Last Wednesday morning, five Democrat members of Congress held a news conference to express their misgivings about the nuclear deal with Iran that the Biden administration is obsessively seeking to conclude, seemingly at any price. The details of the deal that have been leaked to date make clear that the agreement President Joe Biden and his team are eagerly pursuing will guarantee that Iran becomes a nuclear threshold state with an industrial uranium enrichment capacity in a few short years — at most.
The deal Biden has negotiated will also give Iran between $90-130 billion in sanctions relief. This astronomical sum all but ensures that Iran and its terror proxies will go to war against Israel and Iran’s Sunni Arab enemies in short order, just as they massively escalated their attacks following their cash windfall in 2016, with the implementation of the 2015 nuclear deal.
Since it formed 10 months ago, the Bennett-Lapid-Gantz government has operated under the assumption that Israel cannot influence the administration’s pro-Iranian policies. The best move, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz have all proclaimed, is for Israel to sit quietly on the sidelines in the hope of winning brownie points from Biden and his team. Israel’s leaders have managed to miss the fact that like Israel, the United States is a democracy, and that at the end of the day, the public’s position cannot be ignored forever.
Last week, the McLaughlin polling group published the results of a survey regarding Iran, and the results leave no question about where the American people stand on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. A large majority of Americans strongly opposes the administration’s appeasement policies.
Seventy-six percent of Americans support escalating the nuclear sanctions against Iran. Only 14% support the administration’s intention to weaken them. Indeed, when asked directly about whether or not to weaken sanctions, 69% of Americans said not to. Instead, a plurality of 45% of Americans think the United States should attack Iran’s nuclear installations if sanctions fail to stop Iran’s nuclear operations.
As for the nuclear deal itself, 63% of Americans believe that the nuclear deal is a graver threat to US national security than Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The McLaughlin poll is in line with virtually all public opinion surveys conducted over the past few months in relation to Biden’s domestic and foreign policies. Across the board, a large majority of Americans oppose what Biden and his team are doing at home and abroad. Most pollsters predict that the congressional elections in November will deliver both the House and Senate to the Republicans. In the event that Republicans do take over Congress, Biden’s progressive domestic agenda will be dead in the water. His ability to implement his progressive foreign policy agenda will be severely constrained.
The willingness of Democrat lawmakers to openly oppose their president’s key foreign policy initiative drives home a key truth about American politics and policymaking. It is true that the progressives are both ascendant in the Democrat Party and dominant in the Biden administration. But it is equally true that they are not the only forces in the Democrat Party and they are not the majority of Americans.
The fact that those making policy at the moment face constraints on their ability to act has been vividly borne out across the years in everything related to US policy toward Israel.
Whereas most Americans support Israel, many do not.
The majority pro-Israel camp is comprised of many factions. The two most important ones are national security hawks and faith-based communities, particularly evangelical Christians. The hawkish view was perhaps best expressed by then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, who in the lead-up to the 1991 Gulf War likened Israel to an aircraft carrier. As a nation that fights its own wars, and whose enemies are also America’s enemies, national security hawks recognize that the stronger Israel is, the more secure US interests in the Middle East are.
Faith-based voters and communities base their support for Israel first and foremost on their belief that the Jews are G-d’s chosen people and that the reborn Jewish state is proof that G-d’s covenant is eternal.
As for the anti-Israel camp, its factions can be roughly divided into three groups — hard-right isolationists and white nationalists; progressives and Arabists.
White nationalists along former presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan lines oppose US-Israel ties because they dislike Jews and believe in Protocols of the Elders of Zion-like conspiracy theories about Jews in the US government and American society more generally. This group has always been marginal in US politics and in recent years, has been driven out completely from Republican party politics.
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Like the Soviets and European socialists, American progressives are driven by cultural Marxism. Cultural Marxism is dogmatically hostile both to Judaism and to Zionism.
Just as Israel never had the possibility of winning over the Buchanan wing of the Republican Party, so it is incapable of impacting the positions of progressives. Unfortunately, while Republicans have driven anti-Semitic hard right members from their midst, over the past generation, progressives have taken over the institutions of the Democrat Party. They have become the dominant faction in the party and they control the Biden administration’s policies.
Finally, the Arabist camp has served as a contra to the security hawks in foreign and national security circles since Israel’s founding, and have long dominated the Middle East policies of the State Department. The Arabist view posits that US support for Israel undermines US ties with the Arab world. Consequently, Israel is a burden, rather than an asset for the United States. Arabists argue that US ties with Israel should be downgraded.
