The myth of the anti-Israel Tea Party
The emergence of the Tea Party, a grassroots movement on the right dedicated to fiscal discipline, set up a potential conflict in the Republican Party between hawks and neo-isolationists. As things have panned out, however, the neo-isolationists have largely been routed. This is nowhere more in evidence than with regard to support for Israel.
In conversations with multiple Republican leaders and their advisors, I've detected not a whiff of neo-isolationism, nor, frankly, anything but robust support for Israel (coupled with criticism of the Obama administration's sometimes harsh public rhetoric about the Jewish state). A senior Senate aide tells me: "This is a freshmen class of Republicans whose pro-Israel credentials are beyond dispute by anyone except fierce partisan Democrats and liberal journalists with anti-GOP blinders. In fact, these new Republicans would make the Maccabees proud."
But that hasn't stopped some reporters and some left-leaning columnists from spinning the notion that the election of Republicans is a mixed blessing, or even a bad omen, for Israel. The New York Times tried it, with little evidence.
The latest is a shoddy piece of propaganda in The New Republic by Barry Gewen. In a piece headlined, "How the Tea Party is wrecking Republican foreign policy," Gewen accuses the Tea Party of championing neo-isolationism and anti-Israel views, setting up a clash within the GOP. (Implicit in this argument, of course, is that mainstream GOP foreign policy is solidly pro-Israel, but I'll get to that in a moment.) He claims:
Unsurprisingly, a considerable amount of the name-calling comes down to Israel. It can't be said that Palin has taken a strong stand on Israel--a more appropriate characterization would be that she out-Netanyahus Benjamin Netanyahu: "I believe that the Jewish settlements should be allowed to be expanded upon, because that population of Israel is going to grow. More and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead. And I don't think that the Obama administration has any right to tell Israel that the Jewish settlements cannot expand."
Such sentiments win no applause from the Tea Partiers aligned with Ron Paul. He has repeatedly condemned Israeli policies, often in the harshest terms. One of his staffers declared that, "By far the most powerful lobby in Washington of the bad sort is the Israeli government."
The problem with the piece, as with so many of this genre, is that it is unsupported and unsupportable. Randy Scheunemann, foreign policy advisor to John McCain in the 2008 campaign and now an advisor to Sarah Palin, e-mails me: "Gewen's article is completely without sourcing -- except for Ron Paul's looney libertarianism and Rand Paul who actually distanced himself from his father's foreign policy. Not one incoming GOP member ran on a isolationist platform. Not one ran on an anti-Israel platform. In fact, they will be much more pro-Israel than many in the Democratic caucus (anybody remember Joe Sestak or Cynthia McKinney?)."
If you look at some of the Tea Party favorites, you'll find stirring defenses of Israel. Marco Rubio (whose speech on Israel was one of the strongest by an candidate in recent memory) and Scott Brown both distinguished themselves on this front. This was also true in the 2010 primaries. In California, Carly Fiorina gained the support of Tea Partyers in a race against Tom Campbell in which Campbell's shaky record on Israel and association with CAIR became an issue. Likewise, in Indiana, Dan Coats, who voiced his strong support for Israel and criticism of Obama's response to the threat posed by Iran, crushed conservative John Hostettler, whose anti-Israel rhetoric has been roundly criticized. Noah Pollak, executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, tells me, "As the polling shows, Tea Partyers are among the most pro-Israel voters in America, and the Tea Party vote helped ensure that the incoming Congress will be even more pro-Israel than the previous one. As for Ron Paul -- on foreign policy, he is to the Tea Party what J Street is to the pro-Israel community: a pretender who speaks for a few disaffected cranks. The Tea Party is great for the U.S.-Israel relationship." So where's the evidence for Gewen's piece?
The gap between Republicans and Democrats in their support for Israel has been growing for some time. In poll after poll, we see that Republicans, conservatives, Fox News watchers -- in other words, those who make up or have sympathy with the Tea Party movement -- are consistently more pro-Israel, on the whole, than are Democrats, liberals and MSNBC watchers.
In large part, this is because of the overwhelming support for Israel by evangelicals. David Brog, executive director of Christians United for Israel, tells me, "I and other CUFI leaders have been invited to speak about Israel at Tea Party rallies. Without exception, our pro-Israel message has been enthusiastically received. That's why it came as no surprise to me that almost all of the Tea Party-backed candidates in the last election were both fiscal conservatives and strong supporters of Israel. Those who portray the exception of Ron Paul's quirky isolationism as the Tea Party rule are either woefully ignorant or blinded by bias."
The executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Matt Brooks, told me this morning that it is "wishful thinking" by the left that the Tea Party is anti-Israel. He argues, "Survey after survey shows that grassroots Republicans are more pro-Israel than grassroots Democrats by a consistent margin of almost 2:1. The trouble going forward for Israel in the body politic comes from the progressive left, not the from the right." He adds that "it is clear to anyone who follows politics that Ron Paul is way outside of the mainstream of the GOP."
As the differences between certain candidates on Israel emerged in the 2010 election, liberal Democrats got increasingly testy about exploring candidates' actual records on Israel.
So what to make of Gewen's piece, which ignores the mounds of evidence, lacks poll data and an appreciation for the ethos of the Tea Party movement, and skirts by the many Democrats with shaky records on Israel (many of whom lost in 2010 to enthusiastic supporters of Israel)? It is, quite simply, fiction. Interestingly, it's been lately the left that has taken to screaming at conservatives for making Israel a "partisan" issue; the faux journalism on their side, however, turns out to be nothing more than a transparent attempt to distort a conservative grassroots movement that is both fiscally conservative and staunchly pro-Israel.
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