This isn’t strictly a 2020 issue, but it sort of is — because for probably the first time in Jesse Jackson’s 1988 Democratic presidential primary bid, we’re likely to have a prolonged and substantive debate about Israel-Palestine policy (led by Vermont’s Independent Senator Bernie Sanders).
When Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar implied late last week that U.S. policy towards Israel and the Palestinians is influenced by political campaign money, she set off a firestorm of criticism. Omar often says things in a less than savvy manner, and she is probably a bit Too Online. This is a delicate issue that deserves a bit of nuance and careful wording, and she should be making decisions about this with the consent and consensus of her constituents.
But is it actually all that controversial to say that Israel policy is at least partly determined by political fundraising? It’s basically an open secret if you work in D.C. politics. In fact, here’s the Clinton campaign admitting as much in the Podesta emails:
“We shouldn’t have Israel at public events. Especially dem activists,” Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook wrote in May 2015. Dan Scherwin, one of Clinton’s top aides and speechwriters, argued that “she can drop in Israel when she’s with donors.”
There’s a reason the Clinton campaign repeatedly replies to Haim Saban, an entertainment mogul who would complain to them about Sanders’s more balanced Israel-Palestine policy. He was a massive donor to the pro-Clinton Super PAC, and he’s a massive donor to the Democratic Party.
Most Americans do not care about Middle East policy. Outside of a handful of districts, there is basically no voting base that cares about Middle East policy. But folks like Sheldon Adelson on the GOP side and Haim Saban on the Democratic side care intensely about Middle East policy. Politicians aren’t complicated creatures. They care about votes and they care about money.