In the aftermath of Israel barring entry of two far left-wing anti-Israel members of Congress, Democratic politicians began to worry that Israel was becoming a wedge issue rather than an issue with bipartisan support. Staunch pro-Israel Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY) said “refusing entry to members of Congress looks like Israel [is] closing itself off to criticism and dialogue. This decision will only strengthen the anti-Israel movements and arguments many of us find so troubling, further politicize support for Israel in the United States and ultimately play right into the hands of Israel’s enemies.”
Engel has been a member of Congress since 1989 and knows better. He has seen his own Democratic party moving away from Israel since President Barack Obama made deliberate efforts to create daylight between Israel and the United States in his outreach to the Muslim world.
If one were to look at the 2008 Democratic Platform, it would be hard to see much of a difference from the Republican Platform regarding Israel. Both parties considered Israel a strong ally and backed Israeli positions.
But Obama made a strategic pivot away from Israel running as an incumbent in 2012. With the blessing of left-wing groups like J Street, the Democratic Party officially changed course on several key issues:
- Refugees. Until 2012, the Democrats agreed with Republicans that Palestinian refugees would find a home in a new state of Palestine, not Israel.
- Hamas. Until 2012, Democrats agreed that Hamas should be isolated until it renounced terror and recognized Israel’s basic right to exist.
- Borders. Until Obama, Democrats agreed with Republicans that a new Palestinian state would NOT be established along the 1949 Armistice Lines, but reflect current realities and need to ensure Israel’s security.
- Jerusalem. Until Obama, the Democrats and Republicans agreed that Jerusalem would remain a united city and the capital of Israel.
Those points – with the exception of Jerusalem which was bitterly contested on the convention floor – would disappear from the 2012 Democratic platform.
Years before Donald Trump considered running for president and the rise of the alt-left, the Democratic Party pulled back from supporting Israel’s position regarding establishing peace with the Arab world.
The pro-Arab camp would gather steam with the presidential aspirations of Democratic Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders in the 2016 election season. In an effort to placate the Sanders camp when Hillary Clinton became the official party nominee, the Democrats allowed the Sanders team to help craft the official platform. Sanders chose anti-Israel figures to help draft the language, including Cornel West who calls Israel an “apartheid state,” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and James Zogby who back the boycott of Israel movement.
In the end, the Clinton camp killed the Sanders’ team proposed language “aimed at criticizing the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, demanding ‘an end to illegal settlements’ and supporting the re-building of the Gaza Strip.” But the anti-Israel movement inside the Democratic party had taken yet another step, moving from pro-Israel (until 2012) to neutral (2012) to critical (almost in 2016).
The 2020 presidential race is underway, and three of the four top Democratic candidates are deep in the far-left fringe of the party, including Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). With the rise and remarkable defense of the anti-Israel ‘Freshmen Squad,‘ one can expect the ‘Senior Squad’ will likely draft an official party platform that will actively attack Israel on issues which once had strong bipartisan support.
Trump has not made Israel a wedge issue in politics; the Democrats have been actively doing that themselves since Obama.
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