Ed. Note: The following is a response to “The Menendez Trial and the Future of Bipartisan Support for Israel” by Shep Gerszberg (September 14 issue).
Even if staunch Israel-supporter Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) is found guilty of corruption, bipartisan support for Israel will still remain at historic highs.
Historical precedent demonstrates bipartisan support for Israel has ebbed and flowed, yet remained strong over time. During the Cold War, support for Israel was often seen as a more progressive issue, with Republicans laser-focused on combatting the Soviet Union. It was Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush who clashed with Israel; the former approving a controversial sale of fighter jets to Saudi Arabia that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) opposed and attempted to block, with the latter challenging Israel on loan guarantees because of its settlement policy in Judea and Samaria.
While President Barack Obama often took his disagreements with Israel into the public eye, and championed the controversial Iran deal, he supplied Israel with bunker-busting bombs, approved $225 million in emergency funding to Israel to replace Iron Dome batteries during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, and signed a historic $38 billion military aid package for Israel over the span of a decade.
In 2014, the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, sponsored by then-California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, passed both congressional chambers with bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Barack Obama. Israel has been designated as a major strategic partner ever since.
Those moves greatly increased Israel’s qualitative military edge, or its ability to defend itself. In 2015, Consul-General Ido Aharoni said, “People can say whatever they want [about] the relationship between Israel and the United States, but at least when it comes to cooperation between military, intelligence, and government to government, it is perhaps unprecedented.”
In January, 78 senators, including 31 Democrats, cosponsored a resolution in the Senate objecting to U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334. The House affirmed a similar measure by an overwhelming vote of 342-80. Chuck Schumer, the leader of the Democratic Party in the Senate, has publicly supported the Taylor Force Act, which essentially ensures passage in the Senate. If enacted, it would defund the Palestinian Authority (PA) for rewarding terrorists and their families, exempting humanitarian programs.
(One could also consider the possibility Menendez will not be convicted. In recent legal precedent established by the Supreme Court in McDonnell v. United States, the scope of federal corruption law was dramatically narrowed. Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s bribery convictions were reversed, and it was established that the government must prove a corrupt public official agreed to perform an “official act” in exchange for the bribe — a clear quid pro quo — and “official act” has a specific meaning.
Although prosecutors allege Menendez accepted gifts from Salomon Melgen, including contributions and multiple trips on his private jet, prosecutors must prove a link between Melgen’s gifts and the senator’s actions. Menendez argues any efforts on Melgen’s behalf did not amount to “official acts” and therefore cannot support a conviction under the recent Supreme Court precedent.)
While pro-Israel champions on both sides of the aisle often turn over — for example, the 2012 death of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) — it is incumbent upon young people to ensure the next generation of pro-Israel support remains strongly bipartisan.
Supporting organizations like AIPAC is a great way to do this, but it can also be as simple as grabbing a beer and talking about how important Israel is to you with your student government representative. Bipartisan support will continue to build as Israel remains a stalwart ally of America in an increasingly tumultuous world.
By Cam Erickson
Cam Erickson is a political consultant, commentator, and entrepreneur. He has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Chicago Public Radio, and is the founder of Six Point Strategies. In 2015, he was recognized by AIPAC as an award-winning activist.