The New Republican House and Israel

While Congress has long been bipartisan when it comes to support for Israel, the Republican sweep of the House of Representatives on November 2 is expected to help strengthen that support. Several pro-Israel Republicans in Congress will now have control over important committees in the House of Representatives, where legislation concerning Israel's national security interests will become a stronger focus. Rather than waiting to see whether U.S. President Barack Obama approves new legislation vis-à-vis his foreign policy initiatives, these House Republicans will take strong action, when necessary, and challenge the Obama administration regarding its wavering support of Israel.

At the same time, the Democrats will remain in control of the Senate. Most American Jewish organizations expect bipartisan support to continue in the Senate, with little change in regard to the U.S.-Israel relationship. Some Jewish leaders, however, think that certain new Republican senators will push back against Obama's pressure on Israel and look to level the playing field when it comes to approving U.S. military support for Israel's enemies.

Meanwhile, pro-Israel organizations that are strong supporters of Israel's right to the disputed territory in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) find it frustrating that liberals in the American Jewish community are more interested in supporting Obama's domestic policies than they are in fighting his pro-Palestinian leanings toward dividing the Jewish State.

Daniel Pollack, Co-Director of Government Relations for the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), spoke to this writer about some of the changes he sees taking place in a Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives. He mentioned that Florida Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen will be taking control of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The current chairman is California Democrat Howard Berman, who is Jewish and a supporter of Israel. But, Pollack says, "He's got the baggage of being in association with President Obama." According to Pollack, "Berman sat on the Iran sanctions bill for six months at the request of Obama. Ros-Lehtinen was not interested in delaying it."

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, a staunch supporter of Israel, will become House Majority Leader in the next Congress. He will be holding the highest ranking post a Jew has ever held in Congress. His actions will, most likely, focus on giving less U.S. military support to Saudi Arabia. The United States recently approved $60 billion in weapons sales to the Saudis, which only hinders Israel's qualitative military edge in the Middle East over Arab States. The sale is expected to be the largest in U.S. history if all purchases are made by Saudi Arabia. Ros-Lehtinen has already spoken out against the sale.

According to The Israel Project (TIP), Cantor has also cosponsored legislation that would end U.S. taxpayer aid to the Palestinian Authority until it stops its culture of hate toward Israel. He also wants to see an end to unauthorized WAQF excavations of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which are encouraged and supported by the Palestinian Authority.

One of the greatest examples of success in this election, according to Pollack, came when Republican Patrick Toomey defeated Democratic Senator Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania. Pollack mentioned that Sestak has been active in supporting CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which is considered a U.S. Muslim front organization that indirectly helps finance terrorist groups. Speaking about Sestak, Pollack admitted, "We're very pleased he was not elected."

While there are changes that should help Israel within the Legislative Branch of the U.S. government, it is still the Executive Branch, through the influence of the State Department, that influences American diplomatic strategies.

"The President still controls foreign policy," Pollack acknowledges. "We all know that he has been looking to curry favor with Moslem countries. ... If he decides to put greater pressure on Israel, he will still pay a price for it." 

That price would be condemnation by a Republican controlled U.S. House of Representatives.

A recent poll indicates that nearly 40% of American Jewish voters disapprove of how Obama has handled relations with Israel. A majority of them may consider voting for someone else for president in the next election. While U.S. Jews are still more concerned with the economy, jobs, civil rights, and social issues than they are with Israel's national security, a growing number of them are breaking from Obama. They are frustrated with how he is handling not only U.S. domestic policy, but also U.S. foreign policy. They don't like his pressure on Israel or his pro-Palestinian support when it comes to the peace process. 

Obama's assumption that American Jews will keep supporting the Democratic liberal agenda over the Republican support for Israel may be proven wrong in the future. A sign of this is the overwhelming Republican victory in the recent U.S. election. 

Now is the time for Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be strong in regard to his red lines at the Middle East peace negotiating table, especially in the face of a weakened Obama and a strengthened pro-Israel U.S. Congress.

C. Hart is a news analyst reporting on political, diplomatic, and military issues as they relate to Israel, the Middle East, and the international community. This report was filed from Washington, D.C. following the U.S. elections.