The good news about the incoming Congress is that support for Israel is stronger than ever. The pro-Israel community has good friends in the leadership of both parties; rank-and-file support for Israel’s quest for security in a hostile world is unquestioned.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges ahead.
Support for Israel’s $3 billion-plus in U.S. aid remains strong in both parties. But with pressure mounting on lawmakers to rein in a runaway deficit, the entire foreign aid budget will come under much tougher scrutiny.
Pro-Israel groups have traditionally supported the overall foreign aid program, not just Israel’s big allotment, both out of a belief that robust foreign assistance serves U.S. interests around the world and out of concern that Israel not be seen as the only beneficiary of this country’s largesse.
Those realities remain unchanged in a changing world. Israel’s aid is still an important component in the security of America’s most reliable ally in the Middle East, but a strong overall foreign aid program also remains critical to U.S. interests.
There is another, more troubling challenge looming on the horizon.
The pro-Israel movement became a congressional powerhouse largely because it was able to transcend partisanship in the interests of a strong, durable U.S.-Israel relationship.
That effort to insulate Israel from the ravages of party warfare is becoming more difficult to maintain in a political environment in which both parties seek allies and politically charged “wedge issues” to use in combat against their partisan adversaries.
We’re not suggesting it’s inappropriate to criticize President Barack Obama’s policies; we, too, have found much we dislike and even more we don’t understand about his approach to the Middle East conflict. Nor is it inappropriate to criticize the handful of Republicans who seem bent on a new isolationism.
We are suggesting that some of the criticism we hear is reflexive partisanship, not a reasoned response to complex issues and policies, which can only undermine decades of work by the pro-Israel community to make Israel a cause that stands apart from the ugly politics of our day.
Our job, as supporters of Israel and believers in the idea that strong U.S.-Israel relations serve the interests of both nations, is to maintain the broadest possible pro-Israel coalition and not allow it to be undermined by the paralyzing partisanship that has descended over Washington.