The election is over, and we have had some time to digest the results. As had been the case for the better part of the last 50 years, we will once again have a divided government. Both parties failed in their quest for complete control. At its best, a divided government has forced both parties to meet in the middle and work together to bring about real progress. At its worst, it has led both parties to dig in their heels, demonize their opponents, and work for the day when they can achieve full control and shove their entire agenda down the throats of the other half of the population.
In the last few years, our political leaders have preferred confrontation to accommodation. The result is that government is uncapable of addressing the problems facing us, and confidence in our political institutions is at an all time low. It doesn’t have to be that way. President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill had vastly different political views, yet they were able to work together effectively to bring America back from an era of racial strife, the Vietnam War, Watergate, and runaway inflation and unemployment. President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich despised each other on a personal basis, but they came together to bring about welfare reform, a thriving economy, and the only balanced budget in the last 50 years.
The recent election has brought us to a crossroads. It has given us the opportunity to move forward in a bipartisan way to address the COVID-19 crisis and other critical issues. But it has also created the danger of further polarization.
We in the Jewish community have a strong stake in bipartisanship. The one thing that the extreme left and the extreme right share is contempt for Jews. Some of us tend to focus on the anti-Semitism of our political opponents, while minimizing the anti-Semitism of those whose other views are more in line with our own. We must fight against anti-Semitism, whether it comes from those who march through the streets with torches shouting “Jews will not replace us” or members of Congress who accuse Jews who support Israel as being loyal to a foreign country and buying off our political leaders.
It is also important that we seek and promote bi-partisan support for Israel. The reality of divided government is that there will be future Democratic presidents and Congresses and future Republican presidents and Congresses. We want to make sure that support for Israel remains constant. That means we need to support our friends in both parties who believe in a strong Israel and addressing the needs of the Jewish community.
It is crucial that we participate in politics, because many of the crucial decisions that impact on our lives are made by politicians. But we should not get carried away. Neither party has a monopoly on virtue. Neither party should be demonized. The fact that there are some people in a party who are anti-Semitic does not reflect on others in their party who are supportive of our community. We should not waste time arguing and fighting over battles that have already been lost and focus on how we can move forward together based on the conditions that actually exist.
President Donald Trump has been a strong supporter of Israel and has fought anti-Semitism. No matter what some of us think of the rest of his record, he deserves our thanks for that. But the results of the election are clear. Joe Biden won 50.9% of the popular vote to 47.6% for President Trump, a margin of more than five and a half million votes. Four years ago, Donald Trump won the Presidency by carrying Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin by a combined margin of 77,760 votes, taking 47.7% of the vote to 47.0% for Hillary Clinton. President Trump called those results a “landslide.” This year, Joe Biden carried those same three states by a margin of over 240,000 votes with 50.0% of the vote to 48.4% for President Trump.
Through wars, depressions, natural disasters, and other crises, we have elected a President every four years. When the election was over, everyone respected the results. President Trump has every right to go to court and to call for recounts. When that process has run its course, Joe Biden’s victory will be confirmed. We will need to swallow our disappointment and accept the results.
While Joe Biden is not likely to support Israel as strongly as Donald Trump did, Biden had a strong record of support for Israel as a United States senator. Some of us distrust Biden because of his role as Vice President in the Obama administration. But Michael Oren, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States at the time, has said that Biden was an important voice of support for Israel within the Administration. Biden has made it clear that he will support continuing $3.8 billion in annual aid to Israel and will not use it as leverage to pressure Israel into making concessions. He will leave the US Embassy in Jerusalem. He strongly opposes BDS. He favors renegotiating the Iran deal to address issues like Iran’s support for terrorism and development of ballistic missiles. These are all strongly pro-Israel positions.
