The increasingly stark contrast between the parties on Israel came into view on Thursday as leading 2020 Democrats, under pressure from the Left, announced they were skipping the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee's policy conference, while President Trump affirmed on Twitter that the United States should recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
On Wednesday, citing a poll of members, the liberal activist group MoveOn called on 2020 Democratic presidential candidates to skip the AIPAC conference. By Thursday, campaigns of Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg said the candidates wouldn't be there.
Also on Thursday, Trump tweeted, "After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!" Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has been pushing this idea from the Senate. The Golan Heights is a strategically important area in northern Israel that Israel captured from Syria in the Six Day War of 1967, and if ceded, could benefit Iranians in any attack on Israel.
The dueling news stories reflect the fact that, even though for decades Israel was viewed as a bipartisan issue, more recently the parties have been moving in significantly different directions. While Republicans have become staunchly pro-Israel, fueled in part by the passion of Zionist evangelicals but also the broader conservative identification with Israel, the Democratic Party has been pushed by its liberal base to pursue a more critical, even at times, hostile, stance toward Israel. A Pew survey found that 79 percent of Republicans said the sympathized more with Israel than the Palestinians, compared with just 27 percent of Democrats. The contrast was more severe when viewed by ideology, with 81 percent of conservative Republicans favoring Israel, and nearly twice as many liberal Democrats sympathizing with Palestinians (35 percent) as compared with Israelis (19 percent).
Over the past decade or so, many Democratic leaders tried to sweep these differences under the rug, and in this, they were aided by AIPAC. Even as Republicans were becoming more unequivocally supportive of Israel, AIPAC existed in part to promote the idea that it was still one of the few areas in which both parties would agree.