After taking white working-class voters for granted in November, the Democratic Party seems poised to do the same for Jews – and that could have important implications for the already troubled U.S.-Israeli relationship.
Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who lead the party’s progressive wing, are backing Rep. Keith Ellison, an African-American Muslim with a long history of anti-Semitic leanings and anti-Israeli positions, as the party’s next chairman. So too is the incoming Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, who is considered one of Israel’s strongest Democratic backers.
Ellison’s bid and high-level backing reflect the party’s increasing leftward drift on Israel-related issues, in which one-sided views about the Jewish state – particularly related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – are far more acceptable as mainstream Democratic positions than a decade ago.
That raises two major questions for the U.S.-Israeli relationship:
First, will a future Democratic president and Congress provide the party’s traditional support for Israel that dates to President Harry Truman’s recognition of the Jewish state just 11 minutes after it was created – support that now includes America’s generous military aid, its intelligence sharing and its protection from anti-Israel resolutions at the morally challenged United Nations?
Second, will U.S. support for Israel remain a bipartisan issue, or will it increasingly fall victim to partisan politics – with Republicans aligning themselves forcefully with Jerusalem while Democrats take a balanced approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and broader Arab-Israeli relations?
When it comes to Israel, high-level Democratic backing for Ellison is less a sharp turn than a continuation of recent trends.
Though the “strategic partnership” of U.S. aid and intelligence sharing remained strong under President Barack Obama, U.S.-Israeli relations nevertheless have been rocky due in part to Obama’s pressure on Jerusalem to take chances for peace with the terror-infected Palestinian leadership and to the U.S.-led global nuclear agreement with Iran, which Israel’s leaders believe threatens their country’s security.
Other examples of the party’s growing hostility to Israel abound. When, at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, party elders moved to reinsert language in the platform stating Jerusalem “is and will remain the capital of Israel,” the convention approved the change on a voice vote on which the opponents seemed to have the louder voice. At this year’s convention, Sanders’ appointees to the platform committee sought unsuccessfully to include language that used the highly-charged terms “occupation” and “illegal settlements” to describe Israel’s West Bank policies and to delete language that condemned the BDS (boycott, divest, and sanction) movement against Israel.
Ellison was one of Sanders’ three appointees to the platform committee. His election as party chairman, which Sanders is pushing and Obama is opposing, would put an outspoken Israel critic atop the party’s hierarchy, further legitimizing views that seem increasingly popular among party activists.
To be sure, Ellison has disavowed his work of earlier years in which he collaborated with strident anti-Semites. After winning the Democratic primary in 2006 to run for his House seat, he wrote a two-page letter to the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, renouncing his work in the 1990s for the Nation of Islam “due to its propagation of bigoted and anti-Semitic statements and actions” by Louis Farrakhan and his assistant at the time, Khalid Muhammad.
Ellison had helped promote Muhammad, who said of the six million Jews that Hitler exterminated, “nobody ever asked what did they do to Hitler.” Ellison, according to Tablet magazine, also defended a member of the Minneapolis Initiative Against Racism who called Jews “the most racist white people.”
Ellison now says that he supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and he’s visited Israel often in recent years.
But in the summer of 2014, as rockets from Gaza – which is run by the terrorist group Hamas – were flying into southern Israel, Ellison was among very few lawmakers who voted against additional U.S. funding for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system. That summer, Ellison also wrote a Washington Post op-ed in which he pressured Israel to end its blockade of Gaza – which it imposes to prevent Gaza’s terrorists from getting materials for war-making – focusing far more attention on the suffering of Gazans than the security needs of Israel.
Finally, on a trip to Israel last summer, Ellison tweeted out a sign that he passed on a walk through the West Bank town of Hebron that referred to Israeli policy as “apartheid” – thus, implicitly endorsing that characterization.
For Jews with Democratic leanings and a Zionist conviction, the party’s courtship of Ellison should be troubling indeed.
Lawrence J. Haas, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, is the author of the new book Harry and Arthur: Truman, Vandenberg, and the Partnership That Created the Free World.