The Israel issue will not go away--Republicans will keep reminding voters, especially Jewish voters, of that.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives in Washington this week amid unaccustomed tension between the two allies — a strain that is now playing out in House and Senate races across the 2010 election landscape.
The White House-Israel feud over settlement building in East Jerusalem has Republicans racing to attack the White House as squishy and disloyal to Israel, weak-kneed on foreign policy and even soft on Iran. Democrats, meanwhile, are dealing with sensitive intraparty conflicts between those who want to reiterate America’s strong support for Israel and a more dovish wing that insists a tougher approach to Israel is the best way to push the peace process forward.
“I think candidates are just hiding under their desks because no one wants to get into this,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a longtime Democratic strategist and Clinton administration official who has advised Jewish groups. “This week, the answer is to just not dance.”[...]
For many Republicans — particularly conservative Christians who are strongly pro-Israel — President Barack Obama’s nuanced approach, and its results so far, represent a betrayal of a key ally. Many also view the ongoing debate as a proxy for the debate over the muscularity of American foreign policy.[...]
For Democrats, the issue is less cut and dried. Democratic candidates must straddle the divide between the party’s hawkish pro-Israel wing and a constituency that views the intransigence of Israel’s conservative government as a serious obstacle to peace.
“It’s easier to be a Republican on this issue. It’s a lot harder to be an honest Democrat,” said Rabinowitz. “I just don’t think it’s in a Democrat’s interest to follow Eric Cantor or Sarah Palin. If you’re a Republican candidate, no problem.”[...]
Toomey’s Democratic opponents, however, spoke in far more muted tones. Sen. Arlen Specter took to the Senate floor to call on “all parties to cool the rhetoric, avoid public recriminations, determine exactly what happened and consider some fundamental questions.”
Specter’s Democratic primary opponent, Rep. Joe Sestak, offered a diplomatic statement highlighting the need for a “stronger U.S. leadership to move us down a road map for peace and to achieve a comprehensive peaceful resolution that includes a two-state solution.”
In Florida’s Senate race, a spokesman for Republican candidate Marco Rubio told the pro-Israel publication Commentary that the White House had “sent a message that America is not as committed to Israel as it once had been.” Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek, meanwhile, put out a coolly worded statement criticizing the administration for using “undiplomatic language” with Israel.[...]
A February Gallup survey found Democratic voters evenly split on whether they sympathized more with the Israelis or the Palestinians. Republicans are far more united in their support for Israel, the poll found, with 85 percent saying they sympathized more with the Israelis.
“When Democrats attack the White House on this, they’re being more cautious because there is a wider coalition,” said Raphael Sonenshein, a political scientist at California State University at Fullerton.
Doug Pike, a Democratic House candidate in the heavily Jewish Philadelphia suburbs, discovered the perils of alienating part of that Democratic constituency when he lost the endorsement of state Rep. Josh Shapiro, who complained about Pike’s support for J Street, the liberal-leaning Israel policy organization.
“Your own constituents and the greater pro-Israel world are more fractured this week, and it’s not worth offending either side,” said Rabinowitz. “It’s always been a trap among the left, the center and the right. You had to dance a dance, and now it’s even more so.”
For some Democrats, taking on Obama aggressively was the most logical response. Florida Rep. Ron Klein, who represents a heavily Jewish, Palm Beach-based district, said he was “deeply disappointed” in the White House. Dan Seals, a Democrat running for an open House seat in suburban Chicago, scolded the administration for its “unhelpful rhetoric.”[...]
Troy said the conservative movement’s unification around Israel comes as a welcome diversion at a time when the broader conservative coalition is experiencing deep rifts — particularly between evangelicals and tea party activists, who have found themselves at odds over the centrality of social issues.
“There has been a sense that Obama has not been [as much of] a supporter of Israel as he could have been,” said Troy. “Mark my words: Whoever is the Republican nominee in 2012 is going to be hitting this issue hard. This just will not be forgotten.”
In other Israeli-related news, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the AIPAC conference.
The prime minister reiterated his stance on construction in Jerusalem, and told his audience of some 8,000 pro-Israel activists, "The connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel cannot be denied. The connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem cannot be denied.
The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 year ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital."
He continued to say, "In Jerusalem, my government has maintained the policies of all Israeli governments since 1967, including those led by Golda Meir, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin. Today, nearly a quarter of a million Jews, almost half the city’s Jewish population, live in neighborhoods that are just beyond the 1949 armistice lines. All these neighborhoods are within a five-minute drive from the Knesset. They are an integral and inextricable part of modern Jerusalem. Everyone knows that these neighborhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement. Therefore, building them in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution."
As an example to the Jewish people's link to Jerusalem, he told his audience of a signet ring he has in display in his office: "The ring was found next to the Western wall, but it dates back some 2,800 years ago, two hundred years after Kind David turned Jerusalem into our capital city. The ring is a seal of a Jewish official, and inscribed on it in Hebrew is his name: Netanyahu. His name was Netanyahu Ben-Yoash."
Netanyahu then mentioned the Holocaust, and the price the Jewish people had to pay: "Ultimately, two of history's greatest leaders helped turn the tide. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill helped save the world. But they were too late to save six million of my own people."
He stressed that "the future of the Jewish state can never depend on the goodwill of even the greatest of men. Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself."