How would a Democrat president respond to an invasion of Israel?
How would a Democrat president respond to an invasion of Israel?

During each presidential primary season, friends of Israel wonder how the various candidates would respond in the event that the Jewish State was to come under military attack. It’s really a guessing game; we speculate, but we really can’t be sure.

Except this year. 

This year, we know—because last week, Israel came under military attack by the terrorist army which rules Gaza, and we saw how the candidates for the Democratic nomination responded: nearly all of them remained utterly and completely silent.

It’s much easier to make bold statements when someone is a candidate rather than when they actually become president. It’s almost expected that presidents will not fulfill many of their campaign promises. But during a campaign, when the candidate is hunting for votes without having to deal with the consequences of actual policy decisions, supporting Israel shouldn’t be that hard to do.

Yet for the Democratic presidential candidates, it appears to be very hard to do.

Keep in mind that last week’s circumstances made it unusually easy for the Democrats to be pro-Israel. The crisis had nothing to do with controversial borders or settlements. It had nothing to do with Prime Minister Netanyahu or any of his policies. It was a black-and-white, clear-cut case of a terrorist regime firing 700 rockets at Israel,

This was no case of “occupied territory.” Israel withdrew from 100% of Gaza more than a decade ago, and expelled all Jews from that territory, just as the Arabs and the UN and Peace Now all demanded. 

In the words, there was not a single plausible reason in the world why a Democratic candidate who genuinely sympathizes with Israel could not make a simple statement supporting Israel’s right to defend itself against the missiles that were killing its civilians.

There are twenty-one declared candidates for the Democratic nomination. One minor candidate, Gov. John Hickenlooper, was the only one to say anything about Gaza without being prompted by a reporter. He expressed support for Israel—but then demanded restraint from “all parties.” Kind of like asking both the Americans and the Nazis to show “restraint” during World War Two.

Two other bottom-of-the-polls candidates, Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Michael Bennet, expressed support for Israel. But Booker did so only after being questioned by a reporter, and Bennet did so only after there were news media reports about the silence of the Democratic candidates. For some reason, the topic was not important enough to either Booker or Bennet to go to the trouble of issuing an unprompted press release.

As for the other candidates? Dead silence.

The silence is especially noteworthy because candidates such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand have loudly declared that they are “pro-Israel, but not pro-Netanyahu.” 

That’s a clever little formulation that sounds as if it was written by the J Street public relations department. The idea is to enable the candidate to sound pro-Israel while denouncing and pressuring the Israeli government. Perhaps they think that will help them hold on to some of their Jewish donors.

Reform Judaism’s leader, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, issued a statement this week pleading with the presidential candidates “to stand by Israel at this time of need.
But the Gaza aggression exposes the “pro-Israel, anti-Netanyahu” line as a fraud. If these candidates were genuinely pro-Israel, they would condemn Hamas and support Israeli self-defense. It has nothing to do with Netanyahu—it has to do with the existence of Israel. It has nothing to do with settlements—it has to do with rockets striking areas within pre-1967 Israel, such as Ashdod and Ashkelon.

But the candidates couldn’t bring themselves to do even that. What does that tell us about their true feelings regarding Israel?

Reform Judaism’s leader, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, issued a statement this week pleading with the presidential candidates “to stand by Israel at this time of need.” Talk about banging one’s head against a wall. The Democratic candidates are ignoring Rabbi Jacobs. They’re ignoring Israel as it faces mass, unprovoked terrorist violence. It will be very interesting to see Rabbi Jacobs’s follow-up statement. I wonder how long he will wait before acknowledging that the people to whom he addressed his appeals are simply not sincere friends of Israel.

So if you want to know how President Kamala Harris or President Beto O’Rourke or President Bernie Sanders would respond to a future Arab war against Israel—well, they have just given us the answer. It’s not the answer that either I or Rick Jacobs were hoping for. But it’s the reality that we all have to face.

Stephen M. Flatow, an attorney in New Jersey, is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. He is the author of  “A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror.”