Conflict over Israel has a long history. The Israel lobby has been active in the United States since approximately the 19th century. Also known as the Zionist lobby, this group of people 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 the U.S. 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.”
Republican Support For Israel
Support for Israel in general is on the rise in America, and the majority of Americans support Israel over Palestine in Middle Eastern conflicts, with Gallup reporting, “Seventy percent of Americans now view [Israel] favorably, and 62 percent say they sympathize more with the Israelis than the Palestinians in the Mideast conflict. By contrast, 17 percent currently view the Palestinian Authority favorably, and 16 percent sympathize more with the Palestinians.” However, as with most issues within American politics, the partisan divide regarding the issue has greatly increased over the years. Gallup states, “A key reason Americans’ sympathy for Israel has solidified at a sizable majority level is that Republicans’ support for the Jewish state has increased considerably.” Republican support for Israel sat at only 53 percent in 2000, but has rose to over 80 percent between 2014 and early 2015. This support increased most notably immediately after the September 11th terrorist attacks and at the start of the Iraq war in 2003. 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. Others, however, believe that the cycle works the other way around. Marc Felgoise, manages the Philadelphia Israel Network, a campaign fund-raising group whose own contributions have shifted to Republicans, states, “they are trying to cater to people who are ultimately going to support them,” implying that a perception of increased Republican support shifted the donation focus, and not vice versa. While Jewish voters make up a very small percentage of America, an ever-increasing number of Americans seem to be identifying themselves as pro-Israel. This means that this issue could hold some sway in the upcoming elections. As Republicans become more and more pro-Israel, it seems that the issue may play as much a part in the primaries as it could in the actual election.
Republicans On Israel and Palestine
Despite being known as the lesser pro-Israel party, the Republican platform addresses the issue of terrorism against Israel far more adamantly than the Democratic platform does. The platform not only calls for Palestine to maintain peace and diplomacy, but also reserves the right for Israel to refuse negotiations with rulers who do not advocate for these causes. The platform states, “the Palestinian people must support leaders who reject terror, embrace the institutions and ethos of democracy, and respect the rule of law… Israel should not be expected to negotiate with entities pledged to her destruction.” It then goes on to explain, “…radical elements like Hamas and Hezbollah must be isolated because they do not meet the standards of peace and diplomacy of the international community.”
The Republican Party platform then goes on to address the conflict regarding Jerusalem. While the Democratic platform says nothing on the issue, Republicans support Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and see this as part of a peaceful future between Palestine and Israel, stating, “We support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state with secure, defensible borders; and we envision two democratic states— Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine— living in peace and security.”
Republicans Vs. Democrats on Israel
Perhaps more notable than the Republican increase in support for Israel is the decrease in support from Democrats. While a strong majority of the Democratic Party used to support Israel, Democratic support is now down to only 48 percent. A majority of the decline has been under President Obama’s leadership. Many are wondering 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. However, it is questionable whether Republicans would have any qualms with Democrats regarding Israel if the Democratic Party still showed as much support for Israel as they did under past presidents of both parties. Likewise, Republicans greatly disapprove of Democratic 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.
Mitt Romney On Israel
Like the majority of his party, Mitt Romney supports Israel and, furthermore, is against Palestine. While the majority of Romney’s speeches regarding the Middle East have focused on restricting Iran rather than plans to resolve the tension between Israel and Palestine, Romney has stated that he will request that Arab states stop providing weapons and financial support to Hezbollah and Hamas and instead to put pressure on the Palestinians to “drop terrorism and recognize Israel’s right to exist.” Romney also strongly supports the security wall that divides Israel from the West Bank.
Chris Christie On Israel
Chris Christie is also a strong supporter of Israel, and has referred to President Obama’s approach towards the Jewish State as being “shameful.” Christie went on to explain his reasons for saying this, stating, “Our commitment to Israel must be absolute. Israel is a beacon of freedom in a sea of autocracy and our friendship should be unshakeable. Over the last few years this administration has taken our Israeli partners for granted and it is shameful how the president has treated them. Israel and its people must be supported by the United States and the American president – its existence and its security is non-negotiable, and the Iranians and others who think otherwise must be reminded by America of that simple fact.” In 2014 Christie traveled to Las Vegas with Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and John Kasich to pay tribute to GOP funder Sheldon Adelson, who funds the Republican Jewish Coalition. Christie and the other attendees made no move to differentiate their views from Adelson’s. Christie was chastised for using the term “occupied territories” to describe the Israeli-occupied West Bank, but apologized to Adelson for misspeaking.
- GOP’s support for Israel soars – The Washington Post
- DEMOCRATIC VS REPUBLICAN PLATFORMS ON ISRAEL – Frontpage Mag
- G.O.P.’s Israel Support Deepens as Political Contributions Shift – The New York Times
- Presidential hopeful Chris Christie says Obama’s approach to Israel ‘shameful’ – The Jerusalem Post
- Republicans and Democrats Are Reversing Roles on Israel – New Republic
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