By Moshe Phillips and Benyamin Korn
The rumor that some Democrats might boycott Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s speech to Congress is nothing more than a cheap scare tactic.
How do we know?
For starters, not a single Democrat member of Congress has said that he or she will boycott it. At worst, over the weekend, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was non-committal. All the rumors of a Democratic boycott are the product of pundits and political activists who want the speech to be canceled.
Yes, a February 5 Times of Israel article claimed to see evidence of “growing pressure” on Netanyahu to cancel the speech in a remark by a Democratic congressman that “Israel should never be used as a political football.”
But how does that remark constitute “pressure”? Republicans and Democrats alike agree that Israel should not be turned into a political football. Why should addressing Congress, which has both Republican and Democrat members, make it a political football? Did Netanyahu’s address to Congress in 2011, when the Democrats controlled the Senate, make Israel a political football?
Note that the “political football” remark was made by Congressman Steve Israel, a New York Democrat. His district covers Great Neck and other heavily-Jewish areas of Long Island. Congressman Israel knows that many of his constituents would be furious if he boycotted a speech by the prime minister of Israel.
It’s not just Steve Israel. No prominent Democrat is interested in having a major public fight with Israel and American Jewry in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. Yes, many Jewish voters and donors might spurn the Democrats if the Democrat Party is perceived as turning against Israel. Every ethnic group uses its votes and donations to advance its particular concerns. It’s a legitimate and longstanding part of American political culture.
But the most important reason why no Democrats will boycott Netanyahu comes from last year’s Gallup World Affairs survey. As it does every year, Gallup asked Americans whether they view various countries favorably or unfavorably. Fully 72 percent of Americans have a “very favorable” or “mostly favorable” view of Israel.
Now compare that to the number who told Gallup that they have a favorable view of the other countries in Israel’s neighborhood: Egypt: 45%; Saudi Arabia: 35%; Libya: 19%; Palestinian Authority: 19%; Iraq: 16%; Syria: 13%; Iran: 12%.
Think about that. Nearly three-fourths of Americans remain favorable towards Israel while fewer than one-fifth think favorably of the Palestinian Authority–despite decades of critical news media coverage of Israel, despite the Obama Administration’s frequent statements of sympathy for the Palestinian Arabs, and despite the torrent of anti-Israel resolutions by the United Nations, by radical academics, and by certain churches.
And that makes sense.
Most Americans recognize that Israel is a lot like the United States–and the Arab countries are not. Israel is a democracy; the Arab regimes are dictatorships, theocracies, and kingdoms. Israelis have the same freedoms that Americans enjoy–a free press, religious tolerance, political rights. The Arab world falls woefully short in those areas. Israel embraces Western culture and considers itself part and parcel of the Western world. By contrast, many in the Arab and Muslim countries regard the West as their enemy.
When it comes to the rights of women and minorities, too, Israel shines. In Israel, women have full equality. In much of the Arab world, women are treated as little better than men’s property–even to the point of being targeted for “honor killings” if they do not follow fundamentalist moral dictates. Arab citizens of Israel have the same rights as Jewish citizens. Arabs serve in Israel’s parliament, on the Supreme Court, and as Israeli emissaries abroad. As for Jewish citizens in Arab countries–there are almost none left because nearly all 800,000 of them were driven out, decades ago, with just the clothes on their backs.
In Israel, citizens with dark skin (such as immigrants from Ethiopia or some Arab countries) are treated the same as those with light skin; in Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, enslavement of blacks was commonplace as late as the 1960s; it was practiced in Sudan until it was eclipsed by the Darfur genocide; and it is still practiced in Arab Mauritania.
Which is why no Democrats will boycott Israel’s prime minister. Because they know that it’s not just millions of American Jews who care about Israel. It’s tens and tens of millions of American Christians who likewise strongly support Israel. Pro-Israel sentiment among the American public in general is strong, widespread, and deeply rooted. And that translates into a lot of votes.
Moshe Phillips is president and Benyamin Korn is chairman of the Religious Zionists of America, Philadelphia, and are candidates on the Religious Zionist slate (www.VoteTorah.org) in the World Zionist Congress elections.