Israel and its conflict with Palestine became a political issue in the United States long ago. The Israel lobby, also known as the Zionist lobby, has been active in the United States since approximately the 19th century. This lobby works to influence the U.S. government in ways similar to Zionist ideology or in ways that benefit Israel and Jewish Americans alike. The movement can be traced back to 1844 when Christian Restorationist George Bush published a book entitled The Valley of Vision; or, The Dry Bones of Israel Revived. The book criticized “the thralldom and oppression which has so long ground them (the Jews) to the dust,” and called for “elevating” the Jews “to a rank of honorable repute among the nations of the earth” by restoring the Jewish people to Israel, where many of them could be converted to Christianity. These ideals became more of a political force than a religious one in 1914, when Louis Brandeis brought Jewish Zionism into American policy concerns for the first time. Brandeis was the chair of the American Provisional Executive Committee For General Zionist Affairs. He raised millions of dollars to provide relief to Jewish suffering in war-torn Europe.
From there, the creation of a homeland for the Jewish people became a political issue in America. Congress passed the first joint resolution that expressed support for a homeland in Palestine for the Jewish people in 1922, and the Mandate of Palestine was approved the same day by the Council of the League of Nations. Zionist lobbying in the United States aided the creation of the State of Israel in 1947 and 1948. In the 1950s, the American Zionist Committee For Public Affairs was created. At first, Israel was not at the forefront of the committee’s agenda. Instead, it focused on other issues in the Middle East and the USSR, and American supporters of Israel became less vocal. As focused moved back towards Israel in later years, they changed their name to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Relations between Israel and the U.S. were initially chilly politically, with strong public support but governmental reservations about the wisdom of the creation of a Jewish state. Since 1979, Israel has received increased foreign assistance and AIPAC “has grown into a 100,000-member national grassroots movement” and refers to itself as America’s “pro-Israel lobby.”
Democratic Shift on Israel
For many years, the Democratic Party was known as being the party that was pro-Israel. However, in recent years, the tides have turned. Not only has Republican support of Israel increased, Democratic support is on the decline. Many believe this is because Israel’s government has become more conservative, and Democrats are stepping up when they believe Israeli government policy is “too insensitive to the Palestinians and subversive of the peace process.” The percentage Democrats that felt sympathetic towards is down to 44 percent according to Pew, who also states that, “dating back to the late 1970s, the partisan gap in Mideast sympathies has never been wider.”
J Street is an organization founded by former Clinton Administration official Jeremy Ben-Ami. Ben-Ami founded the organization in 2008 “to counter AIPAC’s unwillingness to press for negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.” Despite much criticism that J Street is a pro-Palestinian organization disguised as a pro-Israeli one, members and supporters believe that “Ben-Ami was extraordinarily cautious in keeping J Street within what appeared to be the acceptable bounds of pro-Israel discourse.” For example, J Street went along with the Obama administration in 2011 n opposing U.N. recognition of Palestine’s statehood, “even though some of its rank and file thought otherwise.” Much of the criticism J Street receives is due to its advocacy for negotiations between Israel and Palestine. Many see this stance as being pro-Palestinian, or at least not anti-Palestinian enough to constitute being pro-Israeli.
In 2014, the group took a step that gained it a large degree of criticism in the pro-Israeli community. They opposed the Netanyahu government’s demand that the Palestinians agree to Jewish state as a condition for continuing negotiations. Ben-Ami himself issued a statement saying, “it is simply unrealistic and unreasonable to expect any Palestinian leader to consent to what has become for all intents and purposes an Israeli ultimatum right now.” Among the critics of this decision was the Washington Free Beacon, which wrote, “J Street’s advocacy for the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state follows a nearly unbroken period of advocacy for Palestinian and Iranian interests since the group’s founding in 2008.”
