Next week, notes Shmuel Rosner, three significant events will take place. On March 1, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) will hold its annual conference; the next day is Super Tuesday—when primaries are held in a number of states, possibly leaving one Democratic candidate with a lock on the nomination—and on the next, Israel will have its second do-over election. The outcome of the two elections could have serious repercussions for the U.S.-Israel alliance:
AIPAC is the epitome of bipartisan support for Israel. Yet the presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has vowed to skip it. AIPAC strongly supported moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, yet Bernie Sanders says moving it back to Tel Aviv “would be on the table” under certain circumstances. [By contrast, in 1995, an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress called for relocating the embassy to Jerusalem.] Can AIPAC forge a path for a bipartisan U.S. policy under such terms? And what would it be? A relocation of the embassy to Modi’in, about halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv?
The larger question about bipartisanship isn’t the one about this or that leader. . . . It is the question about general public support for Israel and all that comes with it. The elected leaders usually reflect their voters’ beliefs; hence, one must wonder about these [American] voters. Do they deem Israel an ally, or a rogue [state]? Is it seen as a model, or as a pariah? Is it seen as a country deserving sympathy, or condemnation; assistance, or pressure?
Debates about Israel-related policies always have been a part of public discourse, and no one expects the two main parties to agree on all the details. However, some tenets were considered foundational to the idea of bipartisan support, and these also seem under threat. Military aid to Israel is one such topic. When Sanders says, “Aid can be conditioned on Israel taking steps to end the occupation and move toward a peace agreement,” that’s a change.
Bipartisanship is defined by basic agreement on some fundamental features of policy toward Israel. But when everything—including the embassy’s location, the [Palestinians’] “right of return,” aid, the Iran threat—is open for discussion, what is left of bipartisanship is very little: namely, the cliché that all candidates make sure to repeat about “Israel’s right to exist.” Well, thank you. You have a right to exist, too.