For decades, the great majority of American Jews have supported Israel and voted Democrat. But there are increasing indications that going forward, they may have to choose between the two.
A combination of factors is at play here. There is President Trump’s emphatic support for the right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a time when liberal American Jews are troubled by some of Jerusalem’s policies, including its hardline positions on the Palestinian issue and its support of the fundamentalist chief rabbinate on matters of Jewish identity and egalitarian prayer.
In general, Democratic sympathy in the U.S. for the Palestinian cause has increased in recent years and Israel has lost ground; at the same time, Republicans continue to favor Israel over the Palestinians by ever-increasing margins. In part that is due to the fact that the Democratic Party has attracted young people and minorities who are liberal in their views and have little knowledge of the Mideast conflict, while Republicans appeal to older, white males who lean toward Israel’s stance.
Now, as the November midterm elections draw near, several progressive Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives have been outspoken in voicing their support for the Palestinians and criticizing Israel in harsh terms. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has called out Israel for its “occupation of Palestine,” is a favorite to win a seat in the Bronx and Queens. Ilhan Omar, a Somali-American Muslim running in Minneapolis, has spoken of Israel’s “evil doings,” and Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American Muslim candidate in Detroit, calls for a one-state solution, asserting that “separate but equal doesn’t work.”
Leslie Cockburn, a candidate in Virginia, is the co-author of a book highly critical of Israel, as noted in its title: “Dangerous Liaison: The Inside Story of the U.S.-Israel Covert Relationship.”
Democratic leaders have suggested that these candidates are a fringe group, and that even if elected, they would have little clout on foreign policy issues. That may well be true. For now. But it would be foolish for party leaders to ignore what appears to be a growing trend, particularly among young progressives in the party. And it’s equally important for Israel, and its core supporters in the U.S., to address this problem, especially when liberal Jews feel increasingly alienated by President Trump on a range of domestic and foreign policy issues.
A common mantra among both Democratic and Republican supporters of Jerusalem over the years has been that bipartisanship is the No. 1 priority. But it is becoming irrelevant today, and the consequences down the road are dire.