In an interview with Ha’aretz, Israel’s ambassador to the United States took a dim view of a recent American political trend. “Israel has become a partisan issue in the U.S., and this political ping-pong is bad for us,” he said.
The interview was no more specific, but Michael Oren might have been referring to the deeply partisan way in which U.S.-Israel relations are framed by groups like the Republican Jewish Coalition and the National Jewish Democratic Council as well as by newcomers like the pro-Republican Emergency Committee for Israel. While we don’t doubt that these groups are deeply committed to Israel, their foremost mission is to elect members of their party. Unfortunately, that often leads them to demonize the other party, and to suggest that politicians are more deeply divided on Israel than is the case. In truth, allowing for differences in diplomatic approach and disagreements over some specific policies, support for Israel is a consensus issue in the United States, with wide and deep support in places well beyond traditional Jewish strongholds.
Even Matt Brooks of the RJC, which has been accused of turning Israel into a wedge issue, suggests to Ha’aretz that partisanship has its limits. “Israel is not a partisan issue in the usual Republican/Democratic way,” he said. “Support for Israel is strong on both sides of the aisle. The split is between the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, who define ‘pro-Israel’ the way J Street does, and the rest of us.”
Brooks’ counterparts at the NJDC would disagree with that characterization of their party, and would undoubtedly point to isolationists on the other side of the aisle.
Israel has a place in electoral politics, and we should hold all our candidates to a high standard when it comes to their positions on Israel. Without tossing around words like “anti-Israel,” we should demand that they clarify positions that seem at odds with Israel’s elected leaders, or with which we simply disagree. If their answers are lacking, we can respond in the voting booth.
But we would do well to heed Amb. Oren’s warning. A vigorous give and take on Israel is essential, but partisan ping-pong is a game we’ll all end up losing.