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May 29, 2019 7:09 am

Stop the Demonization: Israel Needs Bipartisan Support

avatar by Fred Zeidman and Steve Israel


The US Capitol Building. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The Middle East grows more and more volatile each day. Israel emerged from a contentious election, Hamas launched rockets against Israel, and the Israeli army responded with lethal force. President Trump ordered a carrier group to the Persian Gulf, and Iran announced it would not comply with the nuclear agreement that restricted its capacity to make bombs. All of these events happened in May.

The latest agitation was a statement by Democratic Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. “There is kind of a calming feeling I always tell folks when I think of the Holocaust,” she said before claiming that Palestinians suffered “in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews.” This is a repugnantly tone deaf and woefully contorted version of history. It is also a grave disservice to the vast majority of Republicans and Democrats in Congress who profoundly disagree.

One of us is a conservative Republican fundraiser and a Bush appointee, and the other was chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. While we disagree on many issues, we are in complete and total agreement about continuing support for the relationship with Israel, which is a vital tenet of United States foreign policy in an increasingly unstable world. While we may have disagreements with various facets of Israeli policy, now is not the time to allow this critical alliance to erode.

Geopolitics in and near the Middle East is as stable as a river rapid. Turkey was once a dependable ally, but has turned against our interests and fundamental democratic norms. Syria is increasingly becoming a platform for the Russian military. Iran funds and supports terrorism in the region. As the Middle East has been evolving through a multitude of leaders and movements from pan-Arabism to the Arab Spring, the support that Israel has for the United States has remained steadfast.

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That is not to say the relationship has always been in perfect harmony. There was the clash over settlements in the 1990s between President George H.W. Bush and Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir that resulted in the United States placing billions of dollars in loan guarantees on hold. The address by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Congress four years ago bypassed President Obama, and rankled many Democrats. The seeming drift from a two-state solution further strains our alliance.

But despite these disagreements with some elements of Israeli policy, one ideal that has remained paramount is that the alliance with Israel is vital to protecting American interests. This is why we need to occasionally step back and remind ourselves of the basics. As a strong ally in the war on terror, intelligence cooperation with Israel is unparalleled. As the only democracy in the region, Israel has an exemplary record of human rights that celebrates due process. Its judicial system has investigated, prosecuted, and jailed its own leaders. While Israel proudly identifies as a Jewish state, it is not a theocracy, and the Knesset remains a vibrant and often chaotic example of the diverse Israeli parliamentary system. Arab party members, left-wing supporters, and right-wing settlers all sit in the same Knesset chamber.

Israel is torn by the same social upheaval as other nations, but remains a flourishing democracy that promotes civil and religious liberties for all of its citizens. Women have served in major leadership roles, including prime minister, foreign minister, and Supreme Court chief, among other senior roles in government. While its neighbors have actively persecuted and threatened death to its homosexual citizens, Israel still remains the only LGBTQ-friendly country in the Middle East. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find a more LGBTQ-friendly environment than Tel Aviv, where the annual Gay Pride Parade rivals that of Dupont Circle or New York City.

Presidents and prime ministers come and go. Disagreements flare and subside. But today, global affairs spin with centrifugal force, uprooting long established norms and assumptions. Certain things must center us. The alliance between the United States and Israel is one. On this issue, there is no disagreement between this Republican and this Democrat.

Fred Zeidman is a chairman of the Council for a Secure America. He is on the board of the Republican Jewish Coalition and is the chairman emeritus of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, appointed by President George W. Bush. Steve Israel is on the board of the Council for a Secure America. He served as a Democratic representative from New York and as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

A version of this article was originally published by The Hill.

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