The Democrats and Israel

The ideology of political parties changes over time. Democrats in the South were obdurate in the wake of civil rights reform; that history is all but forgotten. Likewise, Democrats were long considered the party that was most strongly supportive of ties between America and Israel (helped by Harry Truman’s recognition of the founding of the state of Israel).

Now it appears that another shift is happening. Democrats are no longer as supportive of Israel as they have been in the past. I wrote about this dynamic two years ago in an article that analyzed voting patterns in Congress as well as public opinion polls and surveys that sought to examine any correlations between political affiliation and the level of support for ties between America and Israel. The article pointed out a simple , if disconcerting fact, Republicans were far more supportive of Israel than were Democrats.

Glenn Greenwald (a leftist critic of Israel) wrote an op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times this weekend that notes a new Rasmussen poll which has received some attention. The trend continues and is more pronounced: Republicans continue to be far more supportive of Israel than are Democrats when asked about the current Israeli action in Gaza in response to thousands of rockets being fired into Israel:

 Not only does Rasmussen find that Americans generally "are closely divided over whether the Jewish state should be taking military action against militants in the Gaza Strip" (44 percent to 41 percent, with 15 percent undecided), but Democratic voters overwhelmingly oppose the Israeli offensive -- by a 24-point margin. By stark contrast, Republicans, as one would expect (in light of their history of supporting virtually any proposed attack on Arabs and Muslims), overwhelmingly support the Israeli bombing campaign (62 percent to 27 percent).

Shmuel Rosner comments that this trend is “not new," hopes that President –elect Obama is not as “naïve” as his supporters are regarding the threats coming from terrorism, and issues a challenge to Democrat leaders to show that their claim that the party is as supportive of Israel as Republicans is supported by the numbers.

I think this commentary can be expanded. To what extent has Barack Obama himself shifted the views of Democrats?

Leaders, especially persuasive ones, can shift the opinions of Americans. Historians have analyzed the efforts of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (one of the Presidents that Barack Obama admires) to shift American public opinion from isolationism toward engagement in the years leading up to the conflict with Naziism and Japanese militarists.

Are we seeing the process in reverse?

Has Barack Obama over the last few years convinced Americans that diplomacy will work with terrorists? That “talk therapy” can work with the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad , Hamas and Hezbollah? That all wars are “dumb wars”? That Iran is not a threat? That high-tech defense programs are a waste of money? That we have to be “even-handed” when dealing with the Palestinians and Israelis (begging the question of how one can be even-handed between a terror regime that hates America and a democratic and Western ally)? That “no one has suffered more than the Palestinians”? As the public heard this rhetoric over the last few years, has their collective consciousness changed?

Has the public already become receptive toward this type of message by years of “education” by an academia that has increasingly become the province of left-wing academics? 

What else can be taken from the column and the Rasmussen poll? Greenwald is an influential blogger who writes for Salon but whose views often reflect the views of the left-wing of the blogosphere and the Democratic Party as a whole. He is issuing a clarion call to Democratic politicians: get tough with Israel or their support among Democrats will be put at risk.

This field of inquiry opens up all types of questions regarding political alignment. For example, how long will Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi be able to withstand the pressure coming from her own district (all but contiguous with San Francisco-the epicenter of anti-Israel activity) to take a tough line with Israel?

Stay tuned.