Former MK Michael Oren: Delegation is part of Democrats fight for the “soul of the party.”
By Herb Keinon – Jerusalem Post
The 41 US House Democrats who arrived in Israel on Monday on a trip sponsored by an AIPAC affiliated charity are doing more than “just” showing mainstream Democratic support for Israel, they are wresting control of the party from the high-profile Progressive wing trying to hijack it.
A part of this wing – embodied by congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandira Ocasio-Cortez – despises Israel and AIPAC with a venom that sometimes crosses the line into antisemitism. And two organizations identified with this flank of the party – the radical groups Code Pink and IfNotNow – waged a high profile campaign to get the congresspeople to boycott the trip.
They wrote letters, organized petitions and created a Twitter hashtag called #Skipthetrip where they urged US Congress members to shun the “2019 AIPAC Junket to Apartheid Israel.”
And they failed.
The trip, which takes place in August of every non-election year, is geared to give freshmen representatives a first-hand look at Israel and the complexity of the issues here. One freshman congressman after the next heeded House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s call – and that of House Democratic Caucus Head Hakeem Jeffries – to join the trip, and on Monday 17.5% of all House Democrats arrived in Israel.
“This is significant,” said former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro. “There is no question that this trip has a certain symbolic importance. And the fact that Hoyer is leading it, is an indicator of where the Democratic leaders are – and that the vast majority of freshman are of a like mind, and are not in any way dissuaded from participating.”
Shapiro, who served as ambassador from 2011 through 2017, said that this trip tells him that the “mainstream position [on Israel] within the Democratic Party, at least among office holders, is quite similar to what it has been – which is strong support for the US-Israel relationship, for Israel’s security, for a two-state solution and for active US efforts to achieve one.”
This trip is coming fast on the heels of anti-BDS bill that passed the House last month by a walloping vote of 398-17, with only 16 of the 235 Democrats in the House voting against it. While Omar, Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez were the prominent names who did vote against the measure, Shapiro said that “the fact that they were in such a small minority suggests that their positions [on Israel] are not mainstream at all in the party.”
Former MK Michael Oren, who served as ambassador to the US from 2009 to 2013, said that it was “very impressive” that so many Democrats came on this trip.
“I think this is the pro-Israel stream in the Democratic Party, which is the mainstream of the party, reasserting itself and saying that while we respect the grassroots in our party, they can’t speak for us, particularly not on Israel,” he asserted.
Oren said that given all the noise surrounding the trip – the circumstances and the timing – Israel should go out of its way to “express our appreciation to what Hoyer and the other representatives are doing.”
Asked what he had in mind, he replied: “Give them quality time and access to Israeli leaders – to the prime minister, to the heads of our intelligence and military services. We should use this opportunity to show Israel as the country that embodies many of the same values that liberal Democrats uphold. There is just a tremendous amount of misinformation out there.”
Israel, he said, needs to show the representatives that the country is a “multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-religious democracy” where inside the Knesset “all the political, religious and ethnic identities get into a room and scream at each other, safely – and even sometimes get things done.”
The arrival of such a large delegation now, Oren said, was a defeat for organizations such as Code Pink and IfNotNow, and that “in many ways, these Democrats see correctly that the fight over Israel in the party is… a fight over the party’s soul.”
This is not just about Israel, he argued, but with the party being pulled hard left by the very vocal progressive wing, this trip is the party’s mainstream saying, “We are not going to be dictated to on this issue. And I imagine that not being dictated to on this issue means not being dictated to on other issues as well – such as on immigration issues, on healthcare issues, on defense.”
According to the former ambassador, this trip could have far-reaching influence on the conversation among the Democratic presidential candidates when their televised debates begin to move from domestic policy to foreign policy and Israel.
“It will be interesting to see how this delegation impacts the answer to the Israel question,” he said. “The candidates are now seeing that there are other voices out there [on Israel] other than Omar and Tlaib.”