a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians would be possible.  New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has advanced this argument for years and was back at it recently is a particularly egregious column.  In that column, Friedman accused Trump of “indulging [Prime Minister] Netanyahu in his quest for permanent Israeli control over the West Bank.”  He concedes  that

the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is corrupt and mismanaged and does at times incite violence but it’s the last best hope for a two state deal between Israelis and Palestinians.

In other words, although there’s no reason to believe that the Palestinians are either willing or able to make peace, Friedman and others of his ilk  believe Israel should make further concessions to them anyway. They assume that, if only Israel were more “reasonable” in its negotiations, the Palestinians would respond in kind.   This assumption is, to put it charitably, unsupported by evidence.   The Palestinians’ negotiating stance is consistent with the old adage that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.  Given the risks inherent in maintaining the status quo, it is understandable that some Israelis also take that position.  I may think them imprudent, but I certainly believe in their moral right to taka stand..Their children, after all, will pay for any miscalculations with blood.  .It takes a high level of chutzpah, however,  to opine majestically from the safety of living 7,000 miles away as to what risks Israelis should take for the sake of peace.

Some in the pro-Israel camp argue that  the anti-Israel trend in the Democratic Party is unalterable and the time is coming when the only option for a conscientious Jew will be to vote Republican — just as, across the pond, our British brethren are increasingly finding the Labour Party an intolerable option. Of course, most of the prominent voices making this argument belong to those who are supporting Republicans for other reasons.  Theirs is hardly an unbiased perspective..

Most American Jews, however, remain firmly in the Democratic camp. Personally, I would find it difficult to support a party that remains implacably opposed to universal health coverage, sensible regulation of firearms or protecting consumers against overreach by financial institutions, to name just a few issues. If God forbid, it happens that the Democratic Party as a whole turns against  Israel there may be no alternative, but that time is not yet here.  Thus far, the party’s leaders in Congress and most of its officeholders, remain staunchly pro-Israel.  The task before pro-Israel Democrats is to do everything in our power to keep it that way.

President Trump’s unqualified support of Israel makes that  task more challenging, but also more urgently necessary.  There are many pro-Israel Democrats, after all,  who even though they may prefer Democratic domestic policies, might consider voting  Republican if a Democratic candidate were unacceptably anti-Israel but would never consider voting for Trump under any circumstances.  Count me as one of them.  I believe that Donald Trump is temperamentally, intellectually and morally unfit to hold the most powerful office in the world.  He s almost certainly the most corrupt President in American history.  Casting a vote for him would be a betrayal of my country and of those democratic values that have made it the most hospitable Diaspora in Jewish history.  All who feel hat way have an obligation to do whatever s in their power to make sure that Trump’s general election opponent is not one whose victory would make us fear for Israel’s safety.

It may be an agonizing process, but whoever claimed that being a Jew was easy?

About the Author
Douglas Aronin is a retired attorney living in Forest Hills, Queens, who is continuing his lifelong involvement in the Jewish community. His writings have appeared in a wide range of print and online forums.