How should American voters concerned with Israel’s welfare and security vote in the U.S. congressional elections on November 2?
This much is clear after almost two years of Democratic control over the executive and legislative branches of government: Democrats consistently support Israel and its government far less than do Republicans. Leaving Barack Obama aside for now (he’s not on the ballot), let’s focus on Congress and on voters.
Congress: The pattern of weak Democratic support began just a week after Inauguration Day 2009, right after the Israel-Hamas war, when 60 House Democrats (including such left-wingers as Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee, and Maxine Waters) and not a single Republican wrote the secretary of state to “respectfully request that the State Department release emergency funds to [the anti-Israel organization] UNRWA for reconstruction and humanitarian assistance” in Gaza.
In the same spirit, 54 House Democrats and not a single Republican signed a letter to Barack Obama a year later, in January 2010, asking him to “advocate for immediate improvements for Gaza in the following areas,” and then listed ten ways to help Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist organization.
In dramatic contrast, 78 House Republicans wrote a “Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu” letter a few months later to express their “steadfast support” for him and Israel. The signatories were not just Republicans but members of the House Republican Study Committee, a conservative caucus.
So, count 54 Democrats for Hamas and 78 Republicans for Israel.
In the aftermath of the March 2010 crisis when Joe Biden went to Jerusalem, 333 members of the House of Representatives signed a letter to the secretary of state reaffirming the U.S.-Israel alliance. The 102 members who did not sign included 94 Democrats (including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi) and 8 Republicans, a 12-to-1 ratio. Seventy-six senators signed a similar letter; the 24 who did not sign included 20 Democrats and 4 Republicans, a 5-to-1 ratio.
Voters: Public opinion explains these differences on Capitol Hill.
An April 2009 poll by Zogby International asked about U.S. policy: Ten percent of Obama voters and 60 percent of voters for Republican John McCain wanted the president to support Israel. Get tough with Israel? 80 percent of Obama voters said yes and 73 percent of McCain voters said no. Conversely, 67 percent of Obama voters said yes and 79 percent of McCain voters said no to Washington engaging with Hamas. And 61 percent of Obama voters endorsed a Palestinian “right of return,” while only 21 percent of McCain voters concurred.
Almost a year later, the same pollster asked American adults how best to deal with the Arab-Israeli conflict and found “a strong divide” on this question. 73 percent of Democrats wanted the president to end the historic bond with Israel and treat Arabs and Israelis alike; only 24 percent of Republicans endorsed this shift.
A survey this month asked if a likely voter is “more likely or less likely to vote for a candidate whom you perceive as pro-Israel.” 39 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of Republicans prefer the pro-Israel candidate. Turned around, 33 percent of Democrats and 14 percent of Republicans would be less likely to support a candidate because he is pro-Israel. Democrats are somewhat evenly split on Israel, but Republicans favor it by a 5-to-1 ratio.
A consensus exists that the two parties are growing farther apart over time. Pro-Israel, conservative Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe finds that “the old political consensus that brought Republicans and Democrats together in support of the Middle East’s only flourishing democracy is breaking down.” Anti-Israel, left-wing James Zogby of the Arab American Institute agrees, writing that “traditional U.S. policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not have bipartisan backing.” Thanks to changes in the Democratic party, Israel has become a partisan issue in American politics, an unwelcome development for it.
In late March 2010, during a nadir of U.S.-Israel relations, Janine Zacharia wrote in the Washington Post that some Israelis expect their prime minister to “search for ways to buy time until the midterm U.S. elections [of November 2010] in hopes that Obama would lose support and that more pro-Israel Republicans would be elected.” That an Israeli leader is thought to stall for fewer congressional Democrats confirms the changes outlined here. It also provides guidance for voters.
– Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. © 2010 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.