Conflicts in the Middle East, and especially those ongoing between Israel and Palestine, have long been a hot-button issue for politicians and voters on both sides of the aisle. While this is an extremely complex and multifaceted situation, there are general trends in the positions held by members of the Democratic Party.
Most people on the left hold a more negative view toward Israel, and tend to favor Palestine in relations between the two sides. In fact, Pew Research Center conducted a survey on this very issue earlier in 2018, and while 79% of Republicans sympathized with Israel over Jerusalem, that number fell to 27% among Democrats.
The Relocation Ceremony
On May 14th of 2018, the U.S. held a ceremony to commemorate the relocation of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The event was attended by important politicians from both sides, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, as well as American Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Jared Kushner, and Ivanka Trump.
While a number of Republican congressmen and women were present at the event, totalling 4 senators and 10 representatives, no Democrats from either house were in attendance. Even Chuck Schumer, the staunchly pro-Israel Democratic senator from New York who supported the move, didn’t make the trip to Jerusalem, and did not release a statement on this decision.
On May 28th, six Democratic representatives sent a letter to David Friedman, the United States Ambassador to Israel, claiming that no Democrats had been invited to the event, refuting the idea that they chose to avoid attending. On the other hand, Republican senator Lindsey Graham responded by saying that nobody was specifically invited, but politicians on both sides had the option of going.
Unrest Surrounding the Relocation
One of the key considerations for Democratic views on the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem is the fact that many Palestinians and people from other Arab countries have strongly opposed the relocation, amid support for a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. Dianne Feinstein, a prominent Democratic senator, criticized the relocation on the grounds that it was a one-sided decision, rather than a term reached as part of larger negotiations. She also called on Trump to support a two-state solution.
While Schumer did not publicly discuss his lack of attendance at the event, he was among a set of Democrats who supported the relocation. His statement praised President Trump for effecting what he called “a long overdue move,” but again, not all Democrats are in agreement on this issue. Some, like Feinstein, believe the decision should have been made differently, while Schumer and others voiced their agreement with the president’s choice.
Overall, one key consideration for those who question or criticize the relocation is the possibility of its leading to unrest in the region. Jerusalem has long been disputed by the Palestinian side, and the movement of the embassy sends a clear signal that the United States supports Israel’s claim to the city. In fact, the New York Times reported that over 1,350 Palestinians protesting the relocation were injured by gunfire on the day of the event.
The opening of the new embassy took place on the 70th anniversary of the formation of Israel, a uniquely important day for those on both sides of the conflict. Protests against the Israeli economic blockade of Gaza had been ongoing since March 30th, but many Palestinians tried to cross the border on May 14th, leading to a day of extreme violence. 58 people were killed by the end of the day, and Israeli police used guns and tear gas to subdue the protesters. Over 2,700 were reportedly injured.
In spite of the spike in violence that day, the message in Jerusalem was overwhelmingly positive. The relocation was part of a long trend of improvement in American-Israeli relations spearheaded by the Trump administration (and largely resisted by Democrats). It had been common for presidential candidates to promote moving the embassy to Jerusalem while on the campaign trail, but none before Trump had actually gone through with the plan, as it was widely considered a setback for Palestine. Palestinians condemned the move almost immediately, and it was met with harsh criticism throughout the Arab world.
Who Is Responsible for the Violence?
American and international politicians were also divided on who was responsible for the violence, both on that day as well as in general. The White House released a statement condemning Hamas, a Palestinian group, for “cynically provoking this response.” While conservative politicians are more likely to hold this view, and generally believe in Israel’s right to self-defense, Democrats often see Israel as unnecessarily violent and uncooperative.
Israel has repeatedly justified its use of retaliatory violence, including lethal force, but many groups have called on its military to respect human life, claiming that the use of indiscriminate gunfire is evidence of indifference. The events of May 14th led to the highest death toll of Palestinians at the hands of Israelis since 2014, sparking further debate regarding the ethics behind Israel’s approach to Palestinian protests.
