Why Democrats recoil from Gaza
Good for Shrum for championing Israel’s right to defend itself against the Hamas rocket barrage. He is correct, too, that lasting peace will come only when the Palestinians abandon their hope that Israel can somehow be defeated or destroyed. Unfortunately, Shrum represents an increasingly minority point of view within the Democratic Party. A Rasmussen poll conducted in the last week of 2008 found that while 62 percent of Republicans backed Israel’s action in Gaza, only 31 percent of Democrats did. Almost three-quarters of Republicans blamed Hamas for starting this war; only a minority of Democrats agreed. Republicans are 20 points more friendly toward Israel than Democrats. And while extreme hostility to Israel does not exist among Republicans, almost one in 10 Democrats describes Israel as an “enemy of the United States.”
This is the political environment in which Barack Obama will be forming policy toward the Jewish state. Friends of Israel should find this worrying to say the least. Democratic revulsion at Israel’s Gaza operation has multiple roots. First, Democrats are just generally less likely to support military actions by any nation, including the United States. A 2005 MIT poll found that only 57 percent of Democrats would support the use of American troops even to destroy a terrorist training camp. (Compared to 95 percent of Republicans.) Second, Democrats hold an inexhaustible faith in the value of negotiation. Untroubled by Hamas’ character as a terrorist movement pledged to the total destruction of Israel and the murder of its population, 55 percent of Democrats believe that Israel should have tried to find a diplomatic solution to the Hamas rocket barrage. Third, the more closely Americans follow the news, the more likely they are to support Israel. Yet more low-information voters are Democrats than Republicans. Fourth, Democratic attitudes are poisoned by the influence of an anti-Zionist hard left, a vociferous faction whose ideology can bleed into outright anti-Semitism. The foreign policy page at the Barack Obama transition website, Change.gov, features many disturbing examples of this trend. There you will find questions and comments like the following: “How might you propose to hold Israel accountable for their awful record of human rights abuses? My personal sense is that Israeli abuse of non-Jewish residents in Middle East is our #1 problem.” “The root cause of the world's problems is the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the ongoing war crimes perpetrated by Israel.” “The massacre of the Palestinian people by the excessive forces of Israeli military should be soundly condemned—why is Obama NOT taking a MORAL stand on this holocaust? Shocking!” “What will you do to help end the illegal and immoral occupation of Palestine, to end the oppression of the Palestinian people by the genocidal government of Israel? “How will President Obama uncouple the ‘Israeli Lobby’ from the US political process, to prevent its current undue influence over U.S. foreign and domestic policy?” Obama has better things to do with his time than scroll through page after page of comments on his website condemning Israel as "genocidal" or accusing it of perpetrating "holocausts." Yet it is also true that Obama comes to office with the most opaque record on Israel of any new president since Gerald Ford. Certainly Israelis themselves feel intense doubts about the incoming president: a pre-election opinion poll by the Rabin Center showed that Israelis preferred John McCain by a 12-point margin.
We should all hope that President Obama can overcome the institutional flaws in his party—and the gaps in his own record—in order to sustain the U.S.-Israel friendship through the very great dangers ahead. (And Shrum, we're counting on you to kick him if he doesn't!)