Steve Sheffey
Pro-Israel writer and activist

Who’s Drifting on Israel?

It’s true. One of our major political parties is drifting away from traditional, mainstream principles of pro-Israel advocacy. The question is whether this disturbing trend is reversible or whether the Republican Party will permanently rupture decades of bipartisan support for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.

Support for a two-state solution has been a bedrock principle of pro-Israel advocacy since Oslo. Members of both parties, as well as mainstream pro-Israel advocacy organizations, recognized that the only way to secure the future of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state was a two-state solution based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed-upon land swaps. That was the theory of Oslo, it was the theory of Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offer to the Palestinians, and it was the theory of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer to the Palestinians.

Achieving a two-state solution was always seen as difficult. Reasonable minds differed on the best way to get there. Democratic and Republican administrations alike made mistakes. But both parties recognized that only if the United States was trusted by both Israel and the Palestinians could the U.S. help facilitate an agreement. This did not mean abandoning the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel that is, in President Obama’s words, “unbreakable.” But it did mean recognizing that a two-state solution required painful concessions from both sides.

In less than two years, President Trump has reversed decades of bipartisan policy. He has taken what should have been final status issues off the table, such as Jerusalem and the status of Palestinian refugees. He has cut desperately needed humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians. Instead of bolstering the Palestinian Authority, he has undercut it, likely creating a vacuum that Hamas and other extreme elements will rush to fill.

Trump and the Republicans have all but abandoned any efforts toward a two-state solution. By tacitly endorsing a Greater Israel, they are–as a practical matter–in league with the BDS Movement and other anti–Israel groups who understand that one state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea cannot be the Jewish, democratic State of Israel envisioned in the Zionist dream.

The consensus among American and Israeli security experts is that Trump’s actions are weakening and isolating Israel. With real threats from Hezbollah and Iran, Israel now must deal with instability in the West Bank instead of what–until now–had been relative calm along its longest border.

Recent polling indicates that most American Jewish voters understand this dynamic. Upwards of 90% of Jewish voters consider themselves pro-Israel, but most are critical of some or many policies of the current government of Israel. Most Jewish voters also disapprove of President Trump’s moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran Deal, and Trump’s handling of U.S.-Palestinian relations.

Many Republicans sincerely support Israel. Republicans continue to back military, security, and diplomatic support for Israel–on that there is bipartisan consensus, and both parties must work to preserve that consensus. But whether they know it or not, by blindly following Trump over the cliff, Republicans are endangering Israel’s security and risking Israel’s viability as a Jewish, democratic state.

Democrats also continue to overwhelmingly back military, security, and diplomatic support for Israel, including those who have spoken out against steps taken by the Trump and Netanyahu governments that diminish the likelihood of a two-state solution. Indeed, of the roughly 470 Democrats on the ballot for the U.S. House and Senate this November, only three or four have taken positions that could be considered problematic from a pro-Israel perspective. Those outliers are no more representative of the Democratic Party on Israel than Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who last summer called for phasing out aid to Israel, is representative of the Republican Party (Paul is a higher percentage of the Senate than those three or four will be of the House).

If the Republican Party’s move away from fundamental pro-Israel principles is not reversed, we will have the Democratic Party advocating for a two-state solution and the Republican Party arguing for policies that might satisfy its Evangelical base’s desire for getting us quickly to the End of Days, but which will not make Israel safer or more secure. That’s not good for Israel or America.

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About the Author
Steve Sheffey was formerly the president of CityPAC, a pro-Israel political action committee based in Chicago. He is active in the Chicago Jewish and pro-Israel political communities.
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