A Post-Bernie Democratic Race
1. Bernie’s out, what does that mean for the party’s policy on Israel?
Last Wednesday, as Jewish Americans were busy wrapping up their Passover shopping (well distanced outside the supermarkets, or begging for an online delivery slot) and struggling to set up a Zoom call with their socially-distanced families, Bernie Sanders bowed out.
In a live streamed video message, Sanders explained that he “cannot in good conscience continue to mount a campaign that cannot win,” since his rival Joe Biden is leading in the delegate count and there is no feasible path for Sanders to capture the nomination.
This sober recognition put an end not only to the Democratic presidential race, but also to Sanders’s attempt to reshape the party as a progressive, social-democratic political body, and to the hopes and dreams of millions of young voters who had seen the Sanders revolution as their way of molding a future befitting a generation disenfranchised by the current political establishment.
But did the suspension of Bernie’s race also spell the end of the effort to shift the Democratic party’s Israel policy?
Sanders sought to replace the almost-automatic pro-Israel stance of the Democratic Party on Israel with an evenhanded approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This meant a license to criticize the Israeli government and policies, even in the harshest of terms, openly discussing pressuring Israel in order to change its policy toward the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and even going where few Democratic politicians have gone, by suggesting a cut to U.S. military aid to Israel, if it goes down the path of annexation and settlement expansion.
Sanders’s views on Israel were shared by many of his progressive supporters, but only by a handful of members of Congress and party officials. In fact, harshly criticizing Israel and threatening to cut aid are still considered off limits within the Democratic Party establishment, even at a time when more centrist Dems are willing to speak out against Benjamin Netanyahu and his policies.
In order to make a change, Sanders and his supporters will have to try to introduce language reflecting their views on Israel into the party’s platform. This is doable, since Sanders intends to remain on the ballots and hold on to his delegates, allowing him more say in shaping the platform. But it is unlikely for Sanders to waste too much political capital on forcing major changes on the issue of Israel. After all, health care and the economy are the burning issues in which Sanders can make his mark. Foreign policy comes in second.
For mainstream Dems, pro-Israel activists, the AIPAC crowd, and for the Democratic Majority for Israel donors, this is a moment of victory, or at least a chance catch their breath and put their worries aside for a while.
But not for long.
Sanders may be gone, but in two election cycles he has proven that the massive progressive camp within the Democratic Party has a different way of viewing Israel and its relationship with America.
Joe Biden is likely to be the last Democratic candidate to offer almost unconditional support for Israel, to curtail his criticism of its policies, to season it all with a spoonful of Yiddishkeit and top it off with decades-old anecdotes of his meetings with Golda Meir. The 2024 or 2028 nominee won’t be Bernie Sanders, but will probably hold positions on Israel closer to those of the Vermont senator than those held by the former vice president.
2. The DNC and Biden want to reassure Jewish Dems
Last week, DNC chair Tom Perez held a conference call with Jewish Democratic activists. It was scheduled as a pre-Passover holiday greeting, but also included some very clear messaging about the party and its platform. The platform, Perez promised on the call, will reflect the values Jews care about. “We want to make sure that our platform, which is our values statement of our party, is a platform that you can be proud of,” he told Jewish Dems, reassuring them that the party will stick to its support of a negotiated two-state solution, even as the current administration seems to be shifting away from that commitment.
Between the lines was also a subtler message: that the party will try to avoid battles between progressives and centrists over Israel in the platform committee, and that the final product will reflect the kind of policy on Israel which dominates the Democratic establishment—closer to that of Biden, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and further from the views of Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Ilhan Omar.
Many of the Jewish Democrats who participated in Perez’s conference call were also on the line a day before the Passover seder, when Biden held a call with Jewish supporters. (Technically it was his wife, Jill Biden, who hosted the call, but to the surprise of no one, the former vice president, sitting next to her in their Delaware home, joined the conversation.) Biden’s message was focused on the shared battle against the coronavirus outbreak and the need for resilience. Politics was left out of the call, although the entire context was clearly political: a Democratic frontrunner (a day before becoming the only candidate left in the race) reaching out to Jewish constituents with a warm word, a holiday greeting and a reassuring message that the same Joe Biden that they’ve known (and by and large liked) for years is still there with them.
3. The next Jewish president?
Sanders’s withdrawal from the presidential race also brought an end, again, to the dream of a Jewish president occupying the Oval Office.
This idea that a member of a tribe making up a mere 2 percent of America’s population could reach the highest office has been buzzing ever since Joe Lieberman’s run for vice president on Al Gore’s Democratic ticket in 2000. It didn’t work then, nor did it when Lieberman tried to run on his own in 2004. Or when Bernie launched his campaign in 2016, or when he tried again this time around.
So, who will carry the Jewish torch in the next elections, or farther down the road?
JTA compiled a fascinating list of 10 Jewish potential contenders. Most of them are long-shots right now, but who knows where they’ll be in 2024.
4. But at least there will be Jewish grandkids
And that’s also noteworthy.
Regardless of who wins in November, one of the only sure things is that there will be Jewish grandchildren running around the White House and visiting grandpa.
Trump has three Jewish grandchildren from his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner (who are both Jewish and, come to think of it, are both already running around the White House.)
And last month, Biden welcomed a new Jewish grandson to his family, the son of Hunter Biden and his wife Melissa Cohen. Three of Biden’s children married Jewish spouses.
5. Still following Israeli coalition politics?
Trying to follow the ins and outs of the endless efforts to form a new government in Israel is a worthless endeavor, even in the best of times. And these aren’t the best of times.
With a raging pandemic and a free-falling economy, does anyone really care if Netanyahu and Benny Gantz succeeded in forming a coalition or are bent on sending Israelis to the polls for the fourth time?
But for those who really need to know, here’s the brief:
Still no news.
Gantz seemed to agree to crawl into Bibi’s government in return for a handful of government portfolios and a promise to swap jobs in a year and half. That, apparently, was not enough and negotiations, as of Sunday, are stuck.
Stay tuned for more of the same next week.