Israel's Problem with the Democrats

By Rosner, Schmuel | International New York Times, June 10, 2016 | Go to article overview

Israel's Problem with the Democrats


Rosner, Schmuel, International New York Times


Bernie Sanders's popularity signals a troubling future for his party and America's closest ally.

For decades, American support for Israel has been strong -- and bipartisan. Both Democratic and Republican voters typically see the Jewish state as a "friend," rank the country favorably compared with others, and tend to support Israel over the Palestinians. Leaders of both parties regularly vow to maintain the United States-Israel alliance and to keep Israel's security a priority.

But many in Israel worry that this might be changing. And what worries them most is the Democratic Party.

The change in tone and policy toward Israel began with President Obama's decision early on to move away from a 16-year tradition of unwavering support of Israel, and continued with his rocky relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But Bernie Sanders's campaign seems to prove that Mr. Obama's treatment of Israel might be a trend, not an aberration. Mr. Sanders's young, liberal supporters say they sympathize relatively more with Palestinians and less with Israel than older, more moderate Democrats do.

Mr. Sanders's explicit views are not the problem. He has said that he is "100 percent pro-Israel in the sense of Israel's right to exist." He has also said he wants peace and security for Israel. Like most Americans, he believes in a two-state solution. Like most Israelis, he opposes permanent Israeli control over Palestinians in the West Bank.

The real problem is the sentiment. In April, Mr. Sanders appointed as a director for Jewish outreach a young woman who had called Mr. Netanyahu a vulgar epithet and described him as "arrogant, deceptive, cynical, manipulative." She was later suspended, but her appointment was not a fluke. The candidate consistently associates with people who feel the way she does. In May, he appointed two harsh critics of Israel -- one of whom has accused Mr. Netanyahu of war crimes -- to the committee that will write the Democratic Party's platform.

Much like Mr. Obama when he ran for president in 2008, Mr. Sanders tries to distinguish support for Israel from his lack of support for the Israeli government. He treats Israel's government as evil but sidesteps a fact: A majority of Israelis repeatedly voted for the parties that make up Mr. Netanyahu's right-of-center coalitions, and back most of the policies to which Mr. Sanders objects.

The good news for Israel is that Bernie Sanders won't be the Democratic presidential nominee. And Hillary Clinton's tone toward Israel is much less troubling. Mrs. Clinton promises that the Democratic platform will reflect the "longstanding strong support for Israel," and polls find that her supporters are more sympathetic to the country.

But the bad news for Israel is that Mrs. …

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