Israel’s problem with the Democratic party: Answering readers’ questions and comments

June 16, 2016

As I often do following my articles in The New York Times (see here, here, here, here, and here), it is time to answer and refer to comments on my article from last week: Israel’s Problem with the Democratic Party. I suggest, of course, that you read the full article before you read this post, but in case you already have, or do not have the time (or the subscription) to do it, here is one paragraph as an appetizer:

It would not make much sense to most Israelis to elect their leaders based on the preferences of American Democrats. And Israel’s military cannot change its tactics to conform to the desires of Democratic voters, either. Similarly, it would not make sense for the Israeli government to surrender on diplomatic issues just to appease Democratic bleeding hearts… Or would it? Israel receives more American foreign aid than any other country, collaborates with Washington on security and intelligence matters and receives American diplomatic support at the United Nations and elsewhere. Because of this, Israel relies on support from both American political parties. And that comes with a price tag.

Here are some comments made and questions asked following this article – and my response to them. I will begin with comments from the International New York Times Opinion Facebook page:

Linda Anderson wrote: Israel's problem isn't with the Democratic party in the US. It is with the extremely right wing leadership it keeps electing. I am of sick of providing military support for a regime that has no regard for human rights and that thinks all world policy should revolve around whether or not Israel 'feels' threatened.

My response: Ms. Anderson is wrong. Israel’s leadership is not “extremely right wing.” Israel does have regard for human rights. Israel does not think that “all world policy should revolve around” its needs (I am certain Ms. Anderson did not intentionally do it – but this part of her comment sounds quite close to anti-Semitic accusations of Jews maneuvering the world according to their own needs). But Ms. Anderson also proves my point: it is becoming hard for Israel to communicate with Democratic Americans.

Charlie Hall wrote: Democrats today think that Netanyahu is allied exclusively with the Republican Party, and they are right. Why should Democrats support their political opponents?

My response: Mr. Hall is right. Many Democrats believe that Israel’s government prefers the Republicans. Of course, Israel’s government would never say such a thing publically, but, generally speaking, it does prefer the Republicans. What Mr. Hall does not see is the chicken and egg dynamic that is responsible for this preference. In other words: It is not that Israel prefers Republicans and hence Democrats are more critical of Israel. It is that Republicans are more supportive of Israel and hence Israel prefers Republicans.

Anthony Burke wrote: The amorality of this guy – Rosner – is shocking. Jews should care about universal human rights and international law. You undermine them, you undermine your own security.

My response: With all due respect, when Jews care about these things and forget to care about themselves, they end up badly. I am yet to see how “international law” and “universal human rights” save actual human beings from butchery. Say, innocent Syrians.

Jeanette Collins wrote: Israel has a problem with everybody. wonder why.

My response: I also wonder why. Israel is hardly a perfect country, but is it really the worst? Does it really deserve to have a problem “with everybody?” (by the way, the “everybody” suggestion is not quite accurate when it comes to the US in general, where most people have a highly positive view of the country).

The following letter was sent to my inbox: I was drawn to the line, “Either Democrats’ attitudes and Israel’s policies must converge, or Democrats must become convinced that weakening support for Israel will come with a political price.” I hope that you are advocating that the Jewish community in the US end its knee jerk support for the Democratic Party. It's a move long overdue, and it's the only thing that will reverse the “drift” that you speak about. 

My response: No Jeffrey, I am not advocating that the Jewish community in the US end its knee jerk support for the Democratic Party. I do not like it when some US Jews pretend to know better than Israelis do which party in Israel they ought to support. I do not think it is the place of Israelis to tell US Jews what party they ought to support. This is a debate US Jews should have amongst themselves.

I also wonder if this will “reverse the drift” as you say. It might – because then the Democrats will see a political downside to their growing alienation from Israel. Or it might have the opposite effect – the Democratic Party will include even less pro-Israel voices to moderate it.

I should also note that the problem Israel has with the Democratic Party is similar to a problem it also has with many Jewish Americans.

Jack wrote: I'm a liberal Democrat too, but as a lifelong supporter of Israel no longer feel at home in the Democratic Party and, needless to say, not in the other one.  So I only hope Hillary will, like her husband, prove a friend of Israel. 

My response: I do too. A Clinton – as I showed not long ago – is still considered by Israelis the “best for Israel” US President of the last 30 years. So being hopeful is an option.

Last one from my inbox: If Israel will change its policies, the Democratic Party will not have any problem with it.

My response: Well, that is really the billion dollar comment. It has appeared in many variations on Facebook and Twitter, in letters I received and even phone calls I got following the publication of the article. But as I say in the article: not everyone agrees that a change in Israel’s policies is going to change the Democrats’ views. Moreover: not everyone agrees that the change that is needed to possibly alter Democratic views is a change that Israel could actually make without putting itself at great risk or paying a high price.

Take the Iran deal as an example: would you argue that Israel should have given its consent to the deal because of Democratic notions? On the one hand, one could say: be realistic – Israel’s resistance failed to achieve its goal, and the deal went through anyway. On the other hand, one could say: the deal is dangerous to Israel – and Israel had to make that clear and had to fight it as long as it could, no matter what Democratic leaders thought. So what is the right answer? The right answer depends on one’s assessment of three things:

– How dangerous it is for Israel to further erode Democratic support?

– How dangerous it is for Israel to do what Democrats want?

– Does Israel have a chance to significantly change Democratic views by altering its policies?

These are the questions that determine your level of agreement with the argument that I laid out in the NYT article.

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