Tea Party may help Israel

The extreme right US movement could prove a useful friend of Israel

By Alex Brummer, September 21, 2010

The arrival of the Tea Party as an American force has shaken the US political establishment. It is a sea change, compared by commentators such as Gerald Seib in the Wall Street Journal as similar to the arrival of the conservative movement headed by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

So far, of course, the Tea Party has won nothing. But its showing in the mid-term primary elections has been strong enough to have the political columnists scratching their heads. The biggest upset was in the Delaware Republic primary where former abstinence counsellor Christine O'Donnell brushed aside a nine-term member of the House of Representatives for the Senate race.

The pattern was widely repeated with Sarah Palin political look-a-likes beating out traditional Republicans from New York to Florida.

The change inevitably raises an old question: what does it mean for the Jews? This is particularly relevant at present. Although the majority of Jews remain Democrat supporters, there have been concerns that the Barack Obama White House is less well disposed to Israel than its predecessors.

Obama has gone some way to allaying these fears by recent hospitality towards Benjamin Netanyahu and through Hillary Clinton's enthusiastic backing for the new round of Middle East peace talks.

Within the Tea Party, writer Michael Tomasky suggests antisemitism is ‘not judged a terribly great offence’

But there are lingering suspicions aroused, among other things, by the proposal for a record-breaking advanced fighter plane sale to Saudi Arabia which some fear could jeopardise Israel's military-technological edge.

The general view in the liberal press is that the Tea Party is a disaster. Michael Tomasky writing in the Guardian argues that: "Republicans have created Frankenstein's monster." He notes that O'Donnell, who has become the pin-up of the movement, is the eighth Tea Party insurgent to defeat an established Republican in primaries this year.

He is concerned about the rhetoric. Tomasky notes that in New York state, the Tea Party-backed candidate for state governor, Carl Paladino, uses language with unpleasant undertones. He has, for instance, likened the Orthodox Jewish speaker of New York's state lower house to Hitler. Within the Tea Party, the writer suggests antisemitism is "not judged a terribly great offence".

Despite this, mainstream Jews are rubbing their hands with glee. The Jerusalem Post reports Jewish Democratic strategist Steve Rabinowitz as saying: "It's a beautiful day."

He believes it is to their advantage that extremists supported by the Tea Party have succeeded in knocking back established Republicans. The assumption is that it will make it easier for Democrats, including a long list of Jewish candidates, to sweep into office when the mid-terms take place in November.

"This significantly helps Democratic prospects in November," argues National Democratic Council president David Harris. David Brooks, writing in the New York Times, does not think that it is so simple.

He notes that polling suggests that despite the bizarre views of some Tea Party candidates, Americans currently feel philosophically closer to Republicans than Democrats. They see liberal members of Congress, like Democrat speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, as more extreme than some Republicans.

Democrats believe that the Tea Party will drive away Jews from the Republicans because they tend to define America as a fundamentalist Christian country and that leaves the Jews outside the tent. But it has to be pointed out that fundamentalist Christians have been staunch supporters of Israel and have been cultivated for support and tourism by the Jewish state.

Last updated: 11:41am, September 21 2010