The reality is that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not likely to be high on the agenda of the Biden administration. The new president will face enormous challenges at home. The rising power and hostility of China and Russia are more pressing concerns on the international scene. Solving the Israel-Palestinian crisis was once seen as central to ensuring the flow of oil from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. This is no longer the case for many reasons. The United States has achieved energy independence and no longer relies on Arab oil. Concerns about climate change are leading to a move away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources. The Gulf States themselves have come to prefer building relations with Israel to supporting the Palestinian cause. I am not a prophet and I have been both pleasantly surprised and deeply disappointed by how past presidents have treated Israel. But Biden’s past record and stated views and the reality on the ground are all reasons to be hopeful that the US-Israel relationship will remain strong in a Biden administration.
Much has been made of the influence of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other members of the “Squad.” Their ranks will be bolstered by the election of Jamaal Bowman, who defeated Eliot Engel, the strongly pro-Israel Chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee in the Democratic Primary, and a few others. But there is no reason to despair. Pro-Israel America PAC endorsed candidates in key races across the country. In the Senate, they endorsed 12 Republicans: 10 won, 1 lost, and the race in Georgia is headed for a runoff. They endorsed 5 Democrats: 4 won and 1 lost. In the House, they endorsed 22 Republicans: 20 won and 2 races are too close to call. They endorsed 37 Democrats: 33 won, 2 lost, and 2 races are too close to call. There will be plenty of pro-Israel Democrats and Republicans in the next Congress. Many of the Democrats who were re-elected, including Grace Meng, Gregory Meeks, and Carolyn Maloney here in Queens, turned back progressive challengers in the primary elections.
Progressive does not necessarily mean anti-Israel. Councilmember Ritchie Torres, who is both staunchly progressive and strongly pro-Israel, won a House seat in the Bronx. Among the winners on Election Day were rising stars in the Democratic Party like Josh Gottheimer and Elaine Luria, committed Jews who are moderate and will be the future leaders of the pro-Israel movement in Congress.
We are rightly concerned about the growing influence of anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic forces within the Democratic Party. But we should put it in perspective. While 13 Democratic members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to Secretary of State Pompeo criticizing Israeli policies, 200 Democratic members of the House of Representatives did not sign it. AOC and her allies are looking to win control of the Democratic Party. That fight will be fought within the Democratic Party. We cannot afford to walk away from the fight. It is in the interest of all Jews to have two parties that are pro-Israel and supportive of the Jewish community. That means that we all have a stake in working to make young Democrats like Meng, Meeks, Torres, Gottheimer, and Luria the future face of the Democratic Party.
The bottom line is that neither party won on Election Night. Democrats won the White House, maintained control of the House, and may win control of the Senate. But the Republicans made gains in the House and may maintain control of the Senate. Those results, together with a 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court, mean that Republicans and conservatives will continue to be a force to be reckoned with in Washington for the foreseeable future.
We are at a crossroads. With serious challenges facing us, neither party has the ability to push through its entire agenda. The only hope is for both parties to come together and to achieve principled compromise, starting with a COVID-19 relief package.
President-elect Biden has made a career out of working both sides of the aisle. He will need to work with members of both parties in Congress if he is to succeed in bringing the country together to solve serious problems.
In a recent interview, AOC made a point of saying that she has worked to unseat incumbent Democrats. The message was clear. Any Democrat who cooperates with the Republicans risks a primary challenge. Republicans will also come under pressure from their base to resist compromise. Both parties may choose the path of seeking to win votes by playing to their base instead of working together for the common good. That is a path to more gridlock, more polarization, and further decline.
The only way forward is bipartisanship and putting country first. It means looking at issues based on their actual impact on real people and not on some rigid ideology. Success may well depend on a group of eight Senators and 50 Representatives from both parties who have been working together to find common ground. They have labored in the shadows till now, but this may be their moment. More about them in a future column.
May the One who grants dominion to rulers grant our newly elected leaders the wisdom and the courage to make the decisions that will bring us together and move us forward. In their days and in ours, may we see the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash and a new era of peace, justice, morality, health, and prosperity for us and for all of humankind.