Amplified Partisanship Splits American Jews

Daniel Pipes highlights that some Americans, including Jews, are becoming fiercer critics of Netanyahu than even Israeli liberals.

Gedalyah Reback ,

Barack Obama
Barack Obama
Flash 90

The gap in foreign policy views has never been this great for American politicians. Watching from Jerusalem, it might sometimes be comforting to see such emotional opposition to a bad deal with Iran that 47 Senators might write a letter to represent an ‘opposition’s foreign policy’ against a deal the Prime Minister’s office has fought hard to prevent. Yet, it is far more worrying that Israel has itself become one of the major points of partisan dispute between Democrats and Republicans.

It is not unprecedented that Americans have been so out of sync on foreign policy. During the Napoleonic Wars, there was a brief period when the Federalist and Democratic parties disagreed on supporting either the British or the French (the War of 1812 eventually ended any hope for an alliance with Britain). In more recent times, Richard Nixon contacted Southern Vietnamese government officials during ceasefire negotiations in order to undermine the Johnson Administration. Even Nancy Pelosi undermined the Bush White House when she met with Bashar al-Assad in 2007. But generally speaking, the disagreements are on execution, not allies. 

Recently, the Director of the Middle East Forum Daniel Pipes published an article in the Middle East Quarterly pointing out that there is an intensifying partisanship \in the US surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The recent, very public battles between the Democratic White House and Likud-led Israeli government worry some activists that there is an unprecedented gulf in American public opinion toward Israel as a result.

Bloomberg recently quoted former National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley (of George W. Bush’s administration) who highlighted what characterized that administration versus this one.

“That was a strength of our foreign policy, really one of the great things about the post-strategy. We did have a strategic consensus that spanned both parties, and over time multiple presidencies, Republican and Democrat.”

Introducing his point in the article, Pipes says “This pattern in turn points to a larger phenomenon: The Arab-Israeli conflict tends to generate more intense partisanship among Americans than among Middle Easterners. The latter may die from the conflict but the former experience it with greater passion.”

When asked by Arutz Sheva if the Obama Administration reflects this at all, he said indeed it does.

“Does the pattern I noted in this article apply to the Obama administration? Yes, broadly speaking, Obama comes out of a very hostile environment toward Israel.”

He refers to an argument he made in 2012 in the National Review, outlining that Obama has had public connections with people like Ali Abunimah, the founder of Electronic Intifada. He also illustrated other examples:

“For example, Obama deferentially listened to Edward Said in May 1998 and sat quietly by at a going-away party in 2003 for former PLO flack Rashid Khalidi as Israel was accused of terrorism against Palestinians.”

Democrats are likely aware the open fighting between Obama and Israel could have repercussions in next year’s Presidential Election. Hillary Clinton yesterday insisted on better relations with Israel just hours after 12 Jewish Democratic Congressmen fumed to the White House, “You want us to go out and say the administration’s got Israel’s back. How are you going to get us to say that when our constituents believe that the administration is stabbing Israel in the back?”

Pipes, though, illustrates that this is a trend with all activists in the United States – not just politicians.

Pipes also notes attitudes within the Jewish community amplifying in recent years, answering “yes” when asked if ultra leftist J Street is a major example of how American Jews haven’t been able to close the breach between themselves.

This is not happening in American Arab or American Muslim communities, notes Pipes. Jewish Americans are seeing somewhat of an organized political chasm.

“There are very many different views among Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims vis-à-vis Israel; but these have not led to the kind of splits one finds on the pro-Israel side (in the United States).”

Pipes’ words would seem to confirm the views of others that Israel has become the target of partisanship in US politics that the country would do well to remove itself from, as he says in Middle East Quarterly:

“Locals may see the problem more lucidly and realistically than their foreign friends. It is time for foreigners to stop assuming they know how to achieve the region's salvation and instead to listen more to those directly involved.”