Support for Israel Has Become a Partisan Issue in the United States

Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli right have succeeded in politicizing American sympathy for Israel.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Republican House speaker John Boehner in Washington DC, March 3, 2015
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Republican House speaker John Boehner in Washington DC, March 3, 2015 (Caleb Smith)

I wasn’t expecting this to happen so soon.

Last month, I admonished the Israeli right to stop hectoring President Barack Obama and the Democrats lest they politicize support for the Jewish state in the United States.

Turns out, they already have.

The Pew Research Center found that Democrats are now nearly as likely to sympathize with the Palestinians as they do with Israel.

74 percent of Republicans take Israel’s side. Only 33 percent of Democrats do, against 31 percent who say they sympathize more with the Palestinian people.

Republicans have for decades been more supportive of Israel, but until recently only one in five Democrats said they sympathized with the Palestinians.

Taking sides

Democratic attitudes started to shift during Obama’s second term, when he pushed for an accord with Iran to rein in that country’s nuclear ambitions; an accord Israel’s right-wing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, condemned.

Netanyahu did little to hide his support for the Republican candidate in the 2012 election, Mitt Romney.

After Obama defeated Romney, Netanyahu continued to appear regularly on American talk shows to voice his opposition to the Democrat’s diplomacy with Iran.

In early 2015, he went so far as to accept an invitation from Republicans to address Congress on the issue; an unprecedented intervention by a foreign leader in the domestic politics of the United States.

Center-left politicians and commentators of all stripes, in both Israel and the United States, warned Netanyahu against this. They pointed out that American support for Israel — diplomatic, economic and military — is disproportionate to Israel’s strategic worth to the United States. The alliance is based on affinity as much as it is on shared interests.

Netanyahu didn’t listen. By attacking the sitting president of one party and siding openly with the other, he squandered Democratic goodwill. He nearly singlehandedly made support for Israel a partisan issue in the United States.


Netanyahu and the Israeli right may not be worried for now. The incoming American president, Donald Trump, listens to Israeli hawks and has promised to be more pro-Israel than his predecessor.

But Republicans are not going to be in power indefinitely and affiliating support for Israel with the crude nationalism of Trump can only hasten the decline in Democratic support for the Middle Eastern country.