Chicagoland Pro-Israel Political Update

What would Pence have thought if he had seen the real Israel last week, the Israel that has implemented so much of what progressives are fighting for in the U.S.? The Democratic Party remains the natural home of American Jews because while both parties are pro-Israel, only the Democratic Party supports the other values most American Jews cherish.
A recent Pew poll purports to show a partisan divide on Israel, but even if we overlook the poll’s flaws, the fact remains that in the only poll that really matters, votes in Congress, support for Israel is overwhelmingly bipartisan. It is up to progressive Democrats to keep it that way.
We must remain vigilant to prevent Congress or Trump from pulling out of the Iran Deal. Legislation under consideration that would automatically reimpose sanctions in the future if Iran engages in behavior not barred by the JCPOA would violate the deal today. Trump still has yet to come up with a better alternative to the deal.
President Obama spoke about the U.S.-Israel relationship at a New York synagogue last week.
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) urged the Trump administration to fill the still-vacant post of Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat anti-Semitism.
Don’t miss the N.S.S. Beth El Democratic candidate forum this morning, January 28. Details below.
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Mike Pence visited Israel last week. Imagine with Allison Kaplan Sommer how Pence would have felt had he seen the real Israel: mixed-gender combat units, universal health care, state-funded abortion, a memorial to LGBTQ victims of Hitler, and a woman Sharia law court judge.
Jay Michaelson writes that Pence and his colleagues are implementing social policies that the overwhelming majority of American Jews disagree with: restrictions on reproductive freedom, ever-expanding religious exemptions that primarily benefit Christians, massive funding subsidies for overwhelmingly Christian religious schools, the re-centering of Christianity in American public life and, in general, the erosion of the garden wall between church and state…when the wall between church and state is eroded, tiny minorities like ours will suffer.

The Democratic Party remains the natural home of American JewsRon Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, recently said that “there is very strong support for Israel in the Democratic Party.” Both parties are pro-Israel, but only the Democratic Party shares the values of most American Jews on economic and social issues. Republicans can only increase their share of the Jewish vote by disagreeing with Dermer and misrepresenting Democratic positions on Israel; otherwise, there is no reason for most Jews to vote Republican.

Bipartisan support for Israel is a cardinal principle of pro-Israel advocacy. But in today’s polarized, hyper-partisan environment, too many people automatically assume that if the other party is for something, they must be against it. The love-fest between Bibi and Trump, culminating in Pence’s visit to Israel last week, is case in point. A recent Pew poll showed that while Democratic sympathy for the Palestinians has not changed, Democratic sympathy for Israel has declined.

Tamara Cofman Wittes and Dan Shapiro explored some of the flaws in the poll, but even if we take it at face value, it’s clear that one can sympathize with the Palestinians and support Israel; the two are not mutually exclusive, and as Wittes and Shapiro explain, “Americans are far more divided on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than they are on Israel or the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

The poll that really matters is how Congress votes, and support for Israel remains strong despite the partisan divide that the Pew poll purports to show. Nathan Guttman, writing about the Pew poll, asks

With such a partisan divide, how do pro-Israel resolutions and foreign aid budget bills get approved overwhelmingly in Congress? How do both parties boast a pro-Israel platform? The answer is in the divide between grassroots and leadership. Democratic leadership remains strongly sympathetic to Israel – a result of years of work with pro-Israel activists and of deep ties with players on the ground. The Democratic grassroots: not so much.

Also, polls like these don’t measure intensity of opinion or priorities. Anyone will give an opinion if asked, and it will be a strong opinion if that’s what the question elicits. But few people who run for Congress have experience or much interest in foreign affairs; with notable exceptions, they and their constituents tend to be motivated by domestic issues, and it then becomes our responsibility to help educate them on foreign policy issues.

Michael Koplow speculates  that Democrats…are increasingly conflating their feelings about Israel with their feelings about Trump, associating Israel with the American president…among Democrats [Trump] is viewed as a uniquely unqualified and repugnant figure. Little wonder that Democrats watch the love affair between Trump and Israel, and immediately decide that their sympathy for Israel must be misplaced.

Some of Bibi’s policies and his meddling in American politics don’t help either. It’s more important than ever to be clear that just as one can oppose Trump’s policies (or Obama’s) and be pro-America, so too one can oppose Bibi’s policies and be pro-Israel. If we fall into the trap of taking criticism of Bibi as criticism of Israel, we will do lasting harm to the U.S.-Israel relationship. Tribalism is a fact of life on both sides of the aisle in America. We can’t stop it, but we can focus it–better that Americans conflate Trump and Bibi than Trump and Israel.

Republicans will be Republicans, and they will attempt to use polling like this for partisan gain. The reality is that Democrats in Congress continue to strongly support Israel. But it’s up to Democrats to ensure that the Democratic Party remains pro-Israel.

It is a Jewish and American value to care about others. As Hillel famously asked, “If I am only for myself, what am I?” Indeed, as Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) recently wrote, “We cannot identify only with our own tribe, be it based on race, religion, whom we love, or where we come from.”

But the first question Hillel asked was, “If I am not for myself, who will be?” We have to look out for others, but the pro-Israel community must also look out for itself. We can’t expect others to take the lead on pro-Israel issues if we don’t. We are just as much a part of the progressive community as anyone else, and we vote overwhelmingly Democratic. So it’s important that we answer Hillel’s third question, “If not now, when?” by speaking up for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship at every opportunity, whether on our own, through the Jewish Democratic Council of America, or with and to the candidates we support.

We must not disengage
. Certain anti-Israel groups, such as Jewish Voice for Peace and Code Pink, pulled out of the Los Angeles Women’s March because Jewish actress Scarlett Johannson was a featured speaker. In doing so, all they proved was that they are motivated by bigotry and would not participate in the March if they could not get their way. Contrast that attitude to Zioness, which proudly participated in the Marches as a pro-Israel group.
Other groups speak up. We should too–the right way.

Don’t forget about Iran
Philip Gordon and Robert Malley explain that insisting on a “better” agreement, and threatening to walk away, is a recipe for no deal at all. Their article is essential reading, including their reminder that “The real choice in 2015 was between achieving a deal that constrained the size of Iran’s nuclear program for many years and ensured intrusive inspections forever, or not getting one, meaning no restrictions at all coupled with much less verification.”

President Obama discussed the U.S.-Israel relationship last week. At Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center, Obama discussed Israel’s security, settlements, the abstention at the U.N., and the peace process. I’ve updated my comprehensive Q&A about the U.N. vote accordingly.

Rep. Raja Krishamoorthi (D-IL) urged the Trump administration to fill the still-vacant post of Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat anti-Semitism
. In his letter to Secretary of State Tillerson, Raja noted that “this position is a vital part of our country’s efforts to promote human rights and tolerance among our allies and the rest of the world” and that the post has been vacant since January 20, 2017.

N.S.S Beth EL Men’s Club 2018 Democratic Candidate Town Hall
. This morning, Sunday, January 28, meet Democratic Attorney General candidates Pat Quinn, Nancy Rotering, Scott Drury, Sharon Fairley, and Jesse Ruiz, plus gubernatorial candidates Chris Kennedy and Tio Hardiman. Programs start at 10:00 a.m. sharp at 1175 Sheridan Road in Highland Park. Please attend this always interesting forum and bring your questions for the Q&A. All are welcome. Any questions contact Michael Salberg at 847-831-0581.

Video Clip of the Week
What Even Matters Anymore.

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