It's that time of year again -- election time -- when White House officials trigger homeland security alerts and talk about the threat of Osama bin Laden. It's also the time of year when Jewish Republicans bring out the bogeyman of the bad, bad Democrats who want to harm the State of Israel.
Bipartisan support for Israel has been a major accomplishment of pro-Israel activists in this country. Therefore, one might think that Republicans would be hesitant to try to undermine this accomplishment. However, from point of view of Republican electoral considerations, this attack strategy might be the best of a bunch of bad options.
After all, this is a Republican Party whose domestic policy accomplishments include its response to Hurricane Katrina and the exploding budget deficit. This is a party's whose social and science policies are viewed by the vast majority of the Jewish community as closely aligned with the thinking of the Spanish Inquisition. And finally, this is a political party that has brought the country from the unity of Sept. 12 to the quagmire of Iraq.
So in the wake of Israel's traumatic war with Hezbollah, it just might make electoral sense to try and scare American Jews into believing that the "lefty" Democrats are a threat to Israel's survival. Yet, common sense and objectivity tell us that this is just a Republican con -- and a destructive one at that.
In 2006, America's two major political parties are at opposite ends of almost all issues but not on the issue of U.S.-Israel relations. Almost all observers, from Israeli officials to anti-Israel activists, agree that both the Republican and the Democratic parties are pro-Israel.
This bipartisan consensus, in a time of extreme partisan bickering, is no accident of history. For over 50 years, pro-Israel activists in this country have labored mightily to forge this bipartisan support for Israel. This is important because Democratic control of government and Republican control of government is never permanent.
However, with the rise of politicians like former Reps. Newt Gingrich and Tom Delay and presidential adviser Karl Rove, even the most sacred bipartisan issues became fair game for partisan gamesmanship. For these Republicans, it was just not good enough that they sought, in their own manner, to support strong U.S.-Israel relations. They had to do everything in their power to tear down Democratic leaders as friends of Israel. Thus, great friends of Israel, like Rep. Nancy Pelosi (San Francisco), Sen. Harry Reid (Nevada) and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, are denigrated as insufficiently friendly.
There are exceptions to this bipartisan consensus. But the exceptions are relatively few, and they come from both parties. Moreover, there are lots of right-wing or left-wing fringe elements that are not associated with either of the political parties. One good example that Republican Jews love to use is Cindy Sheehan, who they wrongfully label as a Democratic activist. If Sheehan is a "Democratic activist," then we might as well label Mel Gibson a "Republican activist."
Rather than looking under every rock to find a "bad" Democrat, these GOP operatives could play a constructive role in fostering the U.S.-Israel relationship. They could start by quietly talking to some of their own problems. For example: California Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), who has accused Israel of "apartheid" and referred to Israel's borders as "artificial lines"; GOP Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who has called the Israeli government the most "evil" lobby in Washington, D.C.; and the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John Warner of Virginia, who held up consideration of an Israel solidarity resolution because he objected to a line in the resolution urging the president "to continue fully supporting Israel as Israel exercises its right of self-defense in Lebanon and Gaza" -- just to name a few.
Beginning in the early 1970s, Republican spokesmen each election year predicted that Jewish Americans were turning Republican. Unfortunately for these spokesmen, these predictions never came true.
In fact, in the last 15 years, the GOP declined from its pre-1990s levels of 30-40 percent. After the last election, the exit poll of record, the Edison/Mitofsky exit survey, found that only 22 percent of American Jews had voted Republican.
In other words, Jews were the most loyal Democratic constituency in the country after African Americans. Tom Edsall, the national journalist who followed this story closest in recent years, wrote this past winter that after all the ballyhoo, there was no real evidence that either Jewish votes or Jewish donors were moving to the GOP.
The facts never got in the way of a good Republican operative, and here we are in the fall of 2006 as these same people are cranking up the propaganda machine once more. They are ruthlessly feeding the same story to the press about how the "anti-Israel Democrats" are turning the Jewish community to the GOP. The sad part of this story is that the press often cooperates.
Ultimately, however, the tragedy of this propaganda campaign is not that some in the Jewish community might be convinced that there are Democratic bogeymen out there. Instead, the tragedy is that for a few extra votes, these demagogues are undermining the historic bipartisan support for Israel that will be so needed in the dangerous years to come.
Ira Forman is executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.
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Posted on Oct. 12, 2006 at 8:00 pm