The American Jewish Committee Global Forum took advantage of the presidential election year to hold a Washington debate Tuesday, June 7, on whether the Republican Party or the Democratic Party is better for the Jews.
Before his opening statement, Senor said his case was easy when he accepted the invitation because Donald Trump was not his party’s presumptive nominee: “Never in a million years did I think I would have to be defending him. This Republican is not voting for Donald Trump.”
He argued that Trump aside, the Republican Party in general is more in line with Jewish interests. “One issue where the Jewish community has historically stood shoulder to shoulder with one another has been supporting Israel,” Senor said, “and on that issue the long-term trends for the Republican Party have been extremely strong.”
Looking at polling numbers, he said, the majorities of both parties support Israel, but among Republicans it is overwhelming support, and among Democrats it is downward-trending.
According to Senor, the substantive trends are more important for figuring Jewish interests than are the policy choices of current elected officials like Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.). And the Democratic Party has dangerously anti-Israel trends. “The future of the Democratic Party is not being shaped by the people who voted against the Iran deal,” he said, arguing that the progressive faction is the trending energy of the party and is increasingly anti-Israel.
Congressman Israel disputed Senor’s points and his negativity, saying, “Jews do best when both parties are best for the Jews.”
He disagreed that the Democratic Party is becoming anti-Israel, but he also rejected the idea that Israel should be the only determination of what is good for Jews. “I support a party that is pro-Israel but that reflects the fundamental value of the Jewish people, and that is tikkun olam.”
He mentioned the Democratic platform on domestic issues such as women’s health care, LGBT rights, education, immigration and gun safety.
According to Israel, America in general is pro-Israel, and voters’ political choices should be based on other variables. He added that saying an American political party is weakening in support of Israel is dangerous because it could embolden Israel’s real enemies.
The congressman cited Democratic support for important issues pertaining to Israel, such as funding for its anti-missile programs. “To the things that matter to Israel’s survival as a Jewish state, there is no weakening.”
Senor, however, said the committee drafting the national Democratic platform for the next four years. is the most “anti-Semitic committee put forward by a political party in the history of this country.” He cited several committee members, including professor Cornell West, whom he quoted as saying, “Israel must be brought to its knees,” and who supports the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
If a committee with such members was formed in the Republican Party, Senor said, “there would be an absolute revolt.”
Israel said it is silly to focus on a single committee when there are so many issues. “There is a fundamental difference between platform and policy,” he said. “The Democrats in Congress have stood shoulder to shoulder with Israel, unequivocally stating Israel’s responsibility to defend itself.”
Israel said the views of a single person do not reflect the party as a whole. He mentioned many pro-Israel stances and pushes he made in Congress, such as voting against the Iran deal, and the strong bipartisan support he garnered for many of those efforts.
He “very robustly” speaks out against anti-Israel remarks and said anti-Semitism is “broadly repudiated” by the Democratic leadership. He then pointed to remarks made by Trump supporters and the endorsement of Trump by Republican leaders, and he said anti-Israel sentiment within the Democrat Party, as on college campuses, is small and essentially irrelevant to the general pro-Israel leadership.
Senor conceded that it was “unfortunate” to see the number of Republican leaders endorsing Trump and said he has received “some extremely toxic anti-Semitic rhetoric” after criticizing Trump. Still, he said such sentiments are not representative of the broad base of the Republican Party, and he said many Republican leaders have spoken out against this bigotry.
By contrast, he said, “what I’m struck by today is the toxicity of rhetoric coming from the Democratic Party. The fact that it’s become a major grass-roots issue for the left.”
Being anti-Israel has become a litmus test for the progressive left, especially among millennial Democrats, he said. “It’s not kookiness of campuses. It’s a reflection. It’s not a stand-alone. The BDS movement locks arms with every liberal group on campus. … That energy among that young group of self-identified progressives who endorse BDS and extremely harsh criticism of Israel, I believe, is the future of the Democrat Party.”
Israel defended Democrats against accusations of growing anti-Israel sentiment, citing examples of strong support of Israel and President Barack Obama’s support of the recent first U.N. conference on anti-Semitism.
“If your litmus test is broader than Israel, then our values are more reflective of Jewish values,” Israel said. He mentioned his grandparents and their immigration to America in the hope of a better life. “It’s because of those visions that my party works on every single day that I came to Congress.”