A Netanyahu Loss in Israel Means Big Trouble for GOP in U.S.
Recent polling from Israel suggests that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party and its coalition allies may eke out a narrow victory in the March 17 elections. Here in the United States, Republicans are certainly hoping so. After all, they didn't just invite Netanyahu to use Congress as an unprecedented platform for a foreign leader to blow up the foreign policy of the President of the United States, and with it, perhaps the entire Middle East. As it turns out, whether the issue is Iran, the peace process, settlement expansion or just about anything else, Republican leaders have told Bibi they'll "follow your lead."
That was the message Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) delivered to the Israeli Prime Minister in the run-up to Speaker John Boehner's Capitol Hill invitation that completely sidestepped the White House and the State Department. Hoping to undermine President Obama's delicate negotiations to prevent Tehran from actually building a nuclear device, GOP leaders instead backed Netanyahu's red line demanding the total dismantling of the Iran's nuclear "capability." Bibi's brinksmanship is designed to enlist American support for military action against Iranian targets that many members of the Israeli and U.S. security establishments warn could trigger a regional war and actually accelerate Tehran's drive towards a bomb.
Graham's kowtowing is not the exception, but the rule. When 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney declared, "We will not have an inch of difference between ourselves and our ally, Israel," there was no mistaking which Israel he was talking about. As he put it in December 2011:
"I'd get on the phone to my friend Bibi Netanyahu and say, 'Would it help if I said this? What would you like me to do?'"
Likud's would-have-been man in the White House also suggested he would help Netanyahu kick the peace process can down the road while giving a wink and a nod to expansion in Jerusalem and new settlements in the occupied West Bank. In 2011, Romney proclaimed that now is not the time to be "talking about a peace process." In what was no doubt music to the ears of Netanyahu and the likes of Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, Romney in September 2012, concluded that "the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish," instead suggesting "we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it."
That kind of acquiescence to the indefinite Israeli control of the occupied territories is just fine with irredentists like Netanyahu and Bennett. But during the Clinton and Bush administrations, Labor Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Kadima PM Ehud Olmert nearly reached deals to establish Palestinian state in the disputed territories. (Failure to do so, Barak and Olmert said years before Secretary of State John Kerry, would lead Israel to becoming an "apartheid state.") And if Bibi's right-wing alliance loses to the Zionist Camp led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, Republicans will have to rethink their deference to Likud's policy of perpetual conflict management in the Palestinian territories. As Livni put it last year:
Netanyahu looks at the situation of Israel through the lens of the threats. His deep emotion is to stick together, be united against those who are against us. I believe we need to be for something. Written on my wall is Jewish Democratic state, two states for two peoples. Written on Likud's wall is Jewish state, Greater Israel. For me any day that goes by without a solution is another lost day. For those believing in Greater Israel, another day that passes without an agreement is another day of victory and taking more land.
Netanyahu's unceasing efforts to preserve Eretz Israel by any means necessary have helped undermine the "two states for two peoples" policy shared by the last three American presidents. Bibi, after all, opposed the 1993 Oslo Accords, which he said were "against my principles and my conscience" and were based upon "an enormous lie." He also fought against the Ehud Barak's proposals to Yassir Arafat during the Clinton administration and refused to support the 2008 offer his predecessor Ehud Olmert made to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during the Annapolis peace process led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Even Netanyahu's much-hyped 2009 Bar-Ilan speech represented little movement forward towards a two-state solution he has long opposed. As his late father, the legendary Zionist Benzion Netanyahu put it:
"He doesn't support [a Palestinian state]. He supports the sorts of conditions they [the Palestinians] will never accept."
That posture didn't just put him at odds with Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama. It also happens not to be shared by American Jews. The Republican Party's evangelical Christian base, however, is another matter.
That's just one of the reasons why the charge by Bibi's Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon that John Kerry was "acting out of misplaced obsession and messianic fervor" was both insulting and ironic. After all, surveys show that while 44 percent of Americans--and only 40 percent of American Jews--believe Israel was given by God to the Jewish people, among Israeli Jews the share identifying themselves as God's Chosen People reaches 70 percent. As it turns out, far and away the group most dedicated to the proposition that God gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish people is American white evangelical Protestants. And their End Times story doesn't end well for Jews anywhere.
In its October 2013 analysis, the Pew Research Center reported that at a whopping 82 percent, "A majority of white evangelicals believe God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people, compared with 40% of American Jews who believe the same." But just as jaw-dropping as the fact that white evangelical are twice as likely as American Jews (40 percent), and five times more like than "Jews of no religion" (16 percent) are the implication for U.S. policy:
White evangelical Protestants also are more likely than Jews to favor stronger U.S. support of Israel. Among Jews, 54% say American support of the Jewish state is "about right," while 31% say the U.S. is not supportive enough. By contrast, more white evangelical Protestants say the U.S. is not supportive enough of Israel (46%) than say support is about right (31%).
