Congress Is Giving Israel Vote of Confidence
Both Parties Back Ally, Court Jewish Support
By Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writer
Post" -- -- Democratic and Republican
congressional leaders are rushing to offer unalloyed support for
Israel's offensive against Hezbollah fighters, reflecting a
bipartisan desire to not only defend a key U.S. ally but also
solidify long-term backing of Jewish voters and political donors in
the United States, according to officials and strategists in both
With Israel intensifying its air and artillery attacks on Lebanon
and warning of a protracted war, the Senate yesterday unanimously
passed a bipartisan resolution endorsing Israel's military campaign
and condemning Hezbollah and its two backers, Iran and Syria. A few
hours earlier, Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.)
delivered his most strident defense of Israel since the conflict
erupted a week ago. The House is expected to pass a similarly
pro-Israel resolution today.
At the same time, several candidates in highly competitive races are
touting their unequivocal backing of Israel. Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr.
(R-Fla.), who faces a tough reelection race against a Jewish
Democrat, introduced his own resolution charging that "both Syria
and Iran are directly responsible for this act of terrorism and
should be held accountable." In Minnesota, Rep. Mark Kennedy, the
Republican Senate candidate, is criticizing what his campaign calls
Democratic candidate Amy Klobuchar's "deafening silence" on the
conflict, calling her a "timid soul." Klobuchar, however, has staked
out a similarly pro-Israel position.
Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman punctuated the
day with a speech to Christians United for Israel last night,
declaring that "today, we are all Israelis."
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade
Center and the Pentagon, support for Israel has only intensified
among politicians and the public, lawmakers say and polls confirm.
The Jewish state is frequently praised as a vibrant democracy and
trusted U.S. ally, one that has suffered greatly from terrorism.
Israel is also the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, and
benefits from a widespread perception that it is smart politics to
embrace Israel, according to Democratic and Republican officials and
But some U.S. officials worry that the political calculation is
undermining efforts to find a peaceful solution to the latest
conflict. "There is no danger for the candidates," said Rep. James
P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), adding that those politicians "will get
rewarded politically and financially for being out front in their
Moran said, however, that the outpouring of political support could
prove dangerous for Israel. That's because Israeli officials "know
they can only go as far as the United States backs them," and the
flurry of pro-Israel activity "can encourage their leadership to
overreach and create situations that become more problematic," he
Moran was forced to apologize three years ago for blaming U.S. Jews
for pushing the country into the Iraq war.
Moran holds a minority view in Congress. Many Democrats, who are
among the largest recipients of Jewish votes and money in federal
elections, are working with Republicans to pressure President Bush
to reject calls to strike a more measured tone and prod Israel to
show greater restraint.
"I don't think [Republican politicians] made any of their decisions
in this crisis or previous ones based on politics," said Matthew
Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, which
is running newspaper ads in Jewish newspapers praising Bush for
backing Israel. "However, there is certainly a collateral
[political] benefit" of speaking out early and forcefully.
Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, said lawmakers in both
parties "believe there are very important groups in American
politics that care about Israel, and that includes the Christian
right and Jewish groups," she said. Based on her research and
experience, however, Greenberg said Jewish voters are motivated as
much by domestic issues such as separation of church and state as by
a candidate's passion for Israel.
Still, the rising pro-Israel sentiment in Congress has coincided
with stepped-up efforts by Democrats and Republicans to increase
their support among Jews.
On the Republican side, the dynamics have changed considerably in
the past decade.
Evangelical Christians, who were once suspected by some of
anti-Semitism, have led a Republican effort to forge close ties with
The effort is working, strategists from both parties said. In every
presidential election since 1992, Republicans have increased their
share of the Jewish vote. In 1992, Bush's father, President George
H.W. Bush, won 11 percent. In the 2004 presidential election, the
current president captured about 25 percent, according to exit-poll
"Jewish voters are becoming less partisan and more independent in
their thinking, which I think gives an opportunity for inroads among
Republicans," said Shaw, who represents a large number of Jewish
voters along Florida's southern Gold Coast.
Based on a study by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics,
Republicans are also getting a larger percentage of money from
Jewish political committees and self-identified Jewish donors. So
far this election cycle, Republicans have received about 42 percent
of money from Jewish groups and individuals. If that number holds,
it would be the highest percentage since the center started tracking
these donations in 1990.
The Jewish community remains predominantly Democratic and is
considered one of the most influential parts of the party's base.
Polls show most Jewish voters agree with Democrats on social issues
and many other domestic concerns. While some House Democrats have
questioned the wisdom of unconditional support for Israel -- a point
pro-Republican Jewish groups frequently make -- party leaders such
as Reid are among the biggest defenders of Israel.
Political researcher Zachary A. Goldfarb contributed to this report.
© 2006 The Washington Post Company