ANALYSIS: Souring Israel-Democrat Relations
US support for Israel used to be entirely bi-partisan. What’s lead to the rift between Israel and the Democratic Party?
This is a follow-up to an article we published earlier this week regarding the first clash between the Israeli government and Joe Biden’s new US administration over air traffic between the United States and Ben Gurion Airport. That article also discussed the appointment of many anti-Israel figures to Biden’s government. Below we address another related problem: namely the deteriorating relations between the Israeli government and the Democratic Party in the US.
The serious deterioration between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and the Democratic Party really began when Donald J. Trump became President of the United States.
The special personal relationship the two leaders developed and the subsequent measures Trump took against the Palestinian Authority was a thorn in the side of many Democrats, including Joe Biden. Biden was Vice President under former President Barack Obama and already had an incident with Netanyahu in that position. During a visit by Biden to Netanyahu in Israel, the construction of several hundred houses in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in East Jerusalem was announced. This was seen by Biden as an insult to the Obama administration.
Until Wednesday, Biden had still not made a phone call to Netanyahu since he was sworn in as President of the US at the end of January. This is remarkable because even former President Obama called the Israeli Prime Minister on his first day in the White House.
On Wednesday, Biden finally picked up the phone and called Netanyahu. The two leaders discussed a range of issues and Biden confirmed his “steadfast commitment to Israel’s security,” but also pushed for renewed negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. The two leaders also “affirmed their shared interest in a continued strategic cooperation to confront the many challenges facing the region,” according to a White House press release.
Biden takes a pro-Palestinian stance
Judging Biden by his deeds one could doubt his “commitment to Israel’s security,” however. He already canceled most of the measures Trump took against the PA and resumed funding of the Palestinian regime and UNRWA.
UNRWA is the UN organization that provided aid in all forms to Palestinian refugees and all their descendants since 1948.
Trump stopped aid to UNRWA after it became known that the organization’s textbooks fueled hatred of Israel and denied the Jewish state’s right to exist.
On Wednesday, the IMPACT-Se organization published a new report on UNRWA’s curriculum.
From the report, we learn that despite pledges to make changes in the textbooks UNRWA uses, the UN organization continues its hateful rhetoric against Israel. There are still no maps where Israel appears in the books and the Jewish state is referred to as “the occupation” or even “the enemy.” Furthermore, the so-called “Abraham Accords” facilitating normalization between Israel and Arab and Muslim states are condemned and jihad and violence are glorified in UNRWA’s curriculum.
Another measure Biden took was to announce that the US would rejoin the UNHRC. This is also a UN organization that supposedly deals with human rights. In reality, however, it is a body that is constantly bashing Israel and that is dominated by dictatorial states, most of them Muslim countries.
The only positive signal Biden has sent to Israel so far has been that he has no intention of relocating the US Embassy to Tel Aviv, and thus recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. On the other hand, his administration says it wants the status of Jerusalem settled in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Netanyahu’s role in relations with the Democrats
Netanyahu caused widespread anger among Democratic politicians when he went to Congress during negotiations with Iran on the nuclear treaty and gave a speech there warning against the agreement (JCPOA). The speech was not coordinated with Obama’s White House, as protocol dictates.
Much later, just before the last US presidential election, Netanyahu flew to the US to sign the Abraham Accords with the Gulf States of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. During that visit, the Israeli leader failed to arrange an appointment with the Democratic presidential nominee (Biden) as is customary when a foreign leader visits the US just before such an election.
Democratic politicians now say that both Trump and Netanyahu turned Israel-US relations into a personal relationship and excluded the Democrats. Relations between Israel and the US have always been a bi-partisan issue. That is, Israel was careful not to choose relations with only one of the two main political parties in the US.
The Obama years also contributed significantly to rift in Israel-Democratic relations. Obama is seen in Israel as the most hostile US President in the history of the Jewish state. Netanyahu was under constant pressure from Obama to make concessions to the Palestinians, and at the end of his term, Obama had his UN ambassador vote for an anti-Israeli resolution in the UN Security Council. This had never happened and it caused a lot of bad blood, especially among the right-wing parties in Israel.
Democrats meddle in the upcoming Israeli election
Democratic politicians told Israeli media that they hope Netanyahu will be removed from office after the upcoming Israeli election on March 23.
They went so far as to say that they hope Yair Lapid, the leader of Yesh Atid, a center-left party, becomes prime minister of Israel. This indicates that these Democratic politicians have little understanding of the political situation in Israel.
First, a large majority of the Israeli population considers Lapid unfit for the role of prime minister. The former TV talk show host completely failed as finance minister in the first Netanyahu government, and is seen by many as a lightweight in Israeli politics.
In addition, his party lags far behind Netanyahu’s Likud in the polls. Lapid maintains excellent relations with the Democratic Party and is fluent in English, but this is not appealing to the majority of Israelis.
Israel’s president tries to mediate
Israel President Reuven Rivlin is now trying to mediate between the Democratic Party and the Israeli government. Rivlin is seen by Democratic politicians as impartial and has previously mediated between the Israeli government and Nancy Pelosi, one of the most influential leaders of the Democratic Party.
An additional problem is that the ruling American party is slowly being taken over by radical left-wing elements that are fiercely anti-Israel, including former Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish. (Earlier this month, Sanders was just one of just three senators to vote against a bill supporting the transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem.)
Other examples are Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, two Muslim Congresswomen who were banned from entering Israel in August 2019. Both support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel and have made no secret of their hate for the Jewish state.