02/27/2015 01:10 pm ET Updated Apr 29, 2015

US-Israel Relationship Being Hijacked by Far-Right


This week, Texas Republican and probable presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) -- and his opening remark showed how far the US-Israel relationship has become a partisan football in American politics.

"So there's not a single Democrat here," he said to wild cheers. "It's almost like CPAC invited Benjamin Netanyahu to speak."

It was a perfect illustration of the severe damage that Netanyahu has done to the US-Israel relationship by accepting House Speaker John Boehner's invitation to address Congress next week, two weeks before the Israeli election.

Suddenly, support for Israel is a partisan matter, hijacked by the right-wing of the Republican Party. Democrats who feel offended by the way the invitation was cooked up and the timing of the speech are being branded as anti-Israel. Attendance at the speech has been turned by Republicans into a false loyalty test.

For decades, US supporters of Israel and Israeli politicians and diplomats have worked in concert to preserve bipartisan support for Israel. Netanyahu and Boehner's cynical play for their own short-term political gains, has driven a stake through the heart of that strategy. Both men, for their own reasons, seem bent on promoting the myth that only Republicans can truly be trusted to stand by Israel, despite the long and unbroken record of Democratic support for Israel which says otherwise.

Traditionally, bipartisanship was underpinned by an understanding that Americans did not meddle in Israeli elections while Israelis took no part in US elections. In a sense, it didn't matter who the leaders of either nation were. The relationship was so secure that it could not be fundamentally threatened, even when there were disagreements or a lack of personal chemistry between whoever happened to be President of the United States and whoever happened to be Prime Minister of Israel at any given time.

That unspoken agreement began to unravel in the 2012 presidential election when Republicans cast doubts on President Obama's commitment to Israel's security and wellbeing (wholly unjustified by his record) in a cynical bid to peel off American-Jewish votes. The gambit failed spectacularly on Election Day but an ugly precedent was set.

By accepting Boehner's invitation so close to the Israeli election, an invitation that broke protocol because it was not coordinated with the White House or with congressional Democrats, Netanyahu has opened a real can of worms. It looks very much as if Netanyahu has lined up completely with the Republicans and no longer cares about the Democrats. And it seems equally clear that Boehner is trying to give Netanyahu a massive election boost by granting him perhaps the most prestigious platform in the world.

Imagine if the State of the Union Address were scheduled two weeks before a US presidential election. That's what this looks like to the other politicians, both of the right and the left, trying to contest the Israeli election. How do you compete with an address to both houses of Congress, punctuated by the dozens of standing ovations and cheers that Netanyahu will no doubt garner?

It's not only Democrats that are upset about this. As Israeli commentator Ben Caspit writes, the controversy has created deep unease in the top ranks of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

"AIPAC sanctifies the principle of bipartisan support for Israel. It will never focus only on one of the two major American parties; it will never try to divide and conquer; and it will never favor a Republican legislator over a Democratic counterpart or the reverse. The secret of Israel's power in Washington over the years lies mainly in this principle, which has transformed Israel into a form of consensus on Capitol Hill, against which very few dare rebel or deviate from," Caspit writes.

Of course, this crisis may suit the interests of people like Cruz whose true agenda is to fire up his Christian evangelical base. It may suit the interests of billionaire Sheldon Adelson who has denied the existence of the Palestinian people and seems to want to equate support for Israel with support for Netanyahu. But it does not serve the interests of the Israeli people whose need remains a broad, bipartisan relationship with the American people, Democrats and Republicans alike.