Partisan enthusiasm gap emerges over U.S. alliance with Israel
Craig Silverman invited every big-name Colorado politician he knew to speak at last week’s Rally for Israel, and he received an overwhelming response — from Republicans.
A throng of top Republicans, led by Rep. Mike Coffman and gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez, came to fire up the crowd, but there was only one Democratic politician — state Rep. Rhonda Fields — even though Colorado Democrats control both legislative houses, the governor’s office and both U.S. Senate seats.
With the U.S. and other countries trying to mediate a durable cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, another enthusiasm gap between the parties is emerging this midterm year, this one targeting the shifting feelings about the deep U.S. alliance with Israel.
Mr. Silverman is thrilled with the turnout of 2,200 demonstrators at the Capitol, but he is worried about the Democratic Party’s increasingly cold shoulder toward Israel.
“Frankly, it kind of staggers me that this could be a partisan issue, but it’s becoming that way,” Mr. Silverman, a former Denver prosecutor, said on his KNUS-AM talk show. “Support for Israel among Democrats has gone way down. Among Republicans, it’s still solid. And I think that’s a damn shame, and I call on Democratic leaders to turn that around.”
The Denver rally wasn’t an outlier. President Obama’s calls for a cease-fire in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, along with his administration’s recent criticism of Israel, have exposed a partisan divide that would have been unimaginable a decade ago.
Although Democrats have long counted Jews as reliable members of their voting bloc, it’s Republicans who are showing up at the demonstrations, incurring the wrath of Palestinian advocates by supporting unconditional military assistance for Israel and demanding that the White House do the same.
At a rally last week in Dallas, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, called on the Obama administration to “end our policy of calculated ambivalence and renew our commitment to a strong Israel.”
Many Democrats remain strong, outspoken supporters of the Jewish state and note that not every Republican is unabashedly pro-Israel.
Many on the Republican Party’s libertarian wing are suspicious of foreign aid programs in general and unquestioned aid and support for Israel in particular.
The Democratic National Committee issued a press release Monday blasting Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, for his 2011 proposal to cut the foreign aid budget, which would have included Israel.
Mr. Paul has since moved to shore up his relationship with Israel. In April, he introduced the Stand with Israel Act, which would impose conditions on foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority, including “formal recognition of Israel’s right to exist.”
Mr. Paul’s bill has 17 co-sponsors — all Republicans.
If Democrats are reluctant to show heavy support for Israel, it may be because they’re in a political bind. Polls over past month show that Democratic voters are taking an increasingly dim view of Israel.
Polls consistently show that a majority of Americans support Israel, but the partisan divide is deep.
A Gallup poll released Monday found that 65 percent of Republican voters agreed that “Israel’s actions in the current Middle East conflict are justified.” Only 31 percent of Democrats and 36 percent of independent voters agreed.
A Pew Research Center survey released in mid-July found that 60 percent of Republicans believe Hamas is responsible for the outbreak of violence. Just 29 percent of Democrats blame Hamas and 26 percent blame Israel. Only 13 percent of Republicans say Israel is responsible.
The Pew survey also found that 73 percent of Republicans sympathize with Israel, up from 68 percent in April, while Democrats sympathizing with Israel slipped from 46 percent to 44 percent.
A CNN poll released July 21 showed 73 percent of Republicans and 45 percent of Democrats say Israel’s military actions in Gaza are justified.
“At a time when Israel is clearly engaged in an existential conflict, fighting for its right to exist, it is disappointing that Democrats in this country do not share the same high level of support for Israel that is seen among Republicans,” Matt Brooks, Republican Jewish Coalition executive director, said in a statement.
Still, Democrats don’t appear worried, at least not this year. Jewish voters showed weaker support for Mr. Obama in the 2012 election, but they still turned out for him over Republican Mitt Romney by a margin of 69 percent to 30 percent, according to Pew.
Democrats also win on optics: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in either chamber of Congress, is preparing to resign after losing his primary race in Virginia.
The National Jewish Democratic Council issued a statement after Mr. Cantor’s loss inviting “those who feel unrepresented by the Republican Party to join us in supporting the 33 Jewish senators and members of the House who proudly serve us in Congress.”
Mr. Silverman, a former Democrat who is now unaffiliated, said Democrats need to show they deserve Jewish support by taking a stronger stand for Israel.
“More Jews still vote, and run for office, as Democrats,” said Mr. Silverman. “There is ominous slippage of support for Israel amongst Democrats. Democratic elected officials, and Jewish Democrats, need to decide whether they will still stand up strong and publicly for the Jewish state.”