It looks as if Bernie Sanders has a thing for dabbling with political suicide. In an interview with the editorial board of the New York Daily News, Sanders conditioned warmer U.S.-Israeli ties on better relations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
In Sanders’s own words, “to the degree that they want us to have a positive relationship, I think they’re going to have to improve their relationship with the Palestinians,” and yes, that’s a direct quote.
Talk about self-destructive – at least in New York – where more than one-out-of-seven Democratic Primary voters is Jewish, where Orthodox Jews are an ever growing share of New York’s Democratic electorate, and where in 1980 President Jimmy Carter lost the primary to the late Ted Kennedy – that is, after the United States had voted in favor of an anti-Israel U.N. Security Council Resolution.
But Sanders’ stance is more than just about himself. It signifies the divisions within the Democratic Party, and portends a possible battle over the Democrats’ Middle East Platform at July’s Democratic Convention. It is also a reminder that Israel is now a political wedge issue, just like taxes, abortion and Keystone XL.
Coincidentally or not, Sanders’ remarks came on the heels of fellow Vermonter Sen. Pat Leahy calling for the State Department to investigate Israel for alleged human rights abuses, and Sen. Chuck Schumer issuing a happy birthday shout-out to Leahy.
On the presidential level, Sanders’ distancing himself from Israel will likely have only limited impact. Looking at the electoral map, it may have some effect in Florida, but the Sunshine State will already be in the midst of its own ethnic meshugas, with its voters embroiled over Barack Obama’s trip to Cuba. Rather, where all this stuff could get interesting is in the upcoming Senate races where Republican incumbents in Illinois (Kirk), Ohio (Portman), and Pennsylvania (Toomey) find their backs against the wall.
To be sure, Sanders’ views are not an aberration among Democrats, particularly given the rise of the minority-driven rise of the Coalition of the Ascendant within the party, white voters’ tropism toward the GOP, and the storm clouds that have been gathering for the last three decades. Storm clouds?
Yes, storm clouds. In 1980 Chuck Schumer was shouted-down at the Democratic Convention over Israel. Then, in 2012, both God and Jerusalem were loudly booed at the Democrats’ confab, and floor whips had to twist arms to garner support for a pro-Israel platform plank. Oh, and then there’s the icy relationship thing between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Make no mistake, with Progressives and the Coalition of the Ascendant anchoring the Democratic vote, none of this is going away any time soon. A Pew Poll conducted during the summer of 2015 showed that nearly three-in-ten voters under the age of 30 blamed Israel more than Hamas for the war in Gaza, while only 21 percent lay the blame at the feet of Hamas. Meanwhile, African-Americans and Hispanics were also more likely to blame Israel.
Just because Hillary Clinton is the likely Democratic nominee doesn’t mean that Israel will be getting a pass from the Democrats this primary season. And in all fairness, Bernie Sanders has let all of us know.