Tag Archives: partisanship

Israel and the Left

by Theodore Samets

In its consistent effort to commoditize political positions as “left” or “right,”“conservative” or “liberal,” much of American media has determined that to be pro-Israel is to be right-wing, to be anti-Israel is left-wing.

It exists even here on InTheMoment, when last week a blogger called CAMERA, a pro-Israel media monitor, “conservative,” without qualifying what she meant by that term. CAMERA itself claims to be “non-partisan.”

This equation of “right equals pro-Israel” is problematic on a number of levels, but each time a writer, pontificator or politician repeats it, it seems to gain ground.

Why is this concerning? Because the people who will be most hurt by making support for Israel a partisan issue are the Israelis; the country whose existence will be threatened is Israel.

Israel has long enjoyed high popularity among the American left, and that should be no less true today. What’s more liberal than supporting gay rights, women’s rights, and democracy in the Middle East? Israel is an environmentally conscious, universal health care-providing, equality-loving nation. Democrats and Republicans alike should be vehement defenders of the Jewish State and passionate believers in the vibrant US-Israel relationship.

Most Democratic politicians understand the importance of standing with Israel. At this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference, for example, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer said that with any future two-state solution, “Israel’s borders must be defensible and must reflect reality on the ground,” rebutting President Obama’s call for a return to 1967 lines with mutually agreed upon swaps.

Nonetheless, Republicans are occasionally guilty of trying to turn Israel into a partisan issue, such as when the Republican Jewish Coalition exaggerated new Democratic National Committee chair and pro-Israel stalwart Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s minimal ties to JStreet. But some Democrats encourage this effort when they refuse to make clear that they stand with Israel.

When groups like JStreet defend Donna Edwards, a Maryland congresswoman with problematic positions on Israel, when Democrats allow voices that are not pro-Israel to claim that mantle, it hurts Israel, it hurts the Democratic Party, and it hurts the United States. Democratic leaders need to sideline JStreet and its allies and focus on recruiting pro-Israel candidates to run for office; if not, support for Israel will become an ever-more Republican issue, and the media will be correct when they equate pro-Israel with right wing.

We need more members of congress like Eliot Engel and Brad Sherman and fewer like Dennis Kucinich.

Which is not to say that Republicans never voice anti-Israel sentiment; but when they do, the Republican Jewish Coalition condemns it. It’s hard to imagine the RJC’s counterpart, the National Jewish Democratic Council, doing the same thing, given their decision to stand with JStreet, an organization whose destructive policies put Israel’s security at risk.

Democrats need to turn their focus inward: Why is it that the far-left’s animosity toward Israel has found its voice protected by a contingent of the party leadership, when Republicans have successfully silenced much of the isolationist, anti-Israel rhetoric of past leaders like Pat Buchanan?

It’s time for Democrats to tell the president that his pressure on the Israelis to return to peace talks is misplaced; it is Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who has avoided the table for the past two and a half years. It’s time for pro-Israel Democrats, who make up the vast majority of the congressional caucus and the party as a whole to do this in the open.

It’s easy to throw punches at your enemies in Washington; it’s much harder to tell a friend that they’re wrong.

If Democrats can’t stand up and do this, the ever-present warnings of the Jewish right – that Jews might start voting for and giving to Republicans in larger numbers – might just come true.

For a whole host of reasons, Jews remain loyal to the Democratic Party, as well they should. Democrats at the core represent the belief in tikkun olam that Jews embrace so strongly. Yet if the Democratic leadership can’t prevent the right from successfully making support for Israel a partisan issue, the loyalty of past generations may not remain.

Born This Way

By Steven Philp

According to a recent study conducted by researchers at the University College London, people may hold certain political views simply because they were born that way. The survey of politicians and students found that there are marked structural differences in the brains of people with different political viewpoints. These differences were focused in two primary areas; participants with conservative political views generally have a larger amygdala, which regulates fear and related emotions, and a smaller anterior cingulate, which is associated with courage and optimism.

In a Time Magazine article, lead researcher Professor Geraint Rees explains that the results were unexpected: “It is very surprising because it does suggest there is something about political attitude that is encoded in our brain structure through our experience or that there is something in our brain structure that determines or results in political attitude.” However, he noted that because the research was conducted on adults it is difficult to determine whether these differences were present from birth or had been formed through experience. It is also unclear how quickly these changes take place, and whether it is possible to induce significant shifts in opinion after the formation of these features have become manifest.

Yet this begs the question: if our political viewpoints–through nature or nurture–are hardwired in to the brain, is debate productive? According to an article published by the New York Times, Republicans gained more than 690 seats in state legislatures across the nation in the November election, giving the party their strongest representation at the state level in 80 years. It would appear that national political opinion has bifurcated, with more conservative candidates gaining over their moderate peers in certain races; take Tea Party favorites Rand Paul (R-KY) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), for example. Yet in other races, such as Nevada and Delaware, the extreme politics of Republican contenders caused significant shift in favor toward the Democrat candidate. If the recalcitrance of political opinion holds true, then we now face a legislature that will experience deadlock to a greater degree than its predecessor. Yet this past December we saw a Congress that worked against partisan divisions to pass significant legislation–the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the 9/11 First Responders Bill, for example–making this a particularly successful lame duck session for the Democrats. It was the ability to secure votes from both parties, through difficult and–at times–emotional debate, that allowed for forward movement. This is not to say that the past few months have not lacked their disappointments for the liberal minded; the failure of the DREAM Act was one such instance. However, we do know one thing: debate can be productive, and minds can–to a degree–change.

As we enter a period of divided government, we can expect sharp differences between Republican and Democrat officials. Already we see a lack of bipartisanship in the new Congress; efforts to overturn healthcare reform in the House accentuate the split between the Republican-dominated House and the Democrat-controlled Senate. Looking at the next two years, we must not let the recalcitrance of the political mind let us forget the efficacy of debate. As Jews we have inherited a tradition of discourse, crystallized in texts like the Talmud. In this way we have a particular role to play in the current political environment, sharing this heritage of debate to ensure continued progress.