The Center for American Progress
The Center for American Progress, or CAP, is “the chief liberal Democratic think-tank in Washington.” In 2011, CAP staff members who studied and wrote about the Middle East were criticized by former AIPAC Communications head Josh Block. Block believed that CAP was fostering “anti-Israel sentiment” and “anti-Semites.” His complaints were seconded by other Jewish groups, and the staff members in question left. A few years later, in 2014, CAP hosted a conference in Jerusalem with Molad, a new left-center Israeli think tank that was “founded by Avner Inbar and Assaf Sharon, two peace activists from the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement, which has been protesting the eviction of Palestinians in East Jerusalem.” This shift seems to strongly reflect the shift within the Democratic Party regarding Israel.
Republicans Vs. Democrats on Israel
A large degree of the recent decline in Democratic support has occurred under the Obama administration. Many have speculated whether the sway has anything to do with the president’s opinions, with The Washington Post stating, “President Obama has had the most acrimonious relationship with Israel of any president in U.S. history. What is not clear is whether his views are influencing the party, or whether Democrats’ worldview, embodied in the president, is increasingly antagonistic toward the Jewish state.”
Many Republicans have criticized Democrats for rallying around Obama rather than supporting their party-proclaimed principles. Democrats, meanwhile, are accusing Republicans of trying to turn Israel politics into a partisan issue. Likewise, Republicans have attacked Democrats for their refusal to criticize or protest White House hostility to the elected government of Israel (for example, refusing to denounce comments like those of former negotiator Martin Indyk) and for not refusing to participate in events like the boycotting the Israel prime minister’s speech. While Republicans have been in the spotlight for their increased support for Israel, many have speculated that more recent movement towards Israeli support is due to the fact that “Republicans currently in the Senate raised more money during the 2014 election cycle in direct, federally regulated campaign contributions from individuals and political action committees deemed pro-Israel than their Democratic counterparts,” states the New York Times.
Barack Obama on Israel
President Obama has received much criticism regarding his policies on Israel. However, despite some controversial actions at the beginning of his administration, Obama seems to have re-stated his dedication to supporting Israel, stating that he is “absolutely committed to making sure” Israel maintains a military advantage over Iran. He then went on to address concerns from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the deal that the United States and five other world powers struck with Iran, stating, “what I would say to them is that not only am I absolutely committed to making sure they maintain their qualitative military edge, and that they can deter any potential future attacks, but what I’m willing to do is to make the kinds of commitments that would give everybody in the neighborhood, including Iran, a clarity that if Israel were to be attacked by any state, that we would stand by them.” In the deal, Tehran agreed to halt the country’s nuclear ambitions, in exchange for Western powers dropping sanctions that have hurt the Iran’s economy. Many criticized the deal due to Iran’s lack of trustworthiness, but Obama believes that there is still a case for the deal, stating, “in fact, you could argue that if they are implacably opposed to us, all the more reason for us to want to have a deal in which we know what they’re doing and that, for a long period of time, we can prevent them from having a nuclear weapon.” Overall, Obama seems to have a pro-Israel stance that is not as staunch as many of his Republican counterparts, and is looking for solutions that are fairer to other Middle East entities as well.
Hillary Clinton on Israel
Hillary Clinton was at the forefront of much pro-Israel legislation during her time as Senator. During a trip to Israel in 2005, Clinton expressed her support of the West Bank barrier and her opposition to Palestinian terrorists, stating, “this is not against the Palestinian people. This is against the terrorists. The Palestinian people have to help to prevent terrorism. They have to change the attitudes about terrorism.” She showed her support for Israel further in a pro-Israel rally outside of the United Nations headquarters in New York in 2006, stating, “we are here to show solidarity and support for Israel. We will stand with Israel, because Israel is standing for American values as well as Israeli ones.” Clinton believes that a two-state solution is the only true answer for Israel, stating, “a strong Israeli military is always essential, but no defense is perfect. And over the long run, nothing would do more to secure Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic state than a comprehensive peace.”
- GOP’s support for Israel soars – The Washington Post
- G.O.P.’s Israel Support Deepens as Political Contributions Shift – The New York Times
- Republicans and Democrats Are Reversing Roles on Israel – New Republic
- Poll finds Republicans sympathize with Israel much more strongly than Democrats – Washing Examiner
- Obama: I’m ‘absolutely committed’ to Israel’s security – CNN
- Settlements, Iran and Hamas: Hillary Clinton’s Israel policy – YNet News
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