This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post.
The 113th Congress to be sworn in this January is materially more left-leaning and materially less pro-Israel than the outgoing 112th.
Especially on the Democrats’ side.
For those of us in the pro-Israel camp who were disappointed by the reelection of President Barack Obama, there’s more bad news.
While there is no dearth of analysis of the impact of the US presidential election on the America-Israel relationship, Israel’s military and diplomatic strategies or on Israel’s upcoming elections, analysis of the Congress that has just been elected has been in short supply.
And while the precise impact of this election is difficult to predict, there is one inescapable conclusion: The incoming 113th Congress to be sworn in this January is materially more left-leaning and materially less pro-Israel than the outgoing 112th.
Especially on the Democrats’ side.
Between retirements, redistricting, and reelection bids that faltered, a who’s who of famously pro-Israel legislators have been swept out, many to be replaced by those with a less friendly orientation toward Israel and its relationship with America. Particularly in the offices of Democrats, Capitol Hill will no longer be, as Pat Buchanan once described it, “Israeli-occupied territory.”
The ranks of staunchly pro-Israel legislators have been thinned. Gone are Senator Joe Lieberman, and Representatives Joe Walsh and Allen West (pending a long-shot recount battle). The number of reliably pro- Israel Jewish Democrats in Congress continues to dwindle, as Representatives Steve Rothman, Gary Ackerman, Shelly Berkeley and Howard Berman won’t be returning. In fact, the number of Jewish members of Congress has just been chopped by 20 percent.
How bad is the erosion of the pro-Israel camp? Consider that J Street, the “pro- Israel” group that can never bring itself to articulate even consensus pro-Israel positions, singled out 71 candidates worthy of their support. 70 of them were victorious (all are Democrats).
The organization, which advocates stronger American pressure against Israel, handed out nearly $2 million in contributions. Granted, not every one of those 71 races was seriously contested, but many were. Walsh and West were specially – and successfully – targeted.
As one example of this election’s negative impact on Israel, Rothman’s loss may be particularly tough. A 16-year Congressman, Rothman served on the House Appropriations Committee and its Subcommittee on Defense, which apportions how much US military aid goes to Israel.
He was known to have spearheaded efforts behind the scenes to increase aid for Israel’s most critical defense programs and promote an ever-closer military alliance between Israel and the US. He was defeated in the primaries by Democrat and Israel critic Bill Pascrall in a campaign focused on Rothman’s support for Israel – or as his growing Arab constituency put it, “loyalty to a foreign flag.”
Panic in pro-Israel circles is not yet warranted. Overall, support for Israel in Congress will still be pretty solid – especially among Republicans. The GOP still has a comfortable majority in the House of Representatives, and remains as overwhelmingly pro-Israel as before.
But the trend, particularly among the Democrats, is troubling. What we witnessed at the Democratic convention, when delegates shockingly booed (and at least half opposed) the reinsertion of pro- Israel language into the party platform, may not be an aberration. Overt anti-Israel positions are increasingly common in the once-solidly Zionist party.
We can expect a sharp rise in expressions of anti-Israel sentiment from the new class of Congressional Democrats. Wisconsin Jewish Senator Herb Kohl retired after 24 years, replaced by Democrat Tammy Baldwin. She has accused Israel of war crimes and defended the libelous Goldstone Report.
Arizona just elected to Congress rabidly anti-Israel advocate Krysten Sinema, who has founded organizations supporting a Palestinian “right of return” and served as spokesman for Women in Black, an organization which backed Palestinians during the intifada.
And the list of victorious J Street-backed “Gaza 54” supporters, critics of Israel’s confronting the Gaza flotilla, accusers of Israeli war crimes and those refusing to sign letters of support for Israel is far too long to go through here.
We are already seeing a similar effect in terms of American support for Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense. From an American standpoint, it should be a no-brainer to support Israel in finally responding to relentless, unprovoked, lethal rocket attacks on its civilian population by jihadist Hamas terror-crats.
Yet, while Republicans support Israel’s response by better than a six to one margin, a mere 41% of Democrats express support for Israel’s actions – this, for an action overwhelmingly supported across the entire Israeli political spectrum.
The Democrats can complain all they want about Republicans turning Israel support into a partisan issue. But the Republicans’ continued rock-solid support for Israel is not the cause of the encroaching partisan divide. The Democrats who strongly support Israel need to confront the developments in their own party; all the Republicans have done is point them out.
Democrats also need to examine their own silent betrayal of the American-Israeli relationship. Putting party ahead of principle, 40 Jewish Democratic Congressman would not utter a peep of protest against President Obama even during his worst mistreatment of Israel and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. It is that silence, that failure to take a stand, and that failure to publicly articulate pro-Israel positions that has allowed the Democrats to drift into ambivalence – even hostility – regarding Israel.
When their pro-Israel caucus is silent, we should not be shocked that the new voices emerging from the Democrats are not Israel-friendly.