The Republicans’ baseless attacks on the Democratic Party’s Israel record are desperate, but not surprising. Every four years, Jewish Republicans follow the same game plan. Rather than confront the fact that the far-right party they represent is diametrically opposed to the values of most Jewish Americans, they choose to smear Democrats on Israel because it’s their only potential bridge to Jewish voters. On issues like reproductive choice, aid to the poor and civil rights, American Jews are simply not aligned with the GOP—and likely never will be. Obfuscation about Israel is therefore the only way to go. But all the smears and epithets in the world can’t gloss over one basic historical fact: Democrats have been leaders of the pro-Israel movement since the state’s inception.
President Obama has lived up to a long tradition of Democratic presidents who have demonstrated an unshakable commitment to the Jewish state. After all, it was President Truman, a Democrat, who first recognized Israel’s independence. As the late ambassador Richard Holbrooke wrote, Truman was directly challenging the “unspoken but real anti-Semitism” lurking in Washington circles. Later, it was President Kennedy, also a Democrat, who broke the taboo against arms sales to Israel, giving the small state the resources it needed—and continues to needs—to survive in its hostile neighborhood. Kennedy was also the first to cement support for Israel as a bipartisan cause. “Friendship for Israel is not a partisan matter,” he declared in 1960. “It is a national commitment.”
Since then, many Republicans have locked arms with many Democrats in defense of Israel. But it’s worth remembering that the first Republican President to lead after Israel was created, Dwight Eisenhower, butted heads with Israeli leadership on the Suez War and subsequent Sinai withdrawal. More recently, the first President Bush’s Secretary of State, James Baker, and Chief of Staff, John Sununu, were both notoriously critical of Israel while in the White House. (Troublingly, Baker and Sununu serve as top Romney advisors.) And the second President Bush’s insistence on elections in Gaza, over Israel’s strong objections, led directly to the ascent of Hamas.
Ultimately, the point isn’t that Democrats are better for Israel, or that Republicans are. It’s that there’s a tradition of love for Israel that runs deep in both parties.
President Obama has continued the Democrats’ pro-Israel tradition. He has more than doubled the American commitment to David’s Sling, an Israeli missile defense system, from $52 million under President Bush to $110.5 million this year. He also has underwritten the Iron Dome, Israel’s rocket defense system, to the tune of $205 million last year. As Commander in Chief, President Obama has also overseen the largest American-Israeli military exercises ever, involving thousands of troops and demonstrating that the countries are working closer together than ever before. He’s done all of this while maintaining a perfect, unprecedented pro-Israel voting record at the United Nations, not to mention his determination to stop an Iranian nuclear program through the toughest-ever sanctions, and keeping the option to use force on the table. It’s no wonder that Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defense Minister, told CNN this past July that “This administration, under President Obama, is doing in regard to our security more than anything that I can remember in the past.”
For Israel’s sake, the words of Israel’s most decorated soldier matter far more than any partisan advertisement. Loath as they may be to admit it, Republicans know this. They also know that President Obama is likely to receive the overwhelming percentage of the Jewish vote. The history is clear. The Democratic Party has been at Israel’s side since its creation. And with President Obama at the helm, it will continue to be.
David A. Harris is the President and CEO of NJDC
Get the facts of President Obama’s Israel record at www.njdc.org/ObamaIsraelFacts
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