Rosenbaum: Israel Can't Be a Wedge Issue

Greg Rosenbaum, the chair of the National Democratic Council, addressed the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee on Wednesday, expressing NJDC’s appreciation to President Barack Obama and Congress for their continuing support for Israel.

He also discussed the continuing need for bipartisan support for Israel, and noted that the Republican Party will continue to try to use Israel as a “wedge” issue. “We cannot let Israel be hijacked as a partisan matter,” he said, and also noted that on just about every other issue relevant to a campaign today, American Jews and Jewish values align themselves with the Democratic Party.”

Rosenbaum’s full prepared remarks are below:

As the only “openly” partisan Jewish group in this room, and the only one with “Democratic” in its name, the National Jewish Democratic Council thanks the Democratic Caucus for convening this important meeting. Our members are grateful for your service, your support of the State of Israel and your dedication to a progressive, compassionate and socially just Democratic agenda. Polls continue to show that American Jews remain, overwhelmingly, Democrats. 

First, let’s address the need for continued bipartisan support of Israel. While the dominant issue in 2015 was the nuclear weapons agreement with Iran, the current outbreak of violence, with almost daily reports of stabbings, one of which took the life of an American Jew studying in Israel, has risen to the top of our concerns for Israel’s security and its citizens’ safety.

NJDC expresses its continuing gratitude to President Obama and the United States Congress for their continuing support for Israel, including the passage of legislation seeking an end to violence and the incitement of it.

As the calendar turns to 2016, we will hear a lot from the other party about how they will peel a substantial portion of the Jewish vote from Democrats. The only way in which they can attempt to do that is by using Israel as a partisan, “wedge” issue, because on just about every other issue relevant to a campaign today, American Jews and Jewish values align themselves with the Democratic Party. We cannot let Israel be hijacked as a partisan matter.  We learned all too well during the debate leading up to, and on, the Iran agreement how partisan action concerning Israel is bad for Israel, bad for US/Israel relations and bad for American Jews. There are still open wounds in the Jewish community from that debate, wounds we cannot allow to fester due to partisan posturing. The Democratic Party and Democratic elected officials must stand strong with Israel—seeking a just and lasting peace leading to a two state solution, where Israel is a Jewish state, with its right to exist, secure in its borders and capable of defending itself, recognized by all the world but especially by its Middle East neighbors.

In the absence of true, bipartisan support of Israel, achievement of our ultimate objective — peace in the Middle East — will remain out of reach.

Briefly moving on to domestic issues, NJDC welcomes the way this caucus continually takes positions on matters of social justice that are tightly aligned with Jewish values.

--On immigration reform, on women’s right to choose and to equality generally, and on tax and budget issues, you have stood with us and Jewish values.

--On criminal justice reform, our Jewish values conflict with the current system that substitutes cookie cutter sentences for fairly administering justice.  We can no longer afford a philosophy that treats illnesses — mental and addictive — as crimes almost in and of themselves.  In much of the nation, it costs more annually to incarcerate a citizen than it would to send that same person to Harvard.  Does not that simple fact reveal a clear imbalance in our priorities?

I would be remiss if I did not mention the issue of Syrian refugees. On this issue, I can say that there is much broader consensus in the Jewish community than in the rest of the nation. As a people, we know all too well the story of being turned away, rather than welcomed, as we fled persecution and war in our ancestral homelands. Each year at Passover, we are reminded that it is our Jewish obligation to welcome strangers, for ‘we were once strangers in the land of Egypt.’

We understand the need to screen refugees for security purposes and believe that our government’s multiple checks are certainly sufficient to catch almost all those who might pose a danger to our nation. 

As Jewish Americans, we must hold to our core values and stand firm as we say there must be a safe haven for refugees. Never again will we allow the world to stand silent as thousands of innocent civilians search for refuge. As Jews, as Americans and simply as humans, we are far better than that.

We are grateful for your work and look forward to continuing to engage with you in tikkun olam, the trust that has been placed in all of us to repair the world.