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Why Israel Makes For a Lousy Partisan Issue

The Jewish state’s strongest supporters (and leader) don’t want it politicized

Marc Tracy
May 24, 2011
White House chief-of-staff Bill Daley and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz at the AIPAC Conference.(Joshua Roberts/Getty Images)
White House chief-of-staff Bill Daley and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz at the AIPAC Conference.(Joshua Roberts/Getty Images)

A joke appeared on Twitter sometime during Prime Minister Netanyahu’s extremely well received speech to a joint meeting of Congress this morning: Here, at last, is the presidential candidate the Republicans are looking for! (The birther rumors, admittedly, might be difficult to quell.) In fact, though, just about the only people who see Bibi—who in many ways does read as an American neoconservative, what with his flawless English, Philadelphia upbringing, staunchly pro-Israel views, and, of course, Jewish heritage—as a Republican are, well, Republican political operatives who would like nothing more than to use Israel as a wedge issue to peel away Jewish voters who voted even for Barack Obama over John McCain by a more than three-to-one margin.

We saw this last night, when the Republican Jewish Coalition and the National Jewish Democratic Council openly feuded in front of Bibi. And we saw this earlier today when the Republican National Committee head Reince Priebus vowed to slam President Obama for calling on Israel “to return to its 1967 borders” (which, of course, Obama did not do): “That’s what we’re gonna be singing from the mountaintops for the next 17 months,” he pledged. “We’re going to be making a strong play for Jewish voters in 2012, I can tell you that. We just did an eight city tour in Florida, and we’re going to go back to Florida—we’re not going to let any stone unturned.” (So Jewish Florida voters are dirt-dwelling insects to him? Ah, it’s not worth it.)

Good luck. It is telling that, at last night’s feud, the main Republican was Sheldon Adelson—an unelected casino magnate who was there solely by the virtue of being very, very wealthy—while the main Democrats were Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Steve Israel, respectively the head of the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, as if to further drive home the point that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is the one big exception to the current rule that all of the powerful Jewish American politicians are Democrats. Harry Reid, the Democrats’ leader in the Senate, backed Netanyahu so hard at the AIPAC Conference last night that his statement is being read as a rebuke to Obama. And anyway, the White House itself lauded Netanyahu’s speech today. Besides, the next thing Obama will likely be seen doing on the Israel issue will be working to prevent the United Nations from recognizing Palestinian statehood: Hardly the stuff of Republican attack ads geared towards the good citizens of Boca Raton. (And should it come to that, expect Democrats to fire back with the specter of Rand Paul, beloved of the Tea Party, being the only senator not in the audience for Bibi’s speech, which, even if it was not intended as a snub of the prime minister, could very easily be painted that way.)

Most importantly, within the strongly pro-Israel American Jewish community, there is going to be a sense that politics needs to stop at the water’s edge—specifically, on the question of Israel. “I see a lot of old friends of Israel here, and a lot of new friends: Democrats and Republicans alike!” The emphasis is not mine, and nor are the words: This was among the first sentences of Netanyahu’s address today. Here is betting that America’s supporters of Israel will agree with the Israeli prime minister that the last thing Israel needs is to become a partisan issue, and will ultimately ensure that it doesn’t.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.

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