More troubling news emerged this past weekend for those trying to prop up the once solid, now faltering, bipartisan backing for Israel. GOP pollster Frank Luntz worriedly concluded that "Israel can no longer claim to have the bipartisan support of America" after finding "blatant" and "deep" animosity among Democratic "opinion elites" to Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.
In a survey commissioned by the Jewish National Fund, Luntz found that nearly half of Democrats view Israel as a racist country (less than one-third disagreed). Less than half of Democrats think Israel is interested in achieving peace with its neighbors. Nearly one-third of Democrats are less likely to vote for a politician who supports Israel, while nearly half would be more likely to vote for one who critiques it. And close to one in three Democrats support the Palestinian civil society-led campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel and corporations that profit from its human rights abuses of Palestinians. Luntz fears more will follow once they know more about the BDS movement for freedom, justice and equality.
These findings follow opinion polls last year commissioned by CNN showing Democrats evenly split over Israel's bombardment of the Gaza Strip and by researchers at the University of Maryland revealing a "wide gap" between the parties. A majority of Republicans want the United States to favor Israel, but only 17 percent of Democrats agree. According to the university researchers, this gap will widen further as youth, African-American and Hispanic voters--constituencies demonstrating a higher proclivity to support Palestinian rights--take up increasingly prominent roles in the Democratic Party.
To be sure, these rumblings of discontent from the grassroots of the Democratic Party have not yet translated into enough pressure to radically change the political calculus of elected Democratic officials and those seeking office. Indeed, a strong case could be made for the need for Democratic politicians--especially presidential candidates--to hew closely to pro-Israel orthodoxies to ingratiate themselves with the mega-donors who are needed to fund increasingly expensive campaigns.
As casino magnate Sheldon Adelson doles out cash to Republican candidates based on their support for Israel, so too does Haim Saban with Democratic office seekers. The Israeli-American media mogul, along with his wife, gave more than $1 million in the last presidential cycle, placing him in the top 100 mega-donors. Saban recently teamed up with Adelson to host a private summit in Las Vegas which raised an estimated $20 million to counter the BDS movement.
Hillary Clinton, who as First Lady became the first nationally prominent politician to endorse Palestinian statehood, and who as Secretary of State forcefully demanded that Israel freeze its illegal colonization of Palestinian land, is singing a different tune as the lead Democratic presidential candidate. Saban recently released a fawning, even sycophantic, July 2 letter he received from Clinton, expressing her "alarm" over the growth of the BDS movement. "We need to make countering BDS a priority," she pledged. "I am seeking your advice on how we can work together--across party lines and with a diverse array of voices--to reverse this trend."
Clinton then lays out a full-throttle campaign plan to defeat this nonviolent movement for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality. "From Congress and state legislatures to boardrooms and classrooms, we need to engage all people of good faith, regardless of their political persuasion or their views on policy specifics, in explaining why the BDS campaign is counterproductive to the pursuit of peace and harmful to Israelis and Palestinians alike." In her letter, Clinton appears oblivious to the fact that the BDS call emanated from more than 170 Palestinian civil society organizations, a broad and representative cross-section of Palestinian society which believes that BDS is, in fact, the most expedient way to achieve their long-denied rights under Israeli rule.
While Clinton fishes for pro-Israel campaign contributions by portraying herself as an anti-BDS warrior, it is clear that she is swimming against the historical tide and that Democratic Members of Congress may finally be catching up and responding to changes within the grassroots of the party. Last month, the United Church of Christ (UCC) passed a resolution by a margin of 80-20 percent calling for the boycott of Israeli settlement goods and divestment from US corporations profiting from Israel's military occupation of Palestinian land. (A majority of UCC delegates also voted to label Israel's policies toward Palestinians under military occupation as apartheid, although the resolution did not pass because it failed to obtain the requisite two-thirds vote). In so doing, the UCC joined the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United Methodist Church as the third large Protestant denomination to vote for BDS.
And last month Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) led a group of 19 Democratic Representatives in urging Secretary of State John Kerry to "elevate the human rights of Palestinian children to a priority status in our bilateral relationship" with Israel and "to address the status of Israel's military detention system's treatment of Palestinian children in its annual human rights report."
In the short-term, the role of pro-Israel campaign donations will likely ensure the fealty of Democratic candidates seeking higher office. However, drastic shifts within the base of the party, the advances of BDS within mainstream US institutions, and cracks of opposition surfacing on the Hill all portend a change in the party's position in the not-too-distant future.