The White House is coming under increasing fire for fueling anti-Israel sentiment in the United States, particularly among Democrats, stoked by President Obama’s feud with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Even liberal Democratic political analysts like former Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz and Clinton administration adviser Lanny J. Davis have raised alarms recently on the Obama administration’s deteriorating relationship with Israel.
“I think President Obama has set the tone, I think by himself boycotting Netanyahu and, through his silence — encouraging congressmen to boycott Netanyahu — he has implicitly encouraged others to do the same thing,” Mr. Dershowitz said.
Case in point: the Virginia State Bar Association’s recent decision to cancel a trip to Jerusalem after some members campaigned against it, accusing Israel of “unacceptable discriminatory policies and practices pertaining to border security.”
Mr. Davis, a prominent Democratic lawyer in Washington, said he strongly disagreed with the bar’s decision, adding that it was similar to statements by the White House chief of staff that seem to call Israel’s right to defend itself discriminatory.
“The Virginia State Bar’s false equivalent of defending yourself against terrorists by maintaining strict security procedures at your borders and discrimination offends basic legal principles as well as principles of fairness,” Mr. Davis said in an interview. “You cannot equate what you need to do to secure your families from people who surround you and say they want to destroy you and try doing it with discrimination.”
He cited White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough’s reference last week to the Israeli “occupation” of territory claimed by Palestinians, calling it a “misstatement of history by those who disagree with Israel’s ‘occupation’ of the West Bank after it was attacked by Arab states in 1967 in an effort to destroy it.”
“The Virginia Bar and Mr. McDonough similarly conflate what Israel is forced to do to defend itself against terrorists harbored in Gaza and the West Bank until the Palestinian authority is ready to recognize a secure and safe Jewish state of Israel and commit itself to eliminating the Hamas terrorist within its territories,” Mr. Davis said.
Conservative pundit and author David Horowitz said evidence of growing anti-Israel fervor can be seen most obviously on college campuses, where efforts by groups like Students for Justice in Palestine have led to a recent rash of student government votes to divest from Israel.
He cited a February poll by Trinity College and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights that found 54 percent of Jewish students had experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism in the 2013-14 academic year.
“Obama has declared war on Israel, and he’s got a lot of followers in the United States,” said Mr. Horowitz, founder of the David Horowitz Freedom Center in Los Angeles. “This is the worst wave of anti-Semitism in this country I’ve seen since the Second World War — in my lifetime.”
A Gallup Poll released Feb. 23 found that 70 percent of Americans surveyed view Israel favorably and that 62 percent sided with Israel over the Palestinian Authority. At the same time, support among Democrats polled for Israel versus the Palestinian Authority dipped from 55 percent to 48 percent from 2014 to 2015.
“Throughout all of this, Israel’s positive image in the U.S. remains broadly intact nationally, even as Democrats’ sympathy for Israel may have slipped,” said the Gallup analysis.
“The percentage of Democrats viewing Israel favorably is also down, currently at 60% vs. 74% a year ago. Positive views of the Palestinian Authority are fairly scarce, but no lower than they have been in recent years.”
Virginia State Bar President Kevin Martingayle denied that the trip cancellation was the result of any anti-Semitic views, and said the issue occurred when the bar association realized that many of its members would not be allowed to go on the trip because of Israel’s strict border laws.
“We are absolutely not making a political point, we are making the point that we have to care about every single one of our members,” Mr. Martingayle said. “We are a large bar. We have over 30,000 members within the state bar, and we have to meet the needs of all of them.”
According to Mr. Martingayle, Israel’s border policies, combined with a U.S. Department of State travel advisory, kept many people from even signing up for the trip at all.
“If we didn’t have a significant improvement in the number of people signed up for the trip by April 1, then we wouldn’t have been able to go anyway,” he said.
But an online petition against the trip suggested that some Virginia lawyers chose to boycott the trip over political views.
As of Saturday, 37 members of the VSB had signed an open letter on change.org commenting on Israel’s discriminatory policies.
“As members of the VSB, we have taken an oath to uphold our profession’s highest ideals. At the core of these ideals is the belief that no person or group should be subjected to differential treatment on the basis of their immutable characteristics,” the change.org petition reads.
“The location of this year’s Seminar, however, strikes at the heart of our profession’s ideals. In particular, by holding this year’s Seminar in Israel, the VSB accepts discriminatory practices and policies against Arab, Muslim, and Palestinian members of the VSB on the basis of their race, religion, and national origin, effectively preventing these members from attending,” the petition says.
Mr. Martingayle said that the petition did not play a part in the bar’s decision to cancel the trip but did draw attention to the fact that many of the VSB’s lawyers would not have an equal opportunity to participate.
Mr. Dershowitz argued that by boycotting the trip, the lawyers signing the petition were in fact breaking their oaths, saying, “The spirit of the law prohibits discrimination based on national origin.”
“It’s usually a small number of people who are trying to single out Israel. These are probably folks who have traveled to Iran, China, Venezuela, countries that have massive human rights violations,” Mr. Dershowitz said, adding that “by singling out Israel as a place not to go, it’s simple bigotry.”