American Jews and Israel

American Jews and Israel


Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

On March 2, Israel will be holding its third election in a year. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will be making his last chance to maintain the reins of the Israeli Government. In fact, he would probably prefer to be in Washington addressing the American Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)–which will be holding its annual public policy conference–than to be facing the Israeli electorate. The Washington audience, with about 20,000 people in attendance, would probably vote decisively to re-elect Netanyahu for another term; unfortunately for Bibi, his fans in D.C. cannot vote in the Israeli elections.

The AIPAC policy conference is the largest annual assemblage of pro-Israel supporters and an event which usually is addressed by the Israeli Prime Minister as well as other Israeli political leaders. In all likelihood Netanyahu and others—given the Monday election–will appear by satellite before the convention, but it will not do much for his political juices.

By the time the election results are tabulated in Israel on Tuesday March 3—and regardless who gets the most seats in the next Knesset–no one will be assured that they will be able to form a new governing coalition. At the same time, in the U.S., American citizens in fifteen states (plus Americans aboard) will be going to the polls to vote in the Democratic primary on Super Tuesday. Thirty four percent (1,357) of all the pledged Democratic convention delegates will be selected on March 3.

The AIPAC conference attendees, who represent largely of American Jews, usually receive most if not all of all the presidential candidates during their election year meeting. This is in addition to the live appearance of the Israeli Prime Minister.  It is likely that President Trump or Vice President Pence will attend, while there has been a very conflicted discussion among some of the Democratic aspirants whether they will participate this year or not.

Last year when—among the then announced presidential candidates–only Bernie Sanders did not attend, given the conference proximity to Super Tuesday this year, it would be the Democratic candidates felt that scheduling problems made their attendance very problematic. It will be interesting to observe if some of them at least seek to provide satellite presentations to the conference.

The waffling by some of the candidates as to whether to appear or not at the policy conference, involves a much more basic discussion within the pro-Israel community and AIPAC; in particular whether American Jews will suggest that candidates who avoid the AIPAC policy conference do so at their political peril. This opens the entire question as to whether of what is transpiring among American Jewish support for Israel, the Netanyahu Government, as well as President Trump’s policies on Israel.

There is a growing decline with the previous blind support for Israel.  This is not a reflection on support for the existence of Israel, but Israeli policies and America’s support for these policies. Much of this has evolved over the past few years as American Jewish antipathy for President Trump has intensified as well. The Administration in Washington’s virtual unflinching support for Israel does not sit well with a large segment of the American Jewish community. Sustaining support for Israel today—especially among Democrats is more complicated and nuanced than it probably has been since the 1967 Six Day War. This is reflected as well in the more selective participation of those Jews who attend the AIPAC conference.

Democrats in Congress, those running for President, many centrists as well as liberal Democrats are not necessarily prepared to merely support this or any Israeli Government. While Israel does face enemies throughout the region and especially from Iran and continues to spend an inordinate amount of its budget on the military and national security, Israel does not face an immediate existential threat. Most of this segment of the American Jewish community remains strongly pro-Israel but does not interpret that support as requiring a lockstep endorsement of a Government that they believe will create very serious problems for Israel in the future.

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