Some 3,000 representatives are attending the meeting to discuss the most important challenges faced by the US Jewry and the ways to deal with them. Israel is still important to most American Jews, and they are concerned by the shaky state of relations between Israel and the United States.
After two weeks of lectures and meetings in the US on behalf of the Israel Public Diplomacy Forum (IPD), I realized that the ongoing crisis between Netanyahu and Obama has created a greater rift than imagined between Israel and the Democrats and US Jewry, which is mostly Democrat. This rift is a direct result of Netanyahu's conduct vis-à-vis Obama and the US Congress and the Democrats' shift to the left.
One of Israel's most important political assets in the US is the joint support it has received from the Democratic and Republican parties. They have both clashed on domestic and foreign affairs, but have been in complete agreement about Israel. The ability of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington to affect the US policy towards Israel and the region largely depends on this bipartisan support.
In recent years, the Democrats' support for Israel has deteriorated, and the gap between them and the Republicans has widened. Recent Gallup polls have revealed that 81 percent of Republicans sympathize with Israel, compared to only 60 percent of Democrats. When it comes to the conflict with the Palestinians, 83 percent of Republicans compared to only 48 percent of Democrats support the Israeli stance. In the Democratic Party convention, which reelected Obama as its presidential candidate in 2012, the unpleasant voices against Israel were stronger than ever.
America's Jews, which are mostly affiliated with the liberal camp, regularly vote for Democratic candidates for the presidency and Congress. In 2008, Obama gained the support of 78 percent of the Jewish voters, and in 2012 he was supported by 69 percent of them.
Netanyahu is seen by the US Jewry and by the Democrats as the prime minister who stood by the Republicans' candidate, Mitt Romney, in the 2012 presidential election. In his Congress speech, he appeared to be recruiting the Republicans for a battle against the Democratic president over the nuclear agreement with Iran. On the way, he lost the Democrats even more and damaged the bipartisan support infrastructure.
It's not just Netanyahu's policy which created the gap between the parties: Obama moved the Democrats in the more liberal and leftist direction, thereby deepening the rift with Israel.
Restoring the relationship with the Democrats is important beyond Obama's term, which will end in January 2017. There is a vital need to build the bridges which have been broken and renew the bipartisan support. Netanyahu must make this objective a top priority and do everything in his power to fulfill it. In light of their loyalty to the Democrats, America's Jews are the only element capable of mediating and rebuilding the bridges.
The left-wing Jewish lobby, J Street, which is close to Obama and claims to be pro-Israel, could have filled this role. Instead, it is focusing on attacking Netanyahu, and its sweeping support for the agreement with Iran destroyed the little credibility it had left. It's time for America's Democratic Jews to establish a serious and responsible body to help restore Israel's relationship with their party.
Prof. Eytan Gilboa is an expert on the United States, director of the Center for International Communication and a senior research fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.