For more than a decade I have stood on the stage at one Jewish community organizational conference after another as elected officials, both Democrats and Republicans and often even those running against each other, have lauded and applauded the bipartisan consensus of support for Israel. Whatever our differences, the familiar refrain goes, bipartisan support for Israel remains unbroken.
Unbroken, perhaps, but not unbreakable.
A slew of political advertisements have been unleashed by the far right, the "Israel right or wrong" crowd, which have misrepresented the strong support of Democratic members of Congress for Israel and reflect a troubling willingness among some conservatives to strain the historic bipartisan consensus on Israel, at least where doing so serves their own partisan purposes.
Take for example the Republican Jewish Coalition's ad against Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, claiming that she "remained silent as the Obama administration pressured Israel and supported Israel's enemies." Aside from shamelessly rehashing debunked accusations of a deterioration in U.S.-Israel relations -- which Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has called "just flat wrong" -- the missive against Boxer is particularly remarkable given the Jewish Senator's authorship with Republican Senator Johnny Isakson of a March 29th letter -- on which the right wing of the pro-Israel community lobbied heavily -- urging Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to resolve any differences of opinion with Israel "amicably and in a manner that befits longstanding strategic allies" (the contemporaneous House version of the letter, lead by Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Mr. Cantor, used the more pointed language, "quietly, in trust and confidence, as befits longstanding strategic allies").
In addition to revealing a breathtaking dishonesty in lambasting a legislator for failing to join an effort which she, in point of fact, led, this ad brazenly threatens the bipartisan consensus on Israel by signaling to Democrats that the right wing may attack them as insufficiently supportive of Israel no matter what letters they sign or votes they take. This is hardly a message the true pro-Israel community would want Democratic Members and candidates to internalize.
Yet the RJC and other conservative-backed groups, such as the Emergency Committee for Israel, continue to churn out negative ads attacking Democrats -- all of whom have repeatedly affirmed their support for the U.S.-Israel special relationship and support U.S. assistance to Israel in order to ensure its qualitative military edge -- as insufficiently hawkish on Israel. In comparison, no pro-Israel group supporting a Democratic Member or candidate has put forward a single negative ad -- not a single one -- attacking the electoral opponent of their own endorsements received over Israel.
The advent of conservative willingness to make Israel partisan would be dangerous enough if limited to the purely political realm of campaigns, but this week, Republican House Minority Whip Eric Cantor mused that annual appropriations of U.S. assistance to guarantee Israel's qualitative military edge may be "separated out" from the broader state and foreign operations appropriations to accommodate right-wing politicians ideologically opposed to foreign aid. This threatens the ability of Congress to assist Israel in maximizing its security in the expedient and apolitical manner of the past. As Chairwoman of the House Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee Nita Lowey said, "Manipulating aid to Israel in this way would dangerously threaten continued bipartisan agreement on national security policy and programs other than direct assistance to Israel that aid in its security." Characterizing it as "reckless," Ms. Lowey concluded that, "Eric Cantor's outrageous proposal is based purely on political motives, not what is best for U.S. or global security."
With less than a week to go before the 2010 election this is the political silly season. But for Israel supporters, Democrats and Republicans, this is no laughing matter.