Are the Democrats Beginning to Step in the Proverbial Buffalo Patties on Israel?

Last week—corresponding ominously to the Ides of March—the Democratic establishment in the United States laid down the gauntlet to Israel’s government. A full-court effort was made not only to weaken and oust Israel’s elected government but also to lean on Israel so hard that it would reconsider entering the last Hamas strongholds in Gaza in Rafiah and the Philadelphia corridor.

The campaign took many forms and reached a crescendo on March 20. In that one day, no less than three letters were released by progressive Jewish donors, progressive Jewish luminaries, and Democratic congressmen, demanding the administration take a much more hostile line against Israel. Across the pond, the United Kingdom announced that if Israel enters Rafiah, England will impose an arms embargo on Israel. Canada did not wait and also announced on the 20th that it was imposing such an embargo. Even Germany announced on the 20th that it was inconceivable that Israel enter Rafiah and that if it did so, there would be grave consequences—essentially echoing the U.K. position. Moreover, Germany also announced that it was already reevaluating its defense contracts with Israel.

Back in the States, a series of articles appeared a week earlier by “gurus” of Arab-Israeli affairs on the left side of the spectrum, such as Martin Indyk and Thomas Friedman, saying the United States had lost confidence in Israel’s prime minister. Also in the week of March 11, Vice President Kamala Harris used a formulation generally reserved in American discourse of the most inimical tyrants and not democratic allies—differentiating “between the government of Israel and the people of Israel”—to describe US policy toward Israel. And finally, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer presented a shrill attack on Israel’s prime minister, lumping him together as an enemy of peace on par with Hamas and essentially demanding new elections in Israel since the people of Israel have lost faith in the prime minister “who lost his way.” On the 20th, Schumer followed up with another hostile act. Prime Minister Netanyahu was to give a briefing to both the Republican and Democratic caucus in Congress, but Majority Leader Schumer barred the Democratic caucus from hearing the prime minister.

It was perhaps the most hostile week for Israel in the United States since its creation.

But then, suddenly, the next day, Majority Leader Schumer retreated and announced he was open to inviting Prime Minister Netanyahu to address Congress in a joint session of Congress. Furthermore, on the heels of his call to oust the Israeli government earlier in the week—and after major donors said brazenly in their letter that the Biden team must lambast and oppose Israel because of the electoral threat emerging in key districts—Schumer asked that Israel not become a partisan issue. In terms of modern Washington, the unprecedented attack on Israel was followed within 24 hours by an unprecedented, humiliating retreat by the majority leader.

The Senate majority leader’s whiplash-inducing behavior should be examined very carefully since it reveals much. Indeed, it is key to understanding where the issue really stands right now.

It appears that Biden’s team and Schumer imagined that they could wrap an anti-Israeli policy in garb focused on the unpopularity of Prime Minister Netanyahu not only in Israel but among American Jews. Vice President Harris’ statement aimed squarely at that message: there’s a difference between the Israeli people and being anti-Israeli on the one hand and being anti-Netanyahu but not anti-Israeli on the other. So they thought they could appease progressives by using the formula of Netanyahu’s being at fault for everything as the bridge to span over the chasm and embrace the anti-Israeli policies progressives demand. That assumption, which is what Thomas Friedman, Martin Indyk, and Vice President Kamala Harris peddled lately—and indeed, what the US intelligence community itself revealed in its estimate (also released publicly last week) and which Schumer plunged into—failed. Using the formulation, not only did Schumer fail to damage Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel, he apparently failed to do so even within the US Jewish community. The reason is that the assumption is flawed. A Pew poll of the US Jewish community’s attitude toward the Israeli government from earlier in the month found that a decided majority (+10%), namely 54%, of American Jews hold a favorable view of the Israeli government.1

Schumer is absorbing tremendous political humiliation in his retreat. Schumer was the point man for the administration, not only in the Democratic leadership but atop the Jewish community, in the last week in calling for new elections and blocking all access by Netanyahu to Congress, and thus his retreat is not just a minor political event. The fact that Schumer faced such a great and swift backlash that it induced a spectacularly rapid display of political gymnastics is highly revealing. It means liberal Jews, who still do not like Netanyahu, nonetheless saw through this maneuver as simply a transparent scheme to be anti-Israeli while not appearing so. And while this is important, it also exposed something even more important than just the mood of the Jewish community. It was a test between the power of the progressives and their tantrum-induced threats to bolt, and the traditionally liberal US Jewish community.

Nor is that test just a Jewish question. Even in terms of the narrow question of electoral politics in the much-discussed case of Michigan, the administration seems to make baffling, inconsistent choices if the state really matters so much. In Michigan, the progressive protest seems quite limited since the uncommitted vote—which was heralded as the protest vote—was almost exactly the same percentage as President Obama mustered in his last presidential election in Michigan. Moreover, it would seem that whatever marginal gain President Biden may gain in Michigan by lurching toward the progressive side is lost—and by far larger margins—by his decision (also on March 20) to force a 50% mandate of electric vehicles in US car sales rather than punt the decision to after November. This decision will likely cost him critical autoworker votes in droves—a community that has constituted the backbone of industrial American blue-collar workers’ support for the Democrats—compared to the trickle of Arab voters he gains by abandoning Israel. In other words, if the margins are so tight in Michigan and the state is so critical, then, in terms of political capital, he paid a dollar for a dime.

So Senate majority leader Schumer lunged toward the progressives but then had to withdraw to the more center-left Jews.

Indeed, for him to overnight consider becoming an agent in bringing about a repeat of Netanyahu’s famous 2015 speech to Congress opposing the Obama administration’s JCPOA (“Iran nuclear”) deal and actually countenance inviting prime minister Netanyahu to address Congress jointly can only have happened if Schumer had faced a withering backlash from forces that matter to him. What are those forces?

