Over the last month, the Republican Jewish Coalition has placed ads in Jewish newspapers across the country making the outrageous and ridiculous assertion that Democrats are “turning their backs on Israel.” At the same time, the accusation has been made by individuals who have sent out thousands of e-mails to all those in their inboxes.
That the Republican Jewish Coalition is deliberately distorting the facts is bad enough. But it is even worse when it is done as part of a reckless strategy to politicize support for Israel — a strategy that will have negative long-term consequences for the vital American-Israeli relationship.
President Bush, former House speaker Newt Gingrich and many other Republicans have certainly been reliable friends of Israel. But they have been no better friends than the great majority of Democratic leaders — including former president Bill Clinton, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi — all of whom are unwavering supporters of the Jewish state.
Democrats have a long and proud tradition of supporting Israel. It was a Democratic president, Harry Truman, who recognized Israel just minutes after David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the founding of the Jewish state.
When Democrats controlled Congress, we passed legislation prohibiting American contact with the Palestine Liberation Organization until it recognized Israel’s right to exist, approved massive increases in aid for Israel, blocked certain arms sales to Israel’s enemies in the Middle East and took other steps to enhance Israel’s security.
As members of the minority, Democrats have played an integral role in legislative efforts to cut off funding for Hamas and stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Both of those legislative efforts have, unfortunately, been blocked by the Bush administration.
I’m not even going to make the case — and there is a strong case to be made — that a number of Bush administration actions and blunders in the international sphere have hurt America’s credibility and have therefore weakened America’s effectiveness in its support for Israel.
The Republican Jewish Coalition chose to feature former president Jimmy Carter in its political ads, but notwithstanding his comments to the contrary, he is an outlier on this issue and does not represent the mainstream of Democrats. Even more ludicrous is the notion that Cindy Sheehan speaks for any meaningful number of Democrats on the subject of Israel. If Democrats wanted to sink to the Republican Jewish Coalition’s level, we could just as easily trot out statements made by a number of prominent Republicans and claim that the GOP is therefore hostile to Israel.
In the increasingly polarized American political system, support for Israel is one of the few issues that remains truly bipartisan. This gives Israel confidence that no matter which party occupies the White House or controls the House and Senate, the United States will always be committed to Israel’s security and right to exist free from terrorism. The Republican Jewish Coalition is making a conscious effort to destroy that bipartisan consensus in the pursuit of illusory short-term political gains. But it is not acting on behalf of Israel when it sets one party against the other. This cheap ploy will inject uncertainty into the American-Israeli relationship — and ultimately make Israel less secure.
If Republican leaders really care about Israel’s wellbeing, then they should renounce the Republican Jewish Coalition’s dangerous campaign and devote their energies to strengthening the longstanding bipartisan consensus on supporting Israel.
Rep. Howard Berman, a California Democrat, is a member of the House International Relations Committee.