Two weeks ago, the Senate passed S-1, the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act, by a vote of 77-23. The bill included the Ileana Ros-Lehtinen United States Israel Security Assistance Act of 2019, which provides $3.3 billion in security assistance to Israel and calls for increased US-Israel cooperation and ensuring Israel’s qualitative military edge. Another important part of S-1 is the Combating BDS Act of 2019, affirming the right of states, including New York, which have passed laws to break ties with companies that boycott or divest from Israel.
The House of Representatives is expected to take up the various provisions of the bill separately. Security assistance to Israel is expected to pass easily. The Combating BDS Act, which Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, the Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus has dismissed as a “political stunt,” will probably not be brought up for a vote.
Israel has become a divisive issue in the Democratic Party. BDS has become a pet cause among many on the progressive left. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashid Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar are being hailed as the new voices of the Democratic Party. The American Civil Liberties Union opposes the Combating BDS Act, claiming that it violates the right of free speech. In the Republican-controlled Senate, Democratic Senators were forced to vote on the Combating BDS Act and had to choose to stand with the pro-Israel community or the anti-Israel progressive left. The majority of Democrats, including Senator Chuck Schumer and Presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar voted for S-1, including the Combating BDS Act. Twenty-two Democrats, including Presidential candidates Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris, opposed it. The House Democratic leadership, seeking to spare their members from having to cast a difficult vote that will highlight the differences within the party, will simply not bring the Combating BDS Act to a vote.
With the rise of anti-Israel forces in the Democratic Party, it is tempting for us to walk away. While an approach of denouncing the entire Democratic Party as anti-Semitic might make some of us feel good, it would be highly counterproductive.
In Great Britain, Jeremy Corbyn, who has been denounced as anti-Semitic by all three major British newspapers and is considered anti-Semitic by close to 90 percent of British Jews, is now the leader of the Labour Party. With the Conservative-led British government in serious trouble for reasons that have nothing to do with Israel, there is a real possibility that Corbyn will be the next Prime Minister. We cannot afford to let that happen here.
Donald Trump will not be President forever. There will be future Democratic Presidents and Democratic Congresses. To prevent the rise of a Corbyn-like figure to the Presidency, we need to strengthen the pro-Israel forces within the Democratic Party. Two weeks ago, this newspaper reported on a new organization, the Democratic Majority for Israel, that has been organized to do exactly that.
Fortunately, we have a strong base on which to build. While Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, and Omar have gotten the headlines, the vast majority of the House Democratic Caucus is pro-Israel. The two most important House committees dealing with Israel, Appropriations and Foreign Affairs, are headed by Jews from New York who are deeply committed to supporting Israel, Representatives Nita Lowey and Elliot Engel.
A majority of Senate Democrats voted for the Combating BDS Act. While the Combating BDS Act may not come up for a vote in the House, the provisions of S-1 on security assistance to Israel are expected to pass easily, with overwhelming Democratic support.
The Democratic Party withdrew its sponsorship of the Women’s March because of the anti-Semitism of some of its organizers, including Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory.
Ilhan Omar’s latest outrage prompted a statement by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House Democratic leadership strongly condemning anti-Semitism. The entire House of Representatives unanimously voted to condemn anti-Semitism, to affirm support of Israel, and to condemn BDS.
These are important steps in the right direction. What Speaker Pelosi and the Democratic leadership need to do next is to bring the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act, including the Combating BDS Act, up for a vote and to see that it is passed with strong bi-partisan support.
President Trump deserves our thanks for being a strong supporter of Israel. But it is in the long-term interest of Israel and the American Jewish community to have strong support in both parties. The hostility towards Israel and outright anti-Semitism on the progressive left is real. Most of the Democratic Presidential candidates have been supportive of Israel; they are now looking to curry favor with the progressive left by voting against the Combating BDS Act. This should make us more supportive of Democrats like Senator Amy Klobuchar, who voted in favor of the Combating BDS Act, and former Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado, who both have strong records of bipartisanship and support for Israel, and who have stood up to the pressure. Leftist groups are planning primary challenges against pro-Israel Democrats, including Congressman Jeffries and Congressman Engel. While these Representatives do not necessarily agree with us on every issue, they are far better than their likely challengers in the Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, and Omar mode. There is a battle going on for the soul of the Democratic Party. We need to engage in it – not to walk away from it. There are many in the Democratic Party who have shown great courage in standing up to the hostile forces of the progressive left. We need to stand up for them.
To engage in the battle for the soul, we need to be enrolled in the Democratic Party. Being an enrolled Democrat does not require you to vote for the Democratic candidate in the General Election. My advice to anyone concerned about the security of Israel, the needs of the American Jewish community, and the future of the United States is to enroll in the Democratic Party, vote for pro-Israel candidates in the Democratic Primary, and vote your conscience in the General Election.
Manny Behar is the former Executive Director of the Queens Jewish Community Council and was a senior aide to several public officials. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.