Campaigning in Iowa, Beto O’Rourke had this to say about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and the U.S.-Israel relationship:
The US-Israel relationship is one of the most important relationships that we have on the planet. And that relationship, if it is to be successful, must transcend partisanship in the United States, and it must be able to transcend a prime minister who is racist.
Much of the reporting on this statement focuses on O’Rourke’s contentious claim that Netanyahu is a racist. I find the claim boring, like most instances in which left-liberals fling around the “R” word.
What’s interesting to me about O’Rourke’s statement is his view that the U.S.-Israel relationship is one of our most important ones and that it should transcend both our domestic politics and Netanyahu.
This view actually represents the conservative position within the Democratic party. The left-liberal position among Dems is that the U.S.-Israel relationship has little or no genuine importance other than to place America on the wrong side in the Middle East. In this view, the relationship’s position in the forefront of American policy is due to Jewish money and Jewish domination of the media.
O’Rourke is denying this. He’s saying that the relationship has inherent importance and merit. And if he’s using “transcend” the correct way, he’s also saying that even if Netanyahu retains power, Democrats should still back a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.
Most of the commentary I’ve read about O’Rourke’s remark misses the point. For example, the Guardian says:
O’Rourke’s comments reflect an emerging schism within the Democratic party over criticism of Israel’s actions. A cohort of young progressive lawmakers have been openly critical of the Israeli government, in a break from a tradition of blanket support from both sides of the US political divide.
Nonsense. Mainstream Democrats have been openly critical of the Israeli government for years. President Obama, who controlled the party, was a loud and persistent critic of Israel’s actions. It took a Republican House even to allow Netanyahu to address Congress.
The true emerging schism within the Democratic party over Israel is a dispute about whether (1) the U.S. should criticize Netanyahu and his policy preferences but continue to support Israel or (2) we should radically alter our relations with Israel — e.g. by reducing or cutting off financial and military support, no longer shielding Israel from the wrath of the U.N., strongly backing Palestinian demands, and, more generally, treating Israel as a pariah state the way many European nations do.
O’Rourke is arguing for the first option, probably in the hope of winning Jewish support but also, perhaps, because he believes what he says. I don’t doubt that O’Rourke believes his inflammatory rhetoric about Netanyahu, but the important thing is that it gives him some cover with the left, or so he hopes.
This is the best one can hope for from the contemporary Democratic Party. Unfortunately, it may be more than one realistically can hope for from the Democratic Party of the future.
Fortunately, the Republican Party and President Trump particularly offer something much better — an understanding of the reasons why Israel acts as it does and a willingness to support wholeheartedly Israel’s efforts to defend itself and its legitimacy.