Pro-Israel Democrats, Facing the Bare Minimum of Criticism, Form New Group to Squash Dissent

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Pro-Israel Democrats, Facing the Bare Minimum of Criticism, Form New Group to Squash Dissent

At a time when the far-right Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu—whose corruption runs so deep that his own police force has recommended that he be indicted—seems to have thrown its lot in almost entirely with Republicans in general and Donald Trump specifically, registered Democrats are expressing less support than ever for America’s prominent ally, and more support than ever for the oppressed Palestinian people. The partisan divide, as with every issue in America, has grown stark—new polls suggest that “liberal Democrats” only support Israel over Palestine at a rate of 19%, down from 33% before Trump took office, while Republicans break for Israel at a rate of 79%. There’s a big age gap too: If you’re under 30, there’s only a 32% chance you sympathize with Israel, but if you’re over 65, that number rises to 56%.

However, the divide among the population has never made its way into the halls of Congress, where the vast majority of representatives from both parties wholeheartedly support Israel. Until recently, it was considered political suicide to hold any other opinion, and, frankly, that’s where the money was. From wealthy donors to lobbyist groups like AIPAC, pro-Israel voices dwarfed Palestinian interests in terms of sheer wealth and power.

That has changed with the incoming freshman class, but only very slightly. The New York Times, in a piece about a new group formed to “protect” Israeli interests, names the outliers:

While the overwhelming majority of congressional Democrats are strong supporters of Israel, the party’s pro-Israel wing has been jolted by election of a pair of high-profile freshman, Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, who support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against the country.

Ms. Omar was appointed to a seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which drew scorn from Republicans but offers her a prominent perch in the debate over Middle East policy. And Ms. Tlaib drew widespread attention earlier this month when somebody in her office placed a Post-it note that read “Palestine” over Israel on a map in her office.

The word they don’t use is “Muslim,” as in, “these are the first two Muslim women to ever serve in the House.” And there are a couple more sympathizers:

But they are hardly alone among the newer Democratic lawmakers in taking, at least, a more nuanced view of Israel. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York has called the “occupation of Palestine” a humanitarian crisis, and other progressives like Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington have not hesitated to criticize Israel’s use of force against Palestinian protesters.

I don’t know if I’d call that “hardly alone,” since four is still a pretty lonely number, but point taken: There are now some people in Congress who don’t blindly follow D.C.’s pro-Israel line.

And people are worried. Specifically the people behind the new group “Democratic Majority for Israel,” who are trying to snuff out the widespread sympathy for Palestinians among America’s liberal population, and the very meager sympathy in the House. That’s almost their exact words:

“Most Democrats are strongly pro-Israel and we want to keep it that way,” said Mark Mellman, the group’s president and a longtime Democratic pollster. “There are a few discordant voices, but we want to make sure that what’s a very small problem doesn’t metastasize into a bigger problem.”

Metastasize…like cancer. The other four things that are worth knowing about this group are:

1. The members we know included Mellman the pollster, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Bill Clinton’s housing secretary Henry Cisneros, and a Clinton strategist named Ann Lewis.

2. They have lots of money, but we’re not sure where it comes from quite yet. (Will they have to register as an agent of a foreign power?) Mellman told the Times they have “substantial” financial resources.

3. They have some congressmen on board already, including Hakeem Jeffries, who gave a nice quote to the Times and who, rumor has it, may be the target of a progressive primary campaign in 2020 and probably wants to shore up his support.

4. They’re going to form a PAC, and “may” engage in primary fights, which means they’re absolutely going to engage in primary fights. The last quote in the Times article, also from Mellman, is really something:

“Our first choice is to educate and persuade,” he said, before vowing: “If there’s a political and intellectual battle to be waged, we’re here to wage it.”

In other words, agree with us about Israel or we’re going to bring the full force of the pro-Israel lobbying set against you. Though they claim to be separate, this is basically the Democratic version of AIPAC, and while that’s just politics, to some extent, it’s worth wondering whether it’s truly in step with the liberal electorate, and how much it will benefit elected Democrats when full-throated supported of Israel in the face of Palestinian suffering has become, essentially, a conservative proposition.