Democrats for Palestine?
While teaching seminars on the history of Israel, I was occasionally asked about a president’s evident discomfort with the Jewish state. Jimmy Carter was a prime example, to be eventually overtaken by Barack Obama. But nothing approached current political divisions over Israel, with Democratic candidates tumbling over each other in their eager challenges to President Donald Trump’s pro-Israel benevolence.
It is with revealing irony that the most volatile Democratic critic of Israel is a Jew. In the recent debate among presidential aspirants, Bernie Sanders, the only Jew among them, delivered an unhinged rant. Waving his arms (not unlike Senator Elizabeth Warren, who seems to be exercising whenever she delivers a campaign speech), Sanders began his rant by denouncing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a ”racist.” Calling for a shift in American policy that would include a “pro-Palestinian” perspective, Bernie — wrapping himself in a tallit of self-praise — reminded his audience that he was “somebody who lived in Israel as a kid, proudly Jewish.”
But time took its toll. Conceding that “Israel has a right to exist in security,” Sanders has demanded that Palestinians have a state of their own. The once “proudly Jewish” Jew did not bother to enumerate the number of opportunities that Israeli prime ministers have afforded Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, now in the fourteenth year of his four-year term, to achieve that goal. Sanders’ favorite American Jewish forum is J Street, not known for its warm embrace of Israel. How sad that the Democratic Jewish candidate is so hostile toward the Jewish state that he claims to have once revered.
Joe Biden, the leading Democratic candidate, has been less vitriolic in his criticism of Israel. He first visited the Jewish state in 1973 when he was a freshman senator. After touring the country, he met with Prime Minister Golda Meir on the eve of the Yom Kippur War. She reassured him, “Don’t worry. We have a secret weapon in our conflict with the Arabs: We have no place else to go.”
Forty years later, Vice President Biden worked in tandem with Barack Obama, surely the president most hostile toward Israel since its Declaration of Independence. At a J Street conference in 2016, Biden declared that “we have an obligation to push [Israel] as hard as we can toward what they know in their gut is the only solution: a two-state solution.” Nothing was said about pushing the Palestinian Authority to accept the reality of a Jewish state in the biblical homeland of the Jewish people.
Instead, Biden imagined, Israel’s survival as a democratic Jewish state depended on the establishment of a Palestinian state — as if during more than 70 years of statehood, Israel had not amply displayed its place as the solitary democratic state in the Middle East. He ignored the reality that Arab Israelis, comprising one-fifth of its population, enjoy full rights of citizenship. Like Sanders, Biden hesitated to comment upon, no less laud, Israel for its commitment to democracy.
Elizabeth Warren, the third member of the trio of leading Democratic candidates and with little evident familiarity with Israel, echoed her aspiring rivals with more rhetoric than insight. In a video for J Street, the Democrats’ favorite Jewish organizational critic of Israel, she protected her bona fides by offering the trite assurance: “We must find ways to make tangible progress on the ground toward a two-state solution.” She has expressed the wish that Palestinians and Israelis would share Jerusalem as their capital. Responding to Trump’s announcement that he did not consider Israeli settlements to be illegal, she declared — erroneously — that they violate international law.
Since President Harry Truman recognized the State of Israel in 1948, no Democratic president — not Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, or especially Barack Obama (whose loathing for Netanyahu and indifference to the Iranian threat to Israel were palpable) — indeed not all of them together did for Israel what Trump has already done. He has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. To the outrage of many on the political left, he issued an executive order that includes antisemitism, as defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, within the purview of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination based on race, color or national origin. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently, and accurately, stated that Israeli settlements are “not per se inconsistent with international law.” Indeed, they are protected by it.
All that is remains to be done by the president is recognition of biblical Judea and Samaria — Jordan’s “West Bank” — as the ancient homeland of the Jewish people, to be restored to their rightful inheritor, the State of Israel.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel 1896-2016, recently recognized in Mosaic Magazine by Ruth R. Wisse and Martin Kramer as a “Best Book of 2019.”