Given that liberal-leaning Democrats are the largest and fastest growing group in the party, this represents a serious challenge.
Sure, support for Israel among Republicans has never been stronger, but no party wins every election from here to eternity, Consequently, Aipac has always understood that bipartisan support constitutes the “ozone layer” of the special relationship. This ozone layer is now depleted. This did not happen all by itself. Rather, it is largely self-inflicted; a result of the behaviour of the current Israeli government.
First, Netanyahu broke the bipartisan rule by favouring the Republicans. He backed Romney in 2012, and this week backed Trump’s controversial policy of building a wall on the Mexican border. While his opposition to the Iran deal was principled, the way he went about it left many Democrats with the impression that this, too, was a partisan intervention in US politics.
Moreover, for Democrats, a key reason for supporting Israel is that it is a democracy. Given that Democrats are also very supportive of the two-state solution, Israeli policy on this issue is vital. The two are connected because if Israel does not ultimately withdraw from the vast majority of the West Bank, demographic reality means it cannot retain its identity as a Jewish and democratic state.
Almost immediately on entering office in 2009, Netanyahu endorsed the two-state solution and agreed to a settlement freeze. Later, he negotiated on the basis of the 1967 borders. Consequently, despite tensions a over policy, Democrat sympathy with Israel remained strong.
Since 2015, however, Israel has been gov- erned by a more right-wing coalition. Netanyahu has proclaimed that this government is more committed to settlements than any other. His government is currently seeking to pass a law which will legalise settlement outposts and allow the confiscation of privately owned Palestinian land. Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s senior coalition partner Naftali Bennett calls for the annexation of over half the West Bank.
This may be empty rhetoric. Nevertheless, to Democrats it signals a clear lack of commitment to the two-state solution, which challenges Israel’s identity as a Jewish democracy going forward. If that is the case, many Democrats ask why they should continue to support Israel. Why grant Israel $38 billion of aid over 10 years? Why protect it from hostile UN resolutions? Why continue with the special relationship? Why not treat Israel as just another country?
This was the point Kerry was trying to make. His speech was not about US strategy towards the Middle East but a heartfelt plea to Israel to remain true to the values that have inspired him and many other Democrats to support the special relationship.
But all this is missed by most Israelis. They are unaware of Kerry’s longstanding friendship or that he was Netanyahu’s number one defender in the administration. In a poll I commissioned a couple of years ago, only five per cent of Israelis thought “shared democratic values” was a major reason why Americans support Israel. In reality, it is important for about a third of Americans, especially Democrats. Democracy is not only a normative foundation of Israeli politics; it is also a critical strategic asset which sustains Israel’s most important international relationship.
time, liberal Democrats prefer the Palestinians
Jonathan Rynhold is a Professor of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University