The Troubling Partisan Divide on Israel

Monday, February 5, 2018
By Norm Coleman and Matt Brooks

A new Pew poll shows the sharp partisan divide in sympathies for Israel or the Palestinians, with Republican support for Israel soaring while Democrat support continues to wane.

Support for Israel among all Americans remains strong and has not varied much since 1978, but the composition of that support has shifted significantly. The share of Republicans sympathizing more with Israel has risen from 50% to 79% in just the past 16 years, while Democrats’ support of Israel fell from 38% to 27% in that time. Among liberal Democrats today, nearly twice as many sympathize with the Palestinians (35%) as with Israel (19%), but the sharp decline can be seen across the party.

Some Democrats explain the decline in their party’s support for Israel as a reaction to President Donald Trump’s strong pro-Israel position, as if support for Israel was just collateral damage from the “resistance” to a Republican president widely reviled by Democrats. Others blame Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, another figure with a high unfavorable rating among Democrats.

But Democrats are kidding themselves if they think the problem illustrated by the Pew poll only began when Trump became president or because Netanyahu stood up to president Barack Obama over Iran policy. We have watched with deep concern as Democrats have shifted away from their traditional support Israel for years.

Unfortunately, this troubling trend is not just seen among the party’s rankand- file members. Increasingly, when push comes to shove, Democrat leaders and elected officials choose partisanship and politics over support for Israel. Consider a few recent examples:

• The Democrats’ 2012 party platform committee removed references in the platform to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. A resolution on the convention floor to reinstate that language was met with vocal opposition from delegates. After calling the voice vote three times, convention chairman Antonio Villaraigosa overruled the delegates and declared the resolution as passed, to loud boos from the floor.

• Public polling during the summer of 2014 showed that even as Israel was defending itself from Hamas attacks during the Gaza war, Democrat support for Israel remained unmoved while Republican support rose.

• In 2016, Democrats were under pressure to change their platform and condemn Israel. While they resisted the worst proposal – language calling for an end to Israeli “occupation” – other demonstrations of pro-Palestinian views marked the convention, including Palestinian flags waving on the convention floor and Israeli flags being burned outside the convention hall.

• Democrats chose Rep. Keith Ellison, who has a long and disturbing history of anti-Israel statements and association with Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, to be the deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

• Democrats in the House and Senate supported president Obama’s disastrous nuclear deal with Iran even though it was opposed by Israelis across the political spectrum, including among doves on the Israeli Left.

• Democrats failed to stand up to president Obama and his pattern of anti-Israel foreign policy, which culminated in the US refusing to veto a viciously anti-Israel resolution in the UN Security Council in December 2016.

The anti-Israel sentiment in the Democrat Party is affecting the party’s most prominent presidential hopefuls, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand and Bernie Sanders, all of whom have distanced themselves from the party’s traditional support for Israel in order to appeal to the growing radical segment of the party.

From platform language to polls to presidential hopefuls, it is clear that the Democrats are moving in a disturbing direction. As Jewish Republicans who support a strong and secure United States allied with a strong and secure Israel, we are troubled by what this shift in the Democrat Party portends for both countries and for their vital alliance in the future.

The onus for changing this pattern is not on Israel or on Republicans. It lies squarely with mainstream Democrats. If their party continues to turn away from Israel, Democrats will see more pro-Israel voters move across the aisle to the GOP, where Republican Jews will give them a warm welcome.


Former senator Norm Coleman is the national chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition. Matt Brooks is the Republican Jewish Coalition’s executive director.

This article appeared at the Jerusalem Post site on February 5, 2018.