What do Republican presidential candidates say about Israel and the fate of the Palestinians? The case of the “appalling environment” at American universities
Debates over Israel and the fate of the Palestinians have divided college campuses for decades, though never quite on this scale: violent threats against Jewish students, huge pro-Palestinian protests, doxxing campaigns sponsored by outside conservative groups and Jewish donors pulling major contributions.
Whether in the halls of Congress or the nation’s high schools, Republicans have cast these episodes as part of a larger cultural battle over education that has energized the party since the pandemic, as angst over school closures and mask policies gave way to warnings of liberal indoctrination in schools.
The message has united a wide swath of the party including socially conservative grass-roots activists who are focused on issues like school curriculums and so-called parents’ rights, evangelical voters who back Israel, and the highest-ranking members of the party establishment.
At an event last Saturday in Las Vegas hosted by the Republican Jewish Coalition, a conservative political group, Republican presidential candidates described universities as incubators of a dangerous, far-left ideology.
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida devoted a large portion of his address on Saturday to what he called the “appalling environment” at American universities, saying that diversity, equity and inclusion programs had fueled discrimination. If you take it to the logical conclusion, it is anti-Jewish 100 percent.
While the group sang a call-and-response of “cease-fire now” and “not in our name” next to the Reflecting Pool, Matan Arad-Neeman, the group’s spokesman, explained why they were there.
“We’ve only seen — what is it — 17 members of Congress so far call for a cease-fire. He said that he was grateful for their moral courage. “But the rest of Congress has a responsibility to stop this bloodshed.”
How Israel and the Left Handle Israel’s Foreign Policy in the Middle East: A Conversation with Walt, Ph.D., and Osamah Khalil
According to a March report, Democrats sympathized with the Palestinians more than with the Israelis. About half of the Democrats said their sympathies are with Palestinians, compared to 4% who said their sympathies are with Israelis. That divide is decades in the making.
“In the 1970s you see the emergence of a real special relationship there, where the United States gives Israel quite generous support and to a large extent gives it unconditionally,” explained Stephen Walt, professor of international relations at Harvard’s Kennedy School.
Since then, American leaders of both parties have maintained that special relationship. Proponents have argued it’s strategically important to have a strong democratic ally in the Middle East.
The co-author of The Israel Lobby and US. Foreign Policy, which was criticized for its views on the U.S. relationship with Israel, points to domestic pressure from pro-Israel groups as a factor in the alliance. The influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is asymmetrical, and it is most noticeable among those groups.
“There’s hardly any countervailing forces on the other side,” he said. There are some pro-Palestinian, pro-Arab, pro- Muslim groups but they aren’t as influential as they should be.
For one thing, the behavior of Israeli leaders can push away American voters — like the friction between Israel’s conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-President Barack Obama.
Walt said the country’s rightward shift has made some Democrats less willing to support the country, because Israel has had right leaning prime ministers for much of the last 30 years.
“These are the youngsters on campus who are protesting against the war,” said Osamah Khalil, professor of history at Syracuse University. “And then some of them start to look at Israel’s role in the Middle East and say, are we seeing kind of the same dynamic here about U.S. foreign policy?”
That view by no means represents progressives as a whole. Mellman thinks that the left needs to be better educated in order to have an ideological split.
He said that many critics of Israel wrongly think that the rights of people in Gaza were not taken care of by Israel.
The Syracuse history professor argues that many people do understand the situation, and that they see Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as a form of systemic oppression. He thinks that it’s a lens through which progressives see many domestic issues.
Black Lives Matter’s years of support for pro-Palestinian causes have drawn parallels with the progressives who have drawn them before.
Some prominent voices in the Democratic Party are in the progressive movement, but they’re still a small group.
“I’m Israeli-American” and “I don’t want to be like that”: Commentary on the U.S. and Israeli actions in the War on the Gaza Strip
President Biden has continued to walk a fine line on the conflict, saying Israel has the right to defend itself, but also pushing for more aid for the Palestinians, and for Israel to protect civilians.