White evangelical Protestants are less optimistic than Jews about the prospects for a peaceful two-state solution to conflict in the region. When asked if there is a way for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully, six-in-ten American Jews (61%) say yes, while one-third say no. Among white evangelical Protestants, 42% say Israel and an independent Palestinian state can coexist peacefully, while 50% say this is not possible.
Not possible and for many evangelicals, not desirable. After all, in their eschatology, the conversion of some Jews--and the slaughter of the rest--at Armageddon is part and parcel to the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and the Second Coming of Christ.
For Christian Zionists like Michele Bachmann ("Support for Israel is handed down by God and if the United States pulls back its support, America will cease to exist"), Rick Perry ("As a Christian I have a clear directive to support Israel") and Mike Huckabee ("no such thing as a Palestinian"), Israel serves merely as a means to an end. In that telling, it is a divinely required stepping-stone to the End Times conversion (and much larger slaughter) of the Jews that will accompany the Second Coming of Christ. And that has a real impact on foreign policy. As the controversial head of the Christians United for Israel, Pastor John Hagee, explained in 2006:
"The United States must join Israel in a pre-emptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God's plan for both Israel and the West...a biblically prophesied end-time confrontation with Iran, which will lead to the Rapture, Tribulation, and Second Coming of Christ."
With friends like that, Israel doesn't need enemies. And with Republicans like that, it's no wonder American Jews continue to overwhelmingly vote Democratic.
Other recent surveys of American Jews confirm what the exit polls tell us every four years: the Jewish electorate that is perhaps the single most liberal voting bloc in the United States. A poll conducted two years ago by the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at New York University revealed why the Jewish community continues to reliably vote for Democrats, "election cycle after election cycle":
The poll, which has a four percent margin of error, also found high support among Jews not just for social causes they have long championed including gay marriage (68 percent support) and access to legal abortion (63 percent favor) , but on economic issues such as taxation. Sixty-five percent said they support raising income tax for those who earn above $200,000 a year and 62 percent said they thought the power of financial institutions pose a threat to the United States.
The survey also found that 73 percent of those polled favored the government requiring private health insurance to cover birth control.
As Haaretz noted in reporting on the survey, "Israel related issues seem to have little effect on Jewish voters' decision in choosing between Obama and Romney." That finding echoed the results of an April 2012 poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, a not-for-profit, nonpartisan organization:
A majority of 51% pointed to the economy as the issue most important to their vote, followed by gaps between rich and poor (15%), health care (10%) and the federal deficit (7%). Only 4% of Jewish voters said Israel was the most important issue for them when deciding who should get their vote. Even when asked to name their second-most-important issue, Jewish voters gave the issue of Israel only marginal importance.
The data would suggest that the Republicans' focus on attacking both Obama's record on Israel and his troubled relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was having little, if any, traction.
Which remains the case. Barack Obama captured 69 percent of the Jewish vote in 2012. Even with the on-going right-wing campaign against Obama, his party's massive defeat during the 2014 midterm elections and the growing share of Orthodox among American Jews, Gallup surveys still show the GOP support among Jewish voters at 29 percent. To put the math another way, Barack Obama actually earned the votes of more Jews than Benjamin Netanyahu, putting the lie to Bibi's claim that:
"I went to Paris not just as the prime minister of Israel but as a representative of the entire Jewish people," Netanyahu said, during a conference for French-speaking Likud activists. "Just as I went to Paris, so I will go anyplace I'm invited to convey the Israeli position against those who want to kill us."
Netanyahu certainly doesn't represent American Jews or the American national interest. That's why so many Jewish leaders inside Israel and out are beseeching the Prime Minister to cancel his trip. Former Israeli Ambassador to Washington Michael Oren and the JDL's Abraham Foxman, neither of them doves on issues of Israeli security and territory, are among them. (Ron Dermer, the former Republican fundraiser turned "BIbi's Brain" and Israel's man in Washington, is not.)
Nevertheless, as Haaretz reported in "Beware: Jewish Republicans on the Warpath," Republicans are doubling down in support of Bibi Netanyahu's effort to scuttle America's last, best chance to curb the Iranian nuclear program short of war. "This is, I think a critical visit by the prime minister," Matt Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition proclaimed. "If these Democrats would rather put partisan politics ahead of principle and walk out on the prime minister of Israel, then we have an obligation to make that known." Former GOP Congressman and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough went even further on Monday, suggesting anyone opposing Netanyahu's March 3 speech to Congress is against Israel and anti-Semitic.
Sadly for them, American support for Israel issue is not a partisan issue. But support for Benjamin Netanyahu is. Americans will remember that Republicans chose a foreign leader over the U.S. President, especially if Washington and Tehran end up in a shooting war. And if Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party coalition lose to the Zionist Camp on March 17, Republicans will have to rethink what it means when they say, "We will not have an inch of difference between ourselves and our ally, Israel."