DNC chair Wasserman Schultz: Don't make Israel a partisan issue (VIDEO)

Obama's recent Middle East policy speech didn't significantly hurt his support from Jewish voters, says Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the DNC.

Michael Bonfigli / The Christian Science Monitor
Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz meets with reporters at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor, at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, DC, on May 26.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said the damage caused to President Obama’s support from Jewish voters by his speech discussing Israel’s borders has been overstated.

She also called for a non-partisan approach to Israel and accused a Republican Jewish group of putting its political interests first.

“To suggest that the president did significant damage to his support in the Jewish community is a gross overstatement,” the Florida Congresswoman said Thursday at a Monitor-sponsored breakfasts for reporters.

In a speech last week, Mr. Obama said that Israel’s 1967 borders should be a starting point for Middle East peace talks. The proposal was criticized by members of Congress from both parties and by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to Washington this week.

The controversy’s political risk for Democrats is that it could cost the party support from a key constituency. In 2008, Obama got the votes from 8 of 10 American Jewish voters – who are concentrated in strategically important states including Florida and Ohio.

The Republicans are certainly going to attempt to make it an issue,” she noted.

In defending the president, Representative Wasserman Schultz argued that Mr. Obama’s position on Israel’s borders “was essentially what has been American policy since President Clinton.”

"Everyone who is involved in advancing the cause of peace and everyone that calls themselves legitimately pro-Israel believes that we should not make Israel a partisan issue,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Wasserman Schultz quoted Mr. Netanyahu's remarks at a private meeting with various Jewish groups: “When it comes to Israel, we need to erase the aisle" – referring to the aisle separating the political parties in the US House of Representatives.

“Unfortunately," she added, "I think there are organizations that claim to be pro-Israel that are partisan first and pro-Israel second. And I think, unfortunately, the way the Republican Jewish Coalition has conducted itself is they put their Republicanism in front of their pro-Israel stance.”

In a statement posted on the organization’s website, Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matthew Brooks disagreed. “It is important for both of us to continue to speak out freely when individuals in our parties break from a position of support for Israel,” he said.

“I hope you agree with me that no one – in either party – whether it is the President of the United States, a candidate for President, or a rank and file member – should be shielded from criticism if their positions are harmful to Israel’s well-being," Mr. Brooks said. "Covering up anti-Israel positions by gagging debate about them doesn’t help anyone; instead it only protects those who hope to get away with their anti-Israel positions.”

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