On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to condemn the recent United Nations Security Council resolution targeting Israel, and implicitly rebuked the Obama administration for failing to veto its passage. By a tally of 342-80, including 60 percent of Democrats, the House declared that “The United States Government should oppose and veto future United Nations Security Council resolutions that seek to impose solutions to final status issues, or are one-sided and anti-Israel.” A similar bipartisan resolution is currently being circulated in the Senate.
“Allowing such a one-sided resolution to pass at this moment sent the wrong signal to our ally Israel, to Israel’s enemies and to the world,” Democratic House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said. “It’s time to repair the damage done by this misguided hit job at the UN,” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said in an impassioned speech. “It’s time to rebuild our partnership with Israel and reaffirm our commitment to her security. And it’s time to show all of our allies that, regardless of the shameful events of last month, the United States remains a force for good.”
These bipartisan congressional efforts—like AIPAC’s September letter signed by 88 senators calling on the administration to oppose “one-sided” U.N. action against Israel—signify that the traditional pro-Israel center continues to hold in American politics, despite eight years of strain from the right and left. As Politico put it, “That so many Democrats and Republicans joined to condemn the U.N. resolution once again underscored the depth of the bipartisan support for the Israeli government in Congress.”
Once again, however, the frayed edges of this consensus were also on display. On the one hand, some Republican lawmakers took issue with the House resolution’s commitment to a two-state solution. “I can’t vote for the resolution when we are advocating what Joel 3 says will bring judgment down upon our nation for trying to partition Israel,” said Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert. (Somewhat similar, if less biblical, objections were raised by some prominent Republican Senators who declined to sign AIPAC’s September letter.) On the other side of the aisle, the liberal Zionist lobby J Street lobbied hard against the House resolution, and two-thirds of its endorsees voted against it, including DNC chair candidate Keith Ellison.
Taken together, these dissenters reveal how both right-wing and left-wing Israel groups are vying to pull the rug out from under Washington’s traditional pro-Israel center. This poses a particular challenge to AIPAC, the broker of that bipartisan consensus. As one strategist put it to Tablet’s Armin Rosen in his recent feature on the lobby: “In this new world where J Street really is a pro-Israel validator for segments of the Democrats and the Zionist Organization of America is a validator for segments of the Republicans, what’s AIPAC role?”
For now, it appears that the center has held. The question is whether the incoming Trump Administration will opt to place itself outside that consensus, exacerbating the current tensions, or if it will instead go along with that consensus for some easy bipartisan wins. Given the hard-right bent of Trump’s Israel ambassador, it is not hard to see how his policies could alienate Democrats and further fracture Americans on the issue. On the other hand, given the more pragmatic pro-Israel stances of other Trump appointees like Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and Trump’s own fondness for catering to what is popular, it’s also easy to envision the new president largely going with the congressional flow on Israel, and pocketing some bipartisan plaudits.
For its part, Congress likely prefers to travel the pro-Israel path of least resistance as it has for decades. Whether America’s new president does, however, remains to be seen.