Everyone has heard Viscount Northcliffe’s famous aphorism explaining what makes news: “When a dog bites a man, that is not news… But if a man bites a dog, that is news.”
While it’s an understandable editorial principle, if two or three men start biting dogs, each generating its own splashy set of news stories, one can see how the average reader might wrongly conclude that the order of the universe has somehow changed.
Distinguishing real change from a mirage can be difficult in these circumstances. So it is with Israel’s detractors in the Democratic Party; they generate lot of news clips but have had limited electoral success and exert limited influence.
A few upsets this primary season, which had nothing whatever to do with Israel policy, led some to misread reality.
As the dust settles over the long election season, it’s a propitious time to examine the status of efforts to alter the pro-Israel tradition of the Democratic Party.
During the primary season, pro-Israel candidates supported by DMFI PAC, the political arm of Democratic Majority for Israel of which I am president and CEO, won 28 out of 29 races. In fact, our organization’s primary record alone undermines the argument that the Democratic Party is inhospitable to pro-Israel politicians or policies.
What’s more, nationally, Democrats nominated a strong pro-Israel ticket with President-elect Biden, besting a candidate more hostile to the U.S.-Israel relationship. Delegates to the party’s national convention also overwhelmingly defeated efforts to push its platform in an anti-Israel direction.
Moreover, it’s telling that the losses pro-Israel Democrats did endure were in races where Israel was not a central issue. After his primary victory, Jamaal Bowman, who ousted Eliot Engel, told press in New York that just because he disagreed with Engel on some policies, “doesn’t mean, you know, I’m not pro-Israel. I’m in full support of Israel.”
Depending on how one chooses to classify particular individuals, there are no more than two or three Democrats joining the small caucus of Israel detractors in the new Congress.
Meanwhile, there are a number of strong pro-Israel champions among the new members, including two of the youngest: former Marine Captain Jake Auchincloss of Massachusetts and Congress’s first gay Afro-Latino, former New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres, both of whom are 32, as well as Kathy Manning, former president of the Jewish Federations of North America.
They are joining a Democratic Caucus over 90% of which voted to condemn BDS and oppose additional conditions on security assistance to Israel.
Now people often ask me — or really tell me — how influential the few anti-Israel members are, mistaking the volume of their press coverage for their clout with colleagues. Whatever their influence on other topics, the tiny anti-Israel contingent among House Democrats has been singularly ineffective in moving others to embrace their views.
A few anti-Israel members opposed condemning BDS, but over 90% of their colleagues refused to follow them. They favored additional conditions on U.S. security assistance, and over 90% rejected their view. They backed anti-Israel amendments to the Democratic platform, and they lost, overwhelmingly. It’s hard to look at a record like that and call it “influential.”
Another fear is that despite their few victories, they are “taking over” the Democratic party. We know what a takeover of a party looks like. Consider the Tea Party: In 2010, Tea Party candidates held nearly 20% of the House and Senate seats won by Republicans. By contrast, anti-Israel candidates will hold less than 3% of the Democratic seats in the new Congress.
There is no question that hard work is required to ensure the Democratic Party remains pro-Israel. Anti-Israel groups are fighting every day to reshape the party in their image and we only defeat them by confronting them head on.
But nobody should think the battle has been lost. A few men may have bitten dogs, but all-in-all, the anti-Israel movement has been mostly unsuccessful in its attempts to change Democrats’ direction.