First are donors. The Democratic Party donor base on a national level still receives more than 50% of its donations from liberal Jews. While some are progressive—like the Soros empire—others remain liberal and pro-Israeli.

Second are his voters. New York Jewish Democrats were loyal to him, but there is obviously an erosion in his own voter base in New York, which concerns him greatly. Also, a Sienna College poll in February now suggests that a majority (53-44%) of New York Jewish voters will not only vote Republican, but for Trump himself in the next elections.2 That the heart of Schumer’s own liberal Jewish voting block—New York state Jews—are nearly 10% more likely to vote for Trump than Biden is an earthquake.

Third, he is the Senate Majority Leader and is thus keen to ensure that the Senate majority remains Democrat for him to keep his leadership role. To this day, it was clear that he was concerned that a progressive threat to his majority leadership was emerging. Voices were challenging him and signaling that he may face a challenge from that side. In order to stay on top of the Democratic caucus, he likely calculated that he had to tack to the progressive left. And being a Jewish leader of such stature and holding a reputation as being pro-Israeli, he felt immune from the potential backlash for taking such a line. But what appears to be happening is that the centrist Democratic senators in a country where there is a significant Jewish vote are in danger of shifting to a Republican seat. If the Israeli issue causes a backlash among centrists and liberal Jews, he therefore may remain as the head of the Democratic caucus in a more progressive garb, but the Democrats lose the majority of the Senate. One of the most important of those seats is currently held by the retiring Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. Maryland has a substantial Jewish voting population, most of whom consider themselves liberals. And yet, Governor Hogan, who only last month announced himself as the Republican opponent to replace Cardin’s seat, has pulled substantially ahead in the polls against the Democratic candidate, David Trone, and Maryland may lose its Democratic seat. That alone would cost Schumer his majority leadership.

It is thus likely that Schumer is beginning to calculate the danger of losing the center, especially the liberal Jewish vote, liberal Jewish donations, and even his own liberal Jewish base in New York—the three most important forces in his world. The convergence of those three factors backlashing against his drift toward progressive positions on Israel would explain the humiliating and sudden turnabout that he displayed on March 21st in saying he was open to inviting Netanyahu to speak.

What this tells us is that pressure on Israel right now may be at its apex. A backlash is beginning. If the administration pushes any harder against Israel, it will proceed with great political risk unless it secures Israel’s indulgence or acquiescence—which at this stage it appears increasingly unlikely to grant. To descend into a bruising public fight with Israel would, by contrast, trigger the same backlash more broadly that Schumer just faced, which forced him to back off.

For Israel, then, this moment is the most dangerous. It faces immense pressure, and the administration is poised to lay more pressure on if it can get away with it.


The ‘if” is key. Going forward, it appears that the administration will continue to stray to a more hostile position toward Jerusalem, but only when Israel demurs and abstains from pushing back and taking the argument public. In fact, instead of purchasing appreciation from Washington for its flexibility, such deference only makes it easier for the Biden administration to drift further toward appeasing the progressives. Biden will happily take whatever Israel allows him to in order to appease the progressives.  In other words, things will get worse for Israel if it cuts its opponents, like progressives, slack by making it easy on Biden in the Democratic leadership to drift that direction without a cost to Israeli relations. By contrast, it would be better for Israel to double down on its convictions and force the issue into the public debate and the American political establishment. In short, in a real showdown, the backlash against selling Israel out would come into play and prevail. Schumer’s contortions, worthy of a weasel, were the perfect litmus test for that.

Which way will things go? In the end, Israel is operating out of deep conviction rather than policy or ideological preferences, and it is doing so largely under a national consensus. October 7 was not only traumatic for Israel—it was also a wake-up call. Israel had not internalized that every aspect of Palestinian life, including any territory surrendered, was mobilized with the singular obsession of eradicating Israel. Schools, sports, health ministries, and nature organizations were mobilized to prepare and indoctrinate with that singular focus. And anti-Semitism was cultivated as a strategic weapon internationally to isolate Jews and destroy not only the connection between Israel and key Western allies but also between those societies and the Jewish population.

And that is what Schumer and the administration miss. The very fabric of the golden age of American Judaism—and the mutually enriching 350-year mutual history in this land—are being ripped apart. The story so beautifully symbolized by the exchange of letters between General George Washington and Rabbi Seixas of Newport is in danger of being ended.

American values lay at the core of the flourishing American Jewish community. So when the administration abandons Israel to Hamas, when a party’s leadership and political operatives argue that a small, radical group of progressive voters who openly declare their hostility to American values is more important than the legacy of the American-Jewish common story and values, it inescapably is also understood by American Jews as a surrender of the American street to the anti-Semites who make their genocidal aims clear on campuses, in businesses, hospitals, and street protests. Indeed, when the US distances itself from Israel, it is inherently understood not only by American Jews as an abandonment of them—leading to an existential anxiety Jews in America had not known until now—but also by Americans in general about how deeply the assault on our national values has progressed.

And that is bad politics.

1 “Poll shows 54% of US Jews have favorable view of Israeli government,” The Times of Israel, March 21, 2024 (7:51PM).

2 Andrew Bernard, “Majority of New York Jewish voters intend to vote for Trump says new poll,” The JC, February 22, 2024.

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About David Wurmser

David Wurmser is a former U.S. Navy Reserve intelligence officer with extensive national security experience working for the State Department, the Pentagon, Vice President Dick Cheney, and the National Security Council.

Photo: UNITED STATES - MARCH 20: Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., conducts a news conference after the senate luncheons in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, March 20, 2024. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)