2016-05-25 / Home

How the 2016 election is upending pro-Israel orthodoxies

By RON KAMPEAS JTA


Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaking at a news conference at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, D.C, March 21, 2016. JTA photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaking at a news conference at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, D.C, March 21, 2016. JTA photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images. WASHINGTON—

When it comes to Israel, Democrats and Republicans simply do not see eye to eye, and for all their love of Zion, evangelicals will turn out for a candidate who is less than 100 percent on the issue.

Welcome to the 2016 presidential election, when the conventional pro-Israel wisdom has been turned upside down.

For years it was sacrosanct that whatever else divides the parties, backing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s line on Israel unites them. And Republicans who want to be elected better count on evangelicals and their rock-solid support for Israel.

This year, the presumptive Republican nominee is an unknowable provocateur who has said he couldn’t care less about pandering to pro-Israel donors. Democrats who bucked pro-Israel orthodoxies over the last year are confident they can reclaim the Senate and are setting their sights on the once-unthinkable—regaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Donald Trump has said repeatedly that he would approach Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking with neutrality and for weeks would not commit to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He also told a roomful of Jewish Republicans that he did not want their money.

Trump seems unwilling to consistently pander—on Israel or anything else—to a constituency whose turnout many deem essential to a Republican victory in presidential elections.

Yet while much of the evangelical establishment loathes Trump, the real estate magnate’s support among evangelicals, at 36 percent, was commensurate with his support among Republicans overall, the Washington Post reported in March. And some leaders in the movement back him, most prominently Jerry Falwell Jr., who heads Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Rabbi Steve Gutow also embodies the new normal: He helped set up AIPAC’s Southwest operation in the 1980s, helped found the National Jewish Democratic Council—for years the pro-Israel voice in the party— in the 1990s and for 10 years starting in 2005 directed the consensus driven Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Gutow recently began working for J Street helping candidates who once may have been isolated for their criticism of Israel tap into what J Street calls “pro-Israel, pro-peace” American Jewish voters. Its affiliated J Street PAC is raising money to support candidates who backed the Iran deal over AIPAC’s objections.

AIPAC remains steadfastly nonpartisan. A hallway at its annual conference in March was lined with posters profiling a diverse array of activists— black, white, Latino, Christian, Jewish, liberal, conservative.

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