The Deterioration of Democratic Support for Israel

In 1981 Israel’s Prime Minister Menachem Begin was asked by a group of Americans what he thought were the lessons of the Holocaust.  He answered, “if an enemy of our people seeks to destroy us, believe him.  Don’t doubt him for a moment, don’t make light of it.  Do all in your power to deny him the means of carrying out his satanic intent.” This past April in Vienna, on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Biden Administration joined talks to renegotiate the terms of a return to the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal (The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA).  If revived, the Iran Nuclear deal would restore billions of dollars in economic sanctions to Iran, the chief financial backer of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. 

As Michael Doran, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, explains, “the appeasement on the nuclear question leads to appeasement across the region.” On Monday, senior Hamas official Mahmoud Al-Zahar asserted that  "Israel has no right to exist.”  On a visit to Iran last week Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh publicly thanked Iran for providing Hamas with money, weapons, and technical support during recent clashes between the terrorist organization and Israel.  The fragile truce that remains in effect between Hamas and Israel follows eleven days of Israel enduring the worst violence it has witnessed in years, with Iranian proxies in Gaza launching over 4,000 rockets towards Israeli cities and terrorizing its citizens.   

The conflict also revealed the fraying support among Democrats in Congress, a growing number of who struck a tone of moral relativism and concentrated their efforts on criticizing Israel’s defensive actions rather than Hamas’ terrorist aggressions.  

The recent introduction of legislation targeting Israel also underscores the ever-increasing political potency of congresswomen Rashida Tlaib (MI), Ilhan Omar (MN), and other members of “the Squad,” whose distorted positions against Israel has weakened the resolve of others within the Democratic party to speak out in support of Israel.  

Last Thursday, House Democrats unanimously rejected a Republican effort led by Congressman Tony Gonzales (TX)  to provide Israel with emergency security funding following the depletion of its Iron Dome system. The 218-209 vote against the Gonzales measure was preceded two days earlier by House Democrats halting consideration of legislation that would apply sanctions to foreign entities known to do business with Hamas.  Republican Congressman Brian Mast (FL) reintroduced the Palestinian International Terrorism Support Bill, which passed the House in 2019 and was never taken up by the Senate. The move to consider the Mast bill fell along party lines and was blocked by a vote of 217-209

Resolutions were also initiated in both the House and the Senate to stop the planned sale of $735 million in weapons to Israel.  NY Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders are leading the effort in their respective chambers.  While the House resolution is unlikely to advance, Senate rules permit one member to force a vote.  Should Sanders bring the resolution before the Senate floor, its consideration would spur an uncomfortable debate among Democrats on the issue of support for Israel.

In a bow to their progressive base, Israel’s past democratic defenders did not shy away from rebuking the country during its war with Hamas. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Menendez (NJ) specifically called out his disapproval of Israel striking the Gaza tower, which housed media outlets such as the AP and Al-Jazeera and whose location was used as a base for Hamas terrorists. Massachusetts senator Ed Markey’s backing of Israel has been punctuated by speeches given over the years before thousands of pro-Israel activists at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) Annual Policy Conferences. Yet, in a push to support the Palestinians, more than 450 Massachusetts voters and organizations signed a petition earlier this month urging Markey to stand with the Palestinian people.  Citing Israel’s “disproportionate military power,” Markey issued a statement calling on Israel to accept an “immediate ceasefire.” 

And while representatives Ted Deutch (FL) and Elaine Luria (VA) were among the nine Democrats who spoke in support of Israel on the House floor, they were outdone by representatives from their party who criticized the Jewish state in the chamber.  

Congressman Jerry Nadler (NY), the most senior Jewish member in the House, detailed the “critical friendship with Israel” in a May 21st op-ed for the New York Times.  Yet the congressman was one of a dozen Jewish Democrats in the House who signed a letter to President Biden on May 14th encouraging a truce in the region. Two days later, 28 Democratic senators -- representing over half of the party’s caucus, issued a statement calling for an immediate cease-fire. Both the Nadler letter and Senate statements were released when missile strikes against Israel were at their height.  

Despite their continued demonization of Israel, congressional progressives continue to receive praise from Democratic lawmakers.  Tlaib alluded to the elimination of Israel in a tweet: "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free." The congresswoman continued her defense of Hamas when she cornered Biden on a Detroit tarmac last week and blamed Israel for the escalating violence in the region.  Later that day, Biden praised Tlaib (whom he mistakenly referred to as Rashid) as a "fighter" and expressed admiration for her intellect.  Congresswoman Omar, who was promoted to vice-chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, labeled Israeli airstrikes as “terrorism” and has referred to the Jewish state as the "Israeli apartheid regime.” 

As members of the Squad spew their apartheid libel and are buffered by other Democrats, the anti-Semitic current running through Congress has gained a foothold in liberal-run cities.  Over the last several weeks, pro-Palestinian mobs have attacked American Jews on the streets of Los Angeles and New York, home to the second-largest Jewish population globally. These acts, fomented by the Democrats’ normalization of last summer’s violent protests, were met with perfunctory and belated words of outrage.  Recent days have witnessed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) tweeting that "We must stand together to stop the recent surge in Anti-semitic attacks.” Schumer’s message was an improvement over  Ocasio-Cortez, who sought to link her outrage surrounding anti-Semitism with Israel's “human rights” abuses.    

Democratic pronouncements criticizing Israel’s response to Hamas coupled with its embrace of anti-Semitic legislators mark a dramatic departure from years past when liberal lawmakers such as the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan issued passionate pleas in support of Israel.  While members of the progressive left may not have held leading roles in the Democratic party’s past, domestic events surrounding Israel’s war with Hamas prove that they are the headliners setting the stage for the party’s future. 

Irit Tratt is a freelance writer and pro-Israel advocate who resides in New York. Her work has appeared in the Jerusalem Post, the Algemeiner, and Israel Hayom.  

Image: David Shankbone

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