Yes, I know. You can’t expect the Democrats to take a strong position against Israel’s hopeless policy in Lebanon because it will offend American Jews and it won’t score any points with an electorate which tilts in favor of Israel. Democrats are all about taking back Congress and the Dems mustn’t do anything that rocks that boat. That’s the conventional wisdom anyway. Or at least the “wisdom” of folks like Kos who told his readers he wasn’t going to say anything about the Lebanon disaster since it was a hopeless muddle of a conflict as far as he was concerned. Others like Eric Alterman have expressed a deep hesitation about taking a strong position.
But is this “conventional wisdom” right? The LA Times released a national poll on the Lebanon conflict which, while it didn’t contain any huge surprises overall, did reveal some surprising news about Democratic attitudes toward the crisis.
To the question, “Do you think Israel’s actions are justified or not justified?” Democratic respondents answered:
Justified, not excessively harsh: 43%
Justified, but excessively harsh: 16%
Don’t know: 13%
I’d look at two key numbers, those who say Israel is “justified, but excessively harsh” and those who say Israel is “unjustified.” 44% of Democratic respondents feel Israel’s response was at the very least excessively harsh. That means that a Democratic politician could reasonably take a position supporting Israeli action in its own defense, but distinguishing between self-defense and the “excessive use of force” which Israel has exhibited flagrantly throughout this operation. In other words, there is room for a principled Democrat to distinguish between an Israeli attack on Hezbollah and the wholesale destruction of an entire nation.
Here are some other questions and findings among Democrats:
Q: As you may know, Israel has responded to rocket attacks from the Lebanese group Hezbollah by bombing Beirut and other cities in Lebanon. Do you think Israel’s actions are justified or not justified?
Justified, not excessively harsh 29%
Justified, but excessively harsh 20
Don’t know 13
Q: Which of the following statements comes closer to your view: “The United States should continue to align itself with Israel” or “The United States should adopt a more neutral posture” or “The United States should side more with the Arab countries?”
Continue to align with Israel 39%
Adopt a more neutral posture 54
Should side more with Arab countries 2
Don’t know 5
I think it is extraordinary that fully 56% of Democrats in this poll believe that U.S. Mideast policy has tilted too far toward Israel and that it should take a more neutral position. Hillary, are you listening?
Of course, I’ve left out of this discussion the 900 lb. elephant which prevents Democrats from taking a more reasonable position regarding Lebanon: Aipac. You heard Chris Dodd make some humanitarian noises in the first few days of the conflict. Have you heard him since? Have you heard any Democrat express any concerns at all with what was happening to the Lebanese? Do you think that Democrats don’t have hearts and don’t care about heinous injustices in the world? Of course they do. But are they willing to buck big-bucks Jewish donors who have much more conservative views than the rest of the party when it comes to Israel? No, unfortunately not. But that doesn’t mean I can’t take them to task for their blindness.
There is an opening for Democrats to talk reasonably about this conflcit and distinguish themselves in a principled way from the Administration’s abysmal failure of a policy, if you can call it that. Whether anyone will have the guts to do so is another question.