The Menendez Trial and the Future of Bipartisan Support for Israel

Written by Shep Gerszberg on . Posted in Capital Commentary

Among the most alarming things for those observing the Senate and its pro-Israel Democrats is the saga of Senator Bob Menendez (D - NJ), one of the most stalwart pro-Israel Democrats in the Senate, who opposed the Iran nuclear deal when many nominally pro-Israel Democrats refused to go against President Obama. 

Menendez is facing federal corruption charges for allegedly accepting gifts from a wealthy donor from Florida in exchange for favors. Both he and the donor were charged, with Menendez pleading not guilty to all charges; but the ongoing trial may end up taking him out of the Senate, or at least cripple his powerful influence within the legislative body.

Although the loss of one senator isn’t enough to drastically shift an entire party’s policy, it is part of a greater problem beginning to show in the pro-Israel grassroots strategy with the Democratic Party overall.

We are beginning to lose our pro-Israel legislators, whether to the natural processes of electoral politics or aging out of the government, and we aren’t getting new ones on the left side of the aisle.

The increased emphasis within the social justice movement on intersectionality has contributed to this far-left shift, due to the Palestinian advocacy movement’s success at portraying Palestinians as marginalized and oppressed by Israel. The Washington Post reported earlier this year that for the first time this century, Democrats are as sympathetic to the Palestinian cause (31 percent) as they are to Israel (33 percent).

This is a problem in and of itself, but there is an even greater problem at hand.

While Senator Menendez has always vouched for Israel in ways even the other pro-Israel Democrats are unwilling to do, reliably pro-Israel Democratic senators like Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker have recently betrayed the pro-Israel movement by coming out against the anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) bill and the Taylor Force Act, respectively. (After voting against the Taylor Force Act in the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Booker will reportedly support the bill after an amendment was added this month by the Appropriations Committee, an aide told The Jewish Insider.)

Menendez, in contrast, has never strayed from his pro-Israel stance. While New Jersey has a large pro-Israel Jewish community, if Menendez serves out the remainder of his term but does not seek re-election in 2018, it is unlikely that a Democratic successor will be as supportive as he is, given current trends in the party.

The potential loss of a critical ally on the Democratic side highlights an overall growing problem in the party in the near future. The pro-Israel Democrats need legislators ready to take up the mantle from people like Senator Menendez and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer; Schumer is 66 years old, and while I wish him a long and happy life, there is no guarantee that he will stay in office indefinitely. Where I once saw allies, I now fear for the longevity of the bipartisan nature of support for Israel.

The potential exit of Menendez should be a wake-up call to pro-Israel Democrats to start getting more active in their party and to start grooming the next generation of pro-Israel Democrats.

By Shep Gerszberg

 Shep Gerszberg is a junior at the George Washington University studying international affairs, Middle East studies, and conflict resolution.