left-wing, base votes by attacking Israel. For Democratic groups to pretend like this is a made-up wedge issue is audacious,” Strauss told JTA.
”Make no mistake about it, Scott Wallace, Leslie Cockburn, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and other candidates attacking Israel, one of our closest allies and the only democracy in the Middle East, is bad for US-Israel relations. It is also a bad political strategy,” Strauss added. “We proved this when we educated the voters of PA-01 about the fact that the foundation that Wallace was in charge of, and which bears his family name, gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to organizations that support BDS and terrorism against Israel. The prestigious Cook Political Report moved his race from toss-up to lean Republican and specifically cited our ads in their write-up.
“We will continue educating voters in many other districts about the anti-Israel behavior of Democrats, between now and November,” Strauss promised, referencing the midterm elections.
Halie Soifer, the executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said there is no contradiction between Zionism and Democratic politics, maintaining that the Democratic Party continues to best represent Jewish interests.
“Given President Trump’s alignment with neo-Nazis and in his politicization of Israel as a partisan issue – not to mention his radically right-wing domestic agenda – we are confident that the overwhelming majority of the Jewish electorate will continue to support Democrats in the upcoming election,” Soifer said. “JDCA is supporting Democratic candidates who share our policy platform and values, and we have, in some instances, spoken out against candidates who are not aligned with our views. JDCA is proudly serving as the voice of pro-Israel and socially progressive Democrats, and we will do everything in our power to ensure that the Jewish community’s values are represented in the midterm elections.
“Every election, Republicans attempt to use Israel as a partisan wedge issue, and every year they fail to get a majority of the Jewish vote. This year will be no different. The more Jewish voters who go to the polls in November, the better the result will be for Democrats.”
Although anti-Israel attitudes certainly exist within progressive circles, some liberal Jews believe they are on the margins.
“I believe that support for Israel remains as strong among both Republicans and Democrats as ever,” said Rabbi Jack Moline, the executive director of the Interfaith Alliance and the former head of the National Jewish Democratic Council. “With some few exceptions on both sides of the aisle, the notion of a national homeland for the Jewish people is accepted and secure. However, just as people who were formerly on the margins of both parties are now considered part of a big tent, ideas that were once marginal in Israel are being entertained by mainstream leaders.
“For a liberal Zionist like me, objecting to bad policy in Israel is an indication of deeper concern, not lesser support,” he said. “Consider it a victory for the reactionary Right that honest disagreement with the current administration has been successfully depicted as betrayal.”
Daniel Shapiro, the former US ambassador to Israel under president Obama, said there is no contradiction between liberal values and Zionism, which he said “is the expression of the wholly legitimate right of the Jewish people to sovereignty in their ancient homeland.
“If there are those in the Democratic Party or the progressive coalition who misunderstand that – there may be some, but we tend to exaggerate the phenomenon – it is incumbent on people like me to educate them about Israel’s inherent legitimacy,” he said.
The larger divide, Shapiro said, relates to the Palestinian issue, not Israel’s existence.
“An Israel that is seen as still seeking to keep a realistic two-state solution alive, where its security needs are met and it is recognized as a Jewish state – and even though Palestinian leaders have not yet met their obligations to make that outcome possible – will not have trouble retaining the broad, bipartisan support it has historically enjoyed,” he said.
Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, said the Pew study was flawed, insofar as it suggested that support for either Israel or the Palestinians implies a lack of advocacy for the other.
“The question of whether one is pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian is a false dichotomy. We need to stop asking questions, in polls and otherwise, that suggest that one must choose between the human rights of Israelis or Palestinians,” Jacobs said. “The only defensible position is one that stands up for the human rights of both and insists that these are not in conflict.
“That means working toward two states, and opposing the occupation and the growth of settlements that entrench it. This is the position of the Israeli Left, who should be the natural partners for the Democratic Party – in contrast to the Republican Party, which has allied itself with Likud, the Jewish Home [Bayit Yehudi] Party and the rest of the pro-settlement, pro-occupation hard Right.”
Yet others see the Democrats’ continued embrace of progressive figures and Israel critics like Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Ellison, Sarsour and Mallory as further divorcing their party – America’s liberal party – from Israel, leaving liberal Zionists – a majority among American Jews – in political turmoil.
“Democratic base voters are more hostile to Israel than at any point in decades, which will produce a less supportive House Democratic caucus next year,” Johnson said. “As the 2020 presidential primaries take shape, it’s easy to imagine more ideologically flexible contenders (such as Kirsten Gillibrand or Kamala Harris [the California senator] sharply criticizing Israel to boost their standing with progressive activists.
“Liberal Zionists,” Johnson warns, “will need to more effectively communicate how Israel’s policies on women’s issues, LGBT rights and civil rights are consistent with a Democratic Party increasingly oriented around identity politics.”
A Wider Bridge, a pro-Israel LGBT group, insists that it is doing just that: making the progressive case for Israel.
“Israel has long received broad support from both Democrats and Republicans. I believe that is still true today,” said Ronit Bezalel, the group’s communications director. “Much of our work at A Wider Bridge is to make the case for Israel among progressive allies. We do not believe that support of Israel excludes the concerns raised on behalf of the Palestinian people.” •