How the battle over Israel and anti-Semitism is fracturing American politics

By | March 28, 2019

Nathan Thrall writes:

In 2018, the Pew Research Center conducted a poll of more than 1,500 Americans. Among Democrats who self-identified as liberal, nearly twice as many said they sympathized more with the Palestinians than with Israel. In 2016, a University of Maryland poll found that 60 percent of Democrats supported economic sanctions or taking more serious action in response to new Israeli settlements. Yet year after year, Congress, citing “shared values” and Israel’s strategic importance, among other things, votes to give military aid to Israel, which is currently $3.8 billion per year: $500 million in missile defense and $3.3 billion in foreign military financing, more military financing than the United States provides to the rest of the world combined. And Aipac, whose positions many on the left regard as rarely distinguishable from those of the Israeli prime minister or the Republican Jewish Coalition, remains the dominant force among Israel-Palestine advocacy groups within the Democratic Caucus. Aipac’s closest Democratic allies occupy top leadership posts and lead the committees and subcommittees of greatest importance to Israel. The pro-Israel orientation of the Democrats extends to the Congressional Progressive Caucus, whose members co-sponsored two bills in 2017 and 2018 — the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act (Jerrold Nadler and Donald Norcross, among others) and the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (Hakeem Jeffries and Ted Lieu, among others) — that counter B.D.S. and were supported by Aipac.

In an October 2018 survey of 800 American voters who identify as Jewish, conducted by the Mellman Group on behalf of the Jewish Electoral Institute, 92 percent said that they are “generally pro-Israel.” In the same poll — conducted after the United States closed the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington, moved the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, appointed a fund-raiser for the settlements as U.S. ambassador and cut humanitarian aid to Palestinians — roughly half of American Jews said they approved of President Trump’s handling of relations with Israel. On what is considered the most divisive issue in U.S.-Israel relations, the establishment of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a November 2018 post-midterm election poll of more than 1,000 American Jews that was commissioned by J Street, the pro-Israel lobby aligned with Democrats, found that roughly half said the expansion of settlements had no impact on how they felt about Israel.

Members of the Democratic Party’s progressive activist base, by contrast, find themselves light years from their representatives in Washington. The Movement for Black Lives, the racial-justice coalition that includes the Black Lives Matter network, has called for supporting divestment campaigns with the goal of ending American military aid to Israel; the Democratic Socialists of America has endorsed B.D.S. Kate Gould, a lobbyist for the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker group dedicated to peace, justice and environmental stewardship, told me that generally even progressive members of Congress frame development aid for the Palestinians merely as help for people who are suffering. There is rarely any acknowledgment, she says, “that they are suffering because we are funding their oppression. Hello! You do know that we are funding the occupation?” [Continue reading…]

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