In Michigan’s 11th District, Who Is Best for Israel?
The Democratic primary in Michigan’s redrawn 11th Congressional district is one of the most highly visible this cycle. Not only does it pit two Democratic incumbent members of Congress — Haley Stevens and Andy Levin — against each other, but it also is shaping up to be a “showdown” between J Street and the mainstream pro-Israel community. For the more than 40,000 Jewish Americans estimated to live in this new district, US-Israel relations have become a significant policy issue that starkly divides the two leading candidates. At stake are two differing approaches to America’s relationship with Israel.
Congresswoman Stevens has proven to be a staunch supporter of the US-Israel relationship, quick to defend Israel when it is under attack. She was among the small group of Democrats who introduced a resolution in late 2021 to provide $1 billion in supplemental funding for Israel’s Iron Dome system within days of anti-Israel progressives blocking the funding. She immediately condemned Amnesty International for slandering Israel as “an apartheid state,” and the United Nations Human Rights Council for its systematic efforts to delegitimize Israel.
In contrast, her opponent Congressman Levin — who identifies himself as a lifelong Zionist and a strong supporter of Israel — believes that chastising Israel publicly is the best way to express his views. While quick to criticize, he’s slower on defense. He stayed mostly quiet on the libelous “apartheid” claims. In fact, he has defended “legitimate” criticism of Israel by “respected human rights orgs” — and shielded Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MI) for her shocking comparison of Israel and the United States to the Taliban.
His misplaced blame towards Israel is particularly clear in the deeply flawed “Two-State Solution” bill he introduced in the House last year — a bill that J Street has enthusiastically endorsed. That’s not surprising, since the bill reflects their approach to Israel as well. The Levin/J Street bill places blame on Israel for the lack of peace, ignores the role of Palestinian rejectionism and terrorism, and seeks to impose restrictions on Israel that undermine its security and legitimacy.
The bill would:
- Add further limits on the security assistance Israel receives, even though this aid helps ensure Israel’s survival against threats from Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups, Hezbollah, Iran, and others bent on Israel’s destruction;
- Codify the Palestinian position that Israel is, under international law, an illegal “occupier” of “Palestinian land”;
- Declare that Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem’s Old City, including the Temple Mount and the Jewish Quarter, violates international law; and
- Support the efforts of the BDS movement by forbidding anything produced in the West Bank or Golan Heights from bearing the label “Made in Israel.”
This approach is fundamentally wrong. First and foremost, it wrongly places the failure to achieve a peaceful two-state solution solely on Israel. Its text reflects the “blame Israel” narrative that grips detractors of the Jewish state. Not one time in the 21 pages of the entire bill does Congressman Levin even mention the fact that Palestinian leaders refuse to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist as the homeland of the Jewish people, nor that Palestinian leaders have rejected every single peace proposal since before the establishment of the State of Israel.
One may agree or disagree with any given Israeli policy, but the fundamental obstacle to peaceful resolution of the conflict is that the Palestinians have shown little interest in ending the conflict through compromise. Palestinian leaders have instead escalated terrorist activities that squarely target Israeli citizens and the destruction of the Israeli state.
Second, this approach is wrong because rather than strengthen the US-Israel relationship, it seeks to force Israel to accept a vision for its future that its own people do not accept. This is the J Street approach — blame Israel and then tell it what it needs to do “for its own good.” This attitude disrespects Israel’s democracy — often raucous but undeniably robust — and seeks instead to substitute the judgment of people who do not live in Israel. This attitude is what led the highly-respected former head of the Anti-Defamation League, Abe Foxman, to endorse Haley Stevens in the upcoming primary, in part because Levin’s approach was “paternalistic,” adding fuel to those forces hostile to Israel’s very existence.
Both Haley Stevens and Andy Levin support a “two-state solution,” but their approach to Israel is starkly different. The Levin/J Street bill would not bring us closer to peace. In fact, by emboldening Palestinian rejectionism and Israel’s detractors, it would do just the opposite. So much for “pro-Israel, pro-peace.”
Jeff Mendelsohn is the executive director of Pro-Israel America.