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Israel Factor Panel: Republican Congress Good for Netanyahu, Not Necessarily for Israel

by Shmuel Rosner

May 20, 2014 | 3:34 am

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with U.S.congressional pages after his speech before a joint meeting of Congress in Washington, May 24, 2011. Photo by Reuters/Stelios Varias.

Exactly half a year before the next American elections – the November midterms – we asked our Israel Factor panel of experts to answer some questions about the upcoming elections and their impact on US-Israel relations.

It is already a tradition for Israel Factor panelists to have to respond to such queries. Prior to the 2010 midterms we asked the panel (it was almost the same panel, but not the exact same panel) if a Republican Congress would be better for Israel – and the answer was, well, take a look:

Generally speaking, the panel believes that it is better for Israel that Republicans won the day. Some believe that the best combination for Israel would be if they could have won both houses, and some think it is better that only the House went Republican. Again, a word of caution is needed: This doesn’t necessarily mean that the panel thinks Republicans are better than Democrats on Israel (some do, others don’t). It means that they think that it is better for Israel when there’s a US government that is split. Why? That’s quite obvious: Because it makes it more difficult for the administration to pursue policies without checks and balances.

The situation today is different, of course. Congress is already split. US-Israeli relations are still complicated – that is, the relations between the governments; the people are another story – but in a somewhat different way. The Tea Party movement, front and center in our discussion of the 2010 election, is still an issue but not as much as it used to be. Our panel was always reluctant when it comes to the Tea Party and, as you can see in its general rankings of Presidential candidates, is rarely in favor of the candidates who associate themselves wholeheartedly with it. In the May 2014 survey, Ted Cruz, for example, is at 5.5 on the “good for Israel” question (out of 10) (in the February 2014 survey he was at 5.42) even though he has always expressed positions that are considered staunchly “pro-Israel” (and yes, we all know that the meaning of pro-Israel is different for people with different viewpoints).

Asking about the coming elections we repeated three questions that we asked in the past. The first one gives us the background and lets us understand where the panel generally stands: “Generally speaking, please rank the two parties on Israel (please rank each option from 1 – very bad – to 5 – very good)”. The outcome is revealing: 3.55 out of 5 is the average of both parties. That is, the panel, on average, ranks the two parties exactly the same. And one should understand, of course, that this is not necessarily the position of most Israelis – it is the position of our panel of experts (I would assume that most Israelis prefer a Republican victory – most of them preferred McCain and Romney over Obama in 2008 and in 2012).

So our panel, on average, doesn’t see one party as much better than the other. It is also note-worthy that no panelists preferred one party to the other by more than two points (we had a 2-4 and 3-5 answers, but not one of 2-5 or 1-4). Having established this tie in preference, we asked two questions: What Congress combination would be better for Israel, and what Congress combination would make life easier for the Netanyahu government. Take a look at the outcome (we also gave the option “it doesn’t matter”, that most panelists didn’t use):

 

 

Both houses of Congress under Democratic control

Both houses of Congress under GOP control

Republican House and Democratic Senate

Democratic House and Republican Senate

Which of the following result would be better from an Israeli viewpoint

3.62

3.37

3.37

3.12

Which of the combinations will make the Netanyahu government’s life easier

2.75

4.25

3.62

3.5

 

Four quick points:

1. The panel doesn’t really see one party as “better for Israel” than the other and doesn’t really prefer one Congress combination to the other (generally speaking, our panel tended to be more “Democratic” than “Republican”). It doesn’t even have a clear preference for a split Congress over one party rule, or vice-versa. The slight preference for full Democratic control is mostly due to the fact the Dem-leaning panelists feel more strongly about this issue than the other panelists (what do I mean by “Dem-leaning panelists”? see an explanation here).

2. The panel does see a great difference when it analyses the pros and cons for the Netanyahu government – it will be much easier for Netanyahu with a Republican Congress, and much tougher with a Democratic Congress. This is exactly the same conclusion from four years ago, prior to the 2010 election: “the panel believes that the more Republican Congress is, the more convenient it is for the Netanyahu government”.

3. The bottom line for the panel is clear: those who want an easy life for Netanyahu would prefer a Republican Congress (or at least one Republican chamber, preferably the House), and those who want a less convenient situation for the Netanyahu government and policies, would prefer a Democratic Congress.

4. I can already hear the backlash: How can you say such a thing? How can Israelis say such a thing? So I’ll say it once again: this is the panel’s opinion, not the Israeli public’s opinion. In recent years we’ve seen time and again that the view of the panel does not reflect the Israeli public’s view. The public is more to the right, the panel is more centrist (Obama and Romney were close to a tie for the panel, while the public overwhelmingly preferred Romney to Obama).   

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