Over the past decade, the Arabist camp has been weakened because its key regional anchor, Saudi Arabia, has abandoned its hostility to Israel. Since the Islamist revolutions 10 years ago, Saudis have set aside their hostility for the Jewish state, recognizing that Iran is an existential threat to the kingdom and that Israel is Saudi Arabia’s most important ally in its struggle to beat back the Iranian menace.
Saudi political and intellectual leaders are increasingly outspoken regarding their concerns about the Biden administration’s realignment towards Iran and against both Saudi Arabia and Israel. Last week, Mohamed Alyahya, the former editor of Al Arabiya English, published an article in the Jerusalem Post attacking the administration’s pro-Iranian policies and arguing that for America’s spurned Arab allies, the administration’s hostility to Israel is a cause for alarm, not satisfaction.
“If the Americans won’t side with Israel against Iran,” Alyahya wrote, “what’s the chance they will side with us?”
Tellingly, US Arabists have not abandoned their anti-Israel position. Instead, they have turned on the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates and now rely for justification on Iran’s closest Arab partner, Qatar — itself a prolific supporter and financier of terror groups from Islamic State to Hamas — and on Iran itself. It is hard to ignore that in their anti-Arab policies, the Arabists among the US foreign policy elite expose a darker motive for their strident opposition to the US-Israel alliance.
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While the anti-Israel camp has long been the minority camp in the United States, it has always been a powerful minority. And facing the divisions in US views of their country, Israelis have also divided themselves into two opposing camps, with competing views of how to safeguard and expand the US alliance with Israel.
Former prime minister and current opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu has led the first camp for the past 30 years. Lapid, Gantz and Bennett (who follows their lead) are today the outstanding representatives of the opposing camp.
The first camp, which we can call the American camp, recognizes that Israel cannot influence members of the anti-Israel camp in any of its various factions. But it also recognizes that this camp is the minority in the United States and that while it is the dominant camp in the Democrat Party, it isn’t the only faction in the party.
Members of the American camp believe that the way to preserve and expand US support for Israel is to support and strengthen Israel’s supporters on both sides of the partisan aisle.
The American camp advances this goal by speaking straightforwardly and unapologetically about Israel’s interests and actions, and how both advance US interests and values.
Members of this camp believe that by drawing clear lines for Israel’s American allies, whether on Iran or the Palestinians or other key issues, Israel empowers its allies, puts its opponents on the defensive, strengthens Israel’s standing in the United States and attracts the attention of its regional neighbors and states around the world who see in Israel a regional power that they ought to work with — for their own benefit.
The second camp, which we can call the elitist camp, begins from a very different basic assumption about the nature of US support for Israel and the best way to preserve it. Members of the elitist camp believe that the anti-Israel camp, particularly its Arabist and progressive factions, is all-powerful. In their view, the State Department is the beginning and the end of US foreign policy. Under these circumstances, they believe, Israel’s job is to foster good relations with the anti-Israel camp and seek to appease it, even if that appeasement undermines the credibility of Israel’s supporters.
Israel’s radical left supports the elitist approach because its members share the US anti-Israel camp’s hostile ideological convictions about their country.
The Lapid camp is a major faction of the elites’ camp because its members are elitists. Lapid and his supporters prefer the company of progressives and Arabs, who share their habits and personal preferences, to the company of security hawks and evangelicals. The Gantz camp adopts the submissive approach of the elitist school because its members simply do not understand US politics or the complex way in which foreign policy is crafted in America.
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Initially, 15 Democrats were scheduled to participate in the news conference last Wednesday, but only five showed up. Those who attended communicated a message that tracked with the weak opposition Bennett, Gantz and Lapid have communicated.
Like Bennett, Lapid and Gantz, the Democrat lawmakers didn’t object to the administration’s nuclear appeasement of Iran per se. Instead, they said they want a better deal and that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps should not be removed from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist groups.
As lawmakers defying their president and party leadership, the five lawmakers could not be more critical on this issue than Israel is.
There is good reason to believe that the Bennett-Lapid-Gantz government’s tepid criticism of the administration’s betrayal of Israel vis-à-vis Iran played a role in the decision by the 10 lawmakers who were scheduled to attend the conference not to show up. If Israel doesn’t view Biden’s nuclear deal as a source for urgent concern and a cause for outspoken opposition, then why should Israel’s Democrat supporters?
Across the generations, and most notably in recent years, the American camp has been responsible for the greatest leaps forward in US-Israel ties.
As is the case today, over the same period, the elitist school has strengthened the anti-Israel camp in Washington and across America by refusing to stand up for Israel’s interests and to support Israel’s friends when they want to voice their support.