There are two Democratic Primary contests in New York State tomorrow upon which American Jews and the Netanyahu Government should be focused. The nature of the two races are very different, one is an open seat and one is a contested seat, but they both involve long-standing, powerful, Jewish Members of Congress. Representative Nita Lowey, who is the Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, has severed in Congress for 30 years and is retiring. Representative Eliot Engel, who is the Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is seeking a 17th term in the House. Engel is facing serious opposition from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and appears to be vulnerable.
For a generation, Both Lowey and Engel have been staunch defenders of Israel and were critical point people on all matters related to U.S. policy and foreign assistance in the Middle East. They have consistently supported a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. As long-standing loyal Democrats as well, Lowey and Engel and many other pro-Israel supporters of the U.S.-Israel relationship have been severely tested have since the vigorous debate in Washington over the P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran. Specifically, when Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu circumvented the Obama White House in 2015 and garnered an invitation from House Speaker John Boehner to address the Congress to voice his opposition to the Iran deal, he infuriated House Democrats.
Netanyahu’s maneuver was a clear indication of the extent to which Israel was forsaking the long-standing bi-partisan line of support that Israel traditionally had received from the Congress. Bibi’s alliance with Congressional Republicans and subsequently with the Trump Administration has further alienated his support with congressional Democrats.
This occurred despite the fact that the Obama Administration signed a ten-year $38 billion weapons deal with Israel in September 2016, only months before President Obama was leaving office. Subsequently, Netanyahu would rail out against President Obama for abstaining and not vetoing an anti-settlement resolution in the U.N. Security Council during the final weeks before Obama’s tenure expired.
The Engel race and the Lowey seat will not be decided over support for Israel. There is, nevertheless, an undercurrent which has been growing even within these two New York Districts among pro-Israel Democrats, that Netanyahu has taken their support for granted. Many Jewish supporters and as well as many Democrats believe that the carte blanche that Donald Trump has given to Israel is ineffective regional policy and will never enable peace to be achieved with the Palestinians. The current debate over Israeli annexation of the 30% of the West Bank as envisioned in the Trump Peace Proposal is the current manifestation of this tension. On the annexation proposal alone, there already have been numerous Democratic Members of Congress who have announced their opposition to annexation by the Netanyahu Government.
It is the changing atmospherics that the Lowey and Engel contests’ signal in the U.S.-Israel relationship. The more progressive wing of the Democratic Party will ensure that their message is heard. If Engel is re-elected and if he seeks another term in two years, he understands that the Democratic Party with a Joe Biden Presidency will not encourage a strong relationship which cannot tolerate criticism and disagreement.
Biden, Lowey, and Engel all recognize that in the long run only a truly bi-partisan wall of support for Israel will sustain a vibrant, long-standing friendship. American Jews know they must encourage bi-partisan support for Israel. Even the right-wing pro-Israel supporters understand this fact. It is incumbent that Netanyahu and Israeli leaders recognize that in the long-run Israel needs broad base support not narrow short-term gains.