For some decades after 1949, US politicos debated how the Communist Party under Mao Zedong managed to seize the China mainland from Chiang Kai-shek’s American-backed Kuomintang Nationalists. Were Washington’s policies to blame for the loss of China? Who lost China?
I thought about that historical debate as the IDF’s “Operation Guardian of the Walls,” which began on May 10 slogged on and as I beheld the US Democratic Party’s near abandonment of Israel.
Was it something we did? Was it payback for a dozen years of Binyamin Netanyahu tying our country to the Republican Party? And more latterly to a Trumpian GOP.
I have argued that Donald Trump’s administration did incalculable damage to the stability, mores, and resiliency of the American political system and what’s bad for America is bad for Israel. Brownnosing Trump may have been obligatory, but brand Israel paid the price. I had no doubt that Trump had it in him to proffer a bad “deal” to Israel if only Palestinian diplomacy had been adroit. Providentially, instead of playing Trump, Mahmoud Abbas went into a deep sulk,
Whatever his mistakes, however, Netanyahu did not lose the Democrats. What lost Israel the support of Democrats is the party’s demographic, social, and political makeup. Barring the sexagenarian-plus crowd who still retain a spark of pro-Israelism, the sentiment of the party is with “Palestine.”
How come? Start with African American voters, whose numbers alone make them a potent Democratic constituency. Historically speaking, Black Americans have not been a reservoir of philo-Semitism. Add in the three-million-strong Muslim community that’s lately come of political age. There are four Muslims in the US Congress but that belies their influence. Both Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian Arab, and Ilhan Abdullahi Omar are combative charismatic personalities, PR savvy, and committed to anti-Israelism. Omar is also one of 56 members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Into this interlocking directorate factor about 90 House members who align with the Congressional progressive caucus. Uber-progressive Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is leading efforts to block arms sales to Israel.
This brings me to the Democrats’ Jewish constituency. Jewish America has changed irrespective of the Arab-Israel conflict. Few US Jews ever voted based on a candidate’s support for Israel. Now, the American Jewish community is shrinking, and its identity is fading. Sure Jewish progressive Democrats in the coming decade will still eat kosher-style-plant-based deli, chortle at comedians offering shtick stand-up, but the serious sacrifices they’ll make will be at the Altar of Woke. I’m saying changes in America and within the US Jewish community – and not Israeli policies per se – have driven a permanent wedge between us in Israel and much of our family in the US. This is not an original insight but it deserves to be reiterated.
We don’t see things differently – we see different things.
Part of the “credit” goes to the assiduous efforts of progressive Jews (encouraged by various administrations since Jimmy Carter and plenty of dark money) to dissociate the American Jewish community from Israeli policies toward the Palestinian Arabs. I wrote about this trend back in 1994. There have been influential non- and anti-Zionist American Jews since there’s been an Israel. Only briefly, between 1967 and 1973 were ardently pro-Zionist American Jewish leaders ascendant. The narrative that it took courage to criticize Israeli policies inside or outside the Jewish establishment is bogus. It has been peddled since David Ben-Gurion’s days.
The J-Streeting of American Jewry has been 48 years in the making. The idea was always to offer US Jews fed up with the “occupation,” “settlements,” dead Gaza babies, West Bank checkpoints, settler fanatics, and in-your-face-Judaism, an off-ramp that leads to a new normal. For some, J Street’s sham “pro-Israel and pro-peace” mantra is not enough, and they’ll slither down to more radical anti-Zionist groups with their own clergy, catechisms, and utopian theology.
Given this lay of the Democratic land, heartfelt kudos to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, age 81, who has held off anti-Israel resolutions in the House. When the time comes, her successor, to paraphrase Exodus 1:8, will not know Israel. If there will be such a bird as an unequivocally pro-Israel House Democrat, they will be in the closet and shtum.
The Senate’s leading progressives Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have labored to salvage Hamas’s battered fortunes by demanding Israel adhere to a premature ceasefire. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Brooklyn Jew, has seen no political downside to letting Israel twist slowly in the wind. New Jersey’s Sen. Robert Menendez, Chairman the Foreign Relations Committee, once a reliable friend of Israel, let Schumer be his moral beacon. But it’s not personal – it’s strictly politics. The Democratic side of Capitol Hill is today J Street-occupied territory.
In this context, Israelis need to express Hakarat HaTov – gratitude – to 78-year-old President Joe Biden for having Israel’s back during the first 11 days of the conflict. He had supported Israel for as long as he politically could, repeatedly blocking Western Europe and the Arabs from pushing through one-sided anti-Israel UN Security Council resolutions. He kept lines of communications open with Netanyahu, made his criticisms as private as such interchanges allow, and refrained from publicly panning the Jewish state.
Thank you, Mr. President.
We Israelis appreciate that you are among the last of a generation of Democrats who are Israel-friendly even though you disagree with some of our policies. I know there will be a price to pay for your forbearance, and we will face your demands when the time comes.
Ancient Israelite history teaches us that forming alliances is a tricky business. Under conditions now extant in Washington, progressive Democrats have sided with the Islamic Resistance Movement of Hamas. In contrast, Trumpian Republicans are pro-Israel and viscerally antagonistic toward the Islamist agenda.
So Republicans and Israel are political bedfellows. I am grateful for GOP support, mindful that politics is about interests, not friendships. I’d prefer if the Democrats reversed themselves on Woke and the GOP reversed itself on Trumpism. However, realistically Israel needs to play the cards it has been dealt.
Politics in the grownup world is seldom straightforward. That helps explain why Israel simultaneously bombs Hamas installations in Gaza and supplies the territory with water, electricity, and truckloads of food and supplies.
A final word. If you are a befuddled young Jew in the US and facing what The New York Times has the chutzpah to characterize (for it has spent decades fanning the flames) an “identity crisis” because woke-ism is at odds with pro-Israelism, I ache for you.
It is a make-or-break moment. I pray you consider siding with the Jewish people in the land of Israel. Come on aliya. Come up to Zion. Help us repair our imperfect Zionist enterprise. Serve in the IDF. Learn Hebrew. Become Jewishly literate. Struggle with Judaism and how to make it personally meaningful in your homeland. Discover the Covenant.
Such a choice requires tremendous spiritual and emotional strength. So, it depends on what you want for the children of your children (there’s a thought!) and how best they can be “a light unto the nations.”