After US elections, Israel needs to invest in ties with US Democrats
The US election continued on Thursday to hang in the balance. Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden was approaching the number of electoral college votes needed to win.
In the midst of this, Israel needs to ensure that it is not perceived as a partisan issue despite pressure in recent years from all sides. The likelihood of a Biden win underscores the importance that Israeli leaders work closely with the Democratic leadership, not because of the election, but in spite of it. A strong Israel and a strong America are allies and it is essential for future Democrats to feel close to Israel and welcomed.
To understand the pressure Israel has been under we need only look to voices that have tried to paint Israel as increasingly in the Trump camp. On the other side, are radical leftists who have tried to claim that Israel is a right-wing country while working to distance it from their progressive values. This is a strange unity among the far Left and far Right that are trying to take Israel away from the centrist consensus that has underpinned decades of support for the Jewish state in Congress. It is essential that this drift not be allowed to continue.
It is natural that some on the Right will seek to encourage the Republican Party to be close to Israeli leaders. It is just as natural that Israel’s center and Left will feel at home with US Democrats and especially pro-Israel voices like Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris.
What is important is that the message on both sides be that this is an American-Israel relationship, not a partisan one. Unfortunately not enough is done to push back against the narrative that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – and Israel by extension – are linked closely to the Republican Party.
This is dangerous and toxic for a healthy relationship and normal foreign policy. Foreign policy should not be about party. Whether or not the Conservatives or Labor are in charge in the UK doesn’t need to change the US-UK relationship, for instance. There are some countries where political parties may be openly anti-American, but in the case of Israel there is bipartisan consensus on both sides that see the strong US-Israel relationship as essential. That means that there is no reason for Israel to have become so partisan in some US political circles. Yet, it has.
More should have been done to stop the drift and confront these illusions of partisanship. However, the last four years of hyper-partisan discussions combined with the last years of the Obama administration created a different impression.
Now is the time to do more to invest in cultivating relationships with Democratic voices and to share with them the importance Israel sees in the US relationship and particularly in their own relationship with Israel.
Often, negative views of Israel are not based on reality, but on myths and biases that are spread through the media, portraying Israel in a negative light. Some have tried to paint the country as “authoritarian” when Israel is in fact a vibrant democracy, one with a multiplicity of diverse parties.
Unfortunately for the last several years these critics were dismissed, rather than engaged. Pro-Israel and anti-Israel voices talked past one another instead of with one another.
Biden and his team represent a history of close relations with Israel and an understanding of the US-Israel relationship. When Biden spoke on Wednesday about how the presidency is not a partisan office and that the US president is president of all Americans he was showing the way to how the US-Israel relationship must transcend partisan politics. Israelis need to understand this. There is a lot of ground to be made up to engage with those who feel Israel tied itself too closely to the Trump administration.
On the other hand, the Trump administration deserves credit for the amazing measures it took to promote peace and security for the State of Israel. But it cannot be a relationship based on personalities. Rather, it is about people and their shared values. Israel and the Democratic Party should remember that in the months to come.