For the first time in 12 years, Benjamin Netanyahu woke up Monday morning and was not the Prime Minister of Israel. After a contentious battle—including Netanyahu’s Trumpian claim that his ouster was the result of “the greatest election fraud” in history—Israel’s new governing coalition is an unlikely conglomeration of left, center, and right-wing parties, headed by right-wing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
The new government in Israel has not yet indicated what, if anything, it will do differently when it comes to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, but it has announced a fundamental shift when it comes to another contentious foreign policy issue that could ultimately influence Palestinian relations: its approach to influence in the U.S.
On Monday, Yair Lapid, in his first day as Israel’s new Foreign Minister, wasted no time in lamenting Netanyahu’s, “bad and lightheaded bet to focus only on the Republic Party,” in the U.S. “We find ourselves with a Democratic White House and a Democratic Congress. Those Democrats are angry at us, and we need to change that,” Lapid added.
To say that Democrats are angry might be an understatement. In the wake of Israel’s recent attacks on Gaza that left over 243 Palestinians dead, many Democrats and progressives outside Congress have been furious over Israel’s actions. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for example, called Israel an “apartheid state,” echoing the findings of a Human Rights Watch report in April that found Israeli authorities were committing “crimes against humanity.” Similarly, more than 130 progressive organizations, including the Center for International Policy, called on the Biden administration to condemn Israeli government actions and end “state violence.”
Several Democrats in Congress also fought to block an arms sale to Israel, with Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minn) tweeting, “Congress should be questioning the sales of these types of weapons to Israel — and any country in the world that has committed human rights abuses.” As the Security Assistance Monitor recently reported, Israel is, by far, the largest recipient U.S. military assistance, yet remains one of the only countries where the U.S. can’t track where all its weapons are going, making it incredibly challenging to determine if U.S.-made weapons are being used in Israeli attacks that kill Palestinian civilians.
The views of these outspoken members of Congress are largely reflecting the views of their Democratic voters who have become much more pro-Palestine in what renowned pollster John Zogby calls, “a tectonic shift.” According to Zogby, minority groups that typically vote for Democrats are sensitive to the treatment of other minority groups and, “They see Israel as an aggressor.” A Vox poll fielded in May confirmed this sentiment, finding that almost three times as many Democratic voters believe President Biden should condemn Israel’s actions in Gaza as those who believe Biden should be more supportive of Israel.
Additionally, a Pew poll from early May found that 71% of U.S. Jews identify as Democrats and, historically, campaign contributions from the American Jewish community flowed predominantly to Democrats, not Republicans.
Despite all of this, Netanyahu unabashedly opposed Democrats’ proposals in the region, most notably vehemently objecting to former President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal. The Israel lobby in America, similarly, thwarted moves towards progressive reforms in Israel and, in some cases, harassed Americans that supported Palestine. As documented in The Lobby-USA,—a four-part undercover investigation of Israel’s covert influence campaign in the U.S., that was originally censored due to pressure from the Israel lobby—organizations working on Israel’s behalf in the U.S. were actively surveilling and harassing Palestinian activists and secretly stymying Pro-Palestine groups on college campuses.
For all these reasons, it cannot be overstated how significant a change it would be if Lapid holds to his pledge and actively seeks bipartisan support in the U.S. for the new government in Israel. To do that, the Israel lobby in the U.S. will have to fundamentally change the way it operates. It will have to transition from aggressively attacking critics of the Israeli government to actively seeking out constructive discussions with them. The Israel lobby will have to listen to the preferences of Jewish Americans, who are overwhelmingly Democrats, and it will have to listen to the concerns of the growing choir of progressives within the Democratic party who are deeply concerned about Palestinian rights. In short, to fulfill Lapid’s pledge, we will have to witness the dawn of the new Israel lobby.