In addition to armed infantry, Israel’s military also mobilized a tank as well as fighter jets in an attempt to repulse what they claimed were armed Hamas militants. Many Democrats, however, pointed out that no Israeli soldiers had been injured by gunfire, questioning what they saw as a disproportionate response. This conflict over the nature of Israeli violence, as well as the threat posed by Hamas protesters, is ongoing.
Mahmoud Abbas, the president of Palestine, called on the world to intervene in the conflict, claiming that the US had Palestinian blood on its hands. Kuwait supported his points by calling for a meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the related issues. Turkey also called for a period of national mourning, demonstrating the divisive nature of these issues.
Democrats on the Israel/Palestinian Conflict
While there are a number of pro-Israel Democrats, notably Chuck Schumer, most members of the party are more critical of Netanyahu’s administration and tend to support Palestine. In fact, politicians on both sides along with international politicians agree on some of the major issues involving Israel and Palestine. For example, Israel, Palestine, the United Nations, and United States all uphold a two-state solution as official policy. What makes these such contentious issues are the specifics related to this situation as well as others. These disagreements have often been the cause of conflict and violence.
The president’s decision to relocate the embassy to Jerusalem is representative of his belief that the city is vital to Jewish and Israeli identity, but Democrats will likely contest this view by pointing to the fact that 38% of its population is made up of Palestinians. Many advocates of a two-state solution have a divided capital in mind, in which West Jerusalem would become the Israeli capital and East Jerusalem would be the capital of Palestine. For Democrats, recognizing the city as solely Israeli and ignoring Palestine’s claim is a setback to ongoing negotiations. They believe that these decisions should occur in a negotiating room with all sides present to the talks, rather than be made by the United States alone.
One of the most prominent Democrats to speak out against Trump’s decision was his predecessor, former president Barack Obama. He warned the incoming Commander in Chief of the potential “enormous consequences and ramifications” that could come from the relocation, and advised him to take a more measured approach, echoing calls from politicians across the political spectrum.
Most American Democrats are, in fact, in agreement with the views of the international community—until May 14th, there wasn’t a single embassy located within Jerusalem, as governments preferred not to take a side in the ongoing conflicts or signal their sympathy with Israel’s claim to the city. Since Trump’s move to relocate the American embassy, Guatemala and Paraguay have followed suit.
In view of the ongoing conflicts between Israel and Palestine, it has been common for Democrats to advise against any paradigm shifts, believing that they could lead to further instability. This recalls Feinstein’s letter to Trump advising against the move, in which she claimed that presidents before him avoided that decision in an attempt to “remain impartial.” Later in the text, she asserted that a unilateral decision would “erode American credibility as an unbiased mediator,” putting an eventual two-state solution—which Trump also supports—in jeopardy.
On the other hand, many Democrats in the United States Senate advocated for the relocation, as evidenced by a 90-0 vote in 2017 on a resolution calling on Trump to move the embassy to Jerusalem, following a 1995 law giving the same directive to then-president Bill Clinton. Thus any attempt to describe a consensus Democratic view on this issue is inherently reductive, and has to ignore important voices within the party.
In the end, it’s common for politicians on both sides of the aisle to support the same ideal resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A two-state solution is the preferred outcome for Democrats, Republicans, and many international politicians. What makes the relocation so complicated is how each side, as well as factions within the parties, perceive it as either simply support of Israel or as an affront to Palestinian claims in the ongoing negotiations. While Dianne Feinstein leads a subset of Democratic senators who disagree with Trump’s decision, the pro-relocation views evident in the unanimous vote are most obviously espoused by New York’s Chuck Schumer.
- Don’t Move U.S. embassy to Jerusalem – San Francisco Chronicle
- Schumer Applauds Trump on Moving US Embassy to Jerusalem – The Hill
- U.S. Embassy Move to Jerusalem: Everything You Need to Know – Haaretz
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