AP NEWS

At AIPAC, Democrats, Republicans agree to support Israel, but are divided on how to do so

March 26, 2019

Both Republican and Democratic leaders pledged fealty to the U.S.-Israel relationship this week, but found little common ground in how to go about proving it.

Republicans, in speeches to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said one easy option would be for Congress to pass an anti-boycott bill, which cleared the Senate last month and awaits a vote in the Democrat-controlled House.

Democratic leaders condemned the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, but wouldn’t commit to passing the Senate’s bill, instead telling AIPAC leaders they have other ideas in mind.

They also found themselves defending their party’s handling of anti-Semitic comments by a freshman Democrat, and explaining why their top presidential candidates failed to show up.

A new Quinnipiac University Poll found more Democrats now back the Palestinians rather than Israel in the Middle East peace dispute a shift from just two years ago, when Israel held a clear advantage.

“I am worried that, if we do not unite to take action against this growing tide of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment, we will live to regret what our politics become,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

He urged Democrats to take up the BDS bill he pushed through his chamber. That legislation would give a legal OK to states and localities that wished to refuse to do business with companies or individuals who take a stand boycotting Israel. The legislation also renewed military and financial assistance guarantees to Israel.

“Talk is cheap. Give it a vote in the House,” Mr. McConnell challenged Democrats in his speech to AIPAC Tuesday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the convention she thinks BDS is anti-Semitism “masquerading as policy.” But she had other ideas for showing support for Israel rather than the Senate bill.

Democrats are backing military assistance, as well as legislation that would scold the BDS movement, but wouldn’t take any action to curtail it. That legislation would, however, urge a “two-state solution” to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Outside of the BDS squabble, the two parties’ leaders agreed that Iran is one of the greatest threats to Israel’s national security, and called for the U.S. to keep up the brunt of economic pressure on Israel’s foe.

However, while Democrats focused on Russia’s role in enabling Iran, Republicans touted withdrawing from the Obama administration’s nuclear deal as one of the key steps to curtailing Iran’s ambitions.

Ultimately, while the two parties may be focused on different solutions which several lawmakers acknowledged emphasized America’s commitment to defending Israel.

“These days, when it seem that bipartisanship is in such short supply the fact remains that we have always stood united behind Israel’s right to self-defense,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat. “And that will not change today.”