Bipartisan support for Israel has been a major accomplishment of pro-Israel activists in this country. Therefore, one might think that Republicans would be hesitant to try to undermine this accomplishment. However, from point of view of Republican electoral considerations this attack strategy might be the best of a bunch of bad options.
After all this is a Republican Party whose domestic policy accomplishments include its response to Hurricane Katrina and the exploding budget deficit. This is a party whose social and science policies are viewed by the vast majority of the Jewish community as closely aligned with the thinking of the Spanish Inquisition. And finally, this is a political party that has brought the country from the unity of 9/1′ to the quagmire of Iraq.
So in the wake of Israel’s traumatic war with Hezbollah, it just might make electoral sense to try and scare American Jews into believing that the "lefty" Democrats are a threat to Israel’s survival. Yet common sense and objectivity tell us that this is just a Republican con — and a destructive one at that.
In ‘006, America’s two major political parties are at opposite ends of almost all issues — but not on the issue of U.S.-Israel relations. Even a Republican partisan like William Kristol has admitted, "There’s not a big difference between the parties on Israel issues."
This bipartisan consensus, in a time of extreme partisan bickering, is no accident of history. For over 50 years, pro-Israel activists in this country have labored mightily to forge bipartisan support for Israel. This is important because Democratic control of government and Republican control of government is never permanent.
However, with the rise of politicians like Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, and Karl Rove, even the most sacred bipartisan issues became fair game for partisan gamesmanship. For these Republicans it was just not good enough that they sought, in their own manner, to support strong U.S.-Israel relations. They had to do everything in their power to tear down Democratic leaders as friends of Israel.
There are a few exceptions to this bipartisan consensus. But the exceptions are relatively few and they come from both parties.
Rather than looking under every rock to find a "bad" Democrat, these GOP operatives could play a constructive role in fostering the U.S.-Israel relationship. They could start by quietly talking to some of their own problems.
For example: California Rep. Darrell Issa who has accused Israel of "apartheid" and referred to Israel’s borders as "artificial lines"; Texas Rep. Ron Paul who has called the Israeli government the most "evil" lobby in Washington,; and Virginia Rep. John Warner, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who held up consideration of an Israel solidarity resolution because he objected to a line in the resolution urging the president "to continue fully supporting Israel as Israel exercises its right of self-defense in Lebanon and Gaza" — just to name a few.
Democrats have long criticized members of their own party when they unfairly criticize Israel. It is time that Republicans do the same.
Beginning in the early 1970s, Republican spokesmen each election year predicted that Jewish Americans were turning Republican. Unfortunately for these spokesmen, these predictions never came true.
Tom Edsall, the national journalist who followed this story closest in recent years, wrote this past winter that after all the ballyhoo there was no real evidence that either Jewish votes or Jewish donors were moving to the GOP.
Here we are in the fall of ‘006 as these same people are cranking up the propaganda machine once more. They are ruthlessly feeding the same story to the press about how the "anti-Israel Democrats" are turning the Jewish community to the GOP. The sad part of this story is that the press often cooperates.
Ultimately, however, the tragedy of this propaganda campaign is not that some in the Jewish community might be convinced that there are Democratic bogeymen out there. Instead, the tragedy is that for a few extra votes, these demagogues are undermining the historic bipartisan support for Israel that will be so needed in the dangerous years to come.
Ira Forman is executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.