It’s not kosher to say Beto O’Rourke doesn’t support Israel

Bipartisan support for a strong US-Israel relationship is the bedrock of pro-Israel advocacy. It follows from this principle that we should look for ways to bring members of Congress into the pro-Israel tent rather than finding ways to shove them out. At times, this means refraining from “gotcha” politics and committing to intellectual honesty in the service of higher ideals.

Several years ago, I participated in a meeting of 20 prominent Jewish Democrats and Republicans with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Blair House. After a rather heated discussion of Israel being used as a political wedge issue in various House and Senate races, Netanyahu implored the parties: “For the sake of Israel, please eliminate the aisle. Israel needs the bipartisan support of both parties.”

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Republicans in Texas should heed Bibi’s advice. They can and should focus on the significant policy differences between Sen. Ted Cruz and his opponent, Rep. Beto O’Rourke. But exploiting Israel for partisan advantage should be out of bounds.

The pro-Israel community has an obligation to check facts instead of mindlessly passing along false information. O’Rourke has an outstanding record on Israel. As a member of Congress, he has consistently voted for foreign aid to Israel. He also supports joint US-Israel missile-defense systems. That is despite casting one “no” vote on a defense appropriations bill, which was nothing more than a protest against rushing appropriations votes without debate. It was not a vote against assistance for Israel, which O’Rourke supports. That is why he intentionally voted toward the end of the roll call, knowing that the bill would pass without his vote.

What do we gain by not taking O’Rourke at his word, especially given his strong record of support for Israel and bilateral military aid? When a member of Congress casts a vote that we might question, our goal should be to understand that vote and move forward, not to permanently ostracize that member. Yet some supporters of Cruz would rather question the honesty, integrity and proven record of a rising Democratic star for what they perceive as partisan gain. This is how to lose friends and dis-influence people.

If we confirm that a particular candidate truly holds views that are hostile to Israel, then we must speak out against that candidate. Organizations such as the Jewish Democratic Council of America have done just that in response to three Democratic candidates running in the midterms.

CONVERSELY, IF a candidate has demonstrated that prior statements critical of Israel no longer reflect his or her views, we should welcome that change. We should send the signal that we welcome new friends, not that we have a purity test that – once failed – can never be reconsidered.

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O’Rourke has consistently supported a strong US-Israel relationship, and he has the voting record to prove it. That doesn’t mean he and other strong supporters of Israel will not sometimes criticize certain policies of the government of Israel. Patriotic Americans have severely criticized the policies of presidents Obama and Trump, but that doesn’t make them un-American. If we narrow the pro-Israel tent by excluding good friends who have honest disagreements, we’ll soon have a tent too small to make a difference.

One final point: I have actually heard people accuse O’Rourke of antisemitism because of that one vote he cast on procedural grounds. The notion appears to be: If your voting record is not 100% in line with some pro-Israel organizations, or if you are endorsed by organizations that fail someone else’s purity test, you are “anti-Israel” and therefore antisemitic. This is, of course, nonsense. 

First, one can be pro-Israel without agreeing with 100% of the policies of the Netanyahu government. Second, to further suggest that such a vote can be equated with antisemitism is insulting and counter-productive. It’s a sure way to chase a friend from the tent, and it depreciates the very serious and disconcerting increase of antisemitism we have seen in America, as indicated by the at least eight neo-Nazis and white supremacists running for Congress as Republicans.

Sadly, these attacks resonate with some because our community is justifiably concerned about rising antisemitism and international isolation of Israel. Many of us are inclined to believe false allegations about candidates for fear of ignoring real threats. But falling for false accusations only diminishes our capacity to combat real antisemitism and real threats to Israel.

One lesson of the past 70 years is that Israel needs the bipartisan support of the United States. Politics is not a game. If we continue to use Israel as a partisan football, whether Republicans or Democrats win, Israel will surely lose.

The writer is an attorney in Dallas, Texas; a member of the Jewish Democratic Council of America National Board; a former chair of the National Jewish Democratic Council; and chair of Jewish senior housing in Dallas. He also chairs the Fire Ted Cruz PAC but welcomes Cruz’s support of Israel.

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