Hillary Clinton is trying to woo an America that is moving away from Israel. Will she follow?
Despite the high-profile launch of her presidential campaign last weekend – with a much commented upon video and logo – Hillary Clinton has as yet offered no detailed policy positions.
So it is perhaps significant that the only foreign countries she mentions in her official campaign bio are the ones that most obsess the Israel lobby.
As Secretary of State, her campaign website says, Clinton “built a coalition for tough new sanctions against Iran that brought them to the negotiating table and she brokered a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that ended a war and protected Israel’s security.”
The fact that the situation for Palestinians in Gaza is less secure and more catastrophic than ever since Israel’s deadly assault last summer, in large part due to the policies pursued by the Obama administration which she served, does not rate a mention. Nor does her support for the catastrophic US invasion of Iraq.
Israel sharply divides US public
But if this is an indication that Clinton will pursue the usual hardline policies calculated to pander to Israel’s most extreme supporters, it is also a sign that she, like other mainstream US politicians, is moving away from large segments of the US public, particularly the base of her own Democratic Party.
This is illustrated in a poll from Bloomberg Politics, published Wednesday. Here are the key highlights:
Israel has become a deeply partisan issue for ordinary Americans as well as for politicians in Washington, a shift that may represent a watershed moment in foreign policy and carry implications for domestic politics after decades of general bipartisan consensus.
Republicans by a ratio of more than 2-to-1 say the US should support Israel even when its stances diverge with American interests, a new Bloomberg Politics poll finds. Democrats, by roughly the same ratio, say the opposite is true and that the US must pursue its own interests over Israel’s.
Further illustrating how sharply partisan the debate has become, Republicans say they feel more sympathetic to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than to their own president, 67 percent to 16 percent, while Democrats are more sympathetic to President Barack Obama than to Israel’s prime minister, 76 percent to 9 percent.
The survey also highlights how differently the nuclear negotiations with Iran are seen between Republicans and Democrats.
Democrats, by a nearly 3-to-1 ratio, said they were more optimistic than pessimistic that a tentative deal with Iran announced this month will contain Iran’s ability to get nuclear weapons and thus make the world safer.
By a 2-to-1 margin, Republicans were more pessimistic than optimistic about the impacts of a deal. Majorities of Americans in both parties say any deal Obama makes with Iran should be subject to congressional approval, and that Iran is an unreliable negotiating partner because it is a religious theocracy.
Israel and the Christian right
The poll also shows, as Glenn Greenwald puts it at The Intercept, that “religious fanaticism is a huge factor in Americans’ support for Israel.”
Bloomberg Politics finds that “Born-again Christians are more likely than overall poll respondents, 58 percent to 35 percent, to back Israel regardless of US interests. Americans with no religious affiliation were the least likely to feel this way, at 26 percent.”
“The US media loves to mock adversary nations, especially Muslim ones, for being driven by religious extremism, but that is undeniably a major factor, arguably the most significant one, in explaining fervent support for Israel among the American populace,” Greenwald observes.
The poll also confirms that Israel is increasingly becoming a niche issue of the right: “62 percent of self-identified conservatives say supporting Israel is key, while that drops to 35 percent among moderates,” the poll states.
Leaving Israel behind
This is all in line with broader trends in recent years: an increasingly multicultural and younger America is moving to the left, while an older, whiter, more Christian America that is in demographic decline has been moving to the right.
What’s striking is that Hillary Clinton’s campaign launch video – featuring multiracial families, single moms and a gay couple about to get married – was calculated to appeal to the America that is increasingly alienated from Israel and the conservatives who love it.
The America Hillary Clinton is trying to woo is moving away from Israel. Will the presidential hopeful and the Democratic Party leadership follow? I wouldn’t bet on it any time soon, but the trends are hard to ignore.