Vivek Ramaswamy and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley participate in the first debate of the GOP primary season on Aug, 23, 2023. (Photo/JTA-Getty Images)
Vivek Ramaswamy and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley participate in the first debate of the GOP primary season on Aug, 23, 2023. (Photo/JTA-Getty Images)

No Republicans have expressed support for the Israeli protest movement — yet. Here’s why they should at the next debate.

This story was originally published in the Forward. Click here to get the Forward’s free email newsletters delivered to your inbox.

When Republican presidential candidates face off in their second debate Sept. 27, we hope they will address an issue we raised in person at the first debate: the need for leaders of both political parties to express their support for Israel’s beleaguered democracy.

While many Democratic champions of Israel in Congress have spoken out in defense of Israeli democracy, and dozens of Democrats have co-sponsored a House resolution expressing support for the pro-democracy movement in Israel, not a single Republican member of Congress has expressed solidarity with the Israeli protesters. At least, not yet.

Just as efforts to strengthen the U.S.-Israel alliance require Democrats and Republicans to work together, it is imperative that leaders and activists on both sides of the American political divide oppose Israeli governmental efforts to weaken Israel’s Supreme Court or its Basic Laws protecting civil society.

The two of us — an Israeli-born scientist by training and now a leading activist in the fight for Israel’s democracy, and a Jewish-American political consultant — traveled the 850 miles from Philadelphia to Milwaukee to join local pro-democracy demonstrators at the last GOP debate. We urged the Republican Party’s presidential candidates to make the defense of Israel’s democratic institutions a priority.

Some of our friends suggested that Republicans would be hostile to our message and urged us not to go. We went anyway. And it turned out to be the right decision.

In Milwaukee, we positioned ourselves on the plaza outside of the debate venue to let those entering and exiting the event know that the actions of the Israeli government pose a threat to the U.S.-Israel relationship. We shared our view that the very foundation of the U.S.-Israel strategic relationship is under assault, and supporters of Israel across the political spectrum should view this with deep concern.

We spoke with dozens of self-identified the champions of Israel within the Republican Party who were drawn to our Israeli flags, asking each of them to make the defense of Israel’s democratic institutions a priority. We pointed out that, inside the hall, the backdrop of the debate stage itself projected the word “Democracy.” And we highlighted the three pillars sustaining the U.S.-Israel alliance: shared values of freedom and democracy, aligned strategic interests and steadfast support for a secure Israel by the American Jewish community and its allies.

Protesters with the group UnXeptable talk about Israeli democracy outside the GOP presidential candidate debate in Milwaukee. (Photo/Forward-Courtesy UnXeptable)
Protesters with the group UnXeptable talk about Israeli democracy outside the GOP presidential candidate debate in Milwaukee. (Photo/Forward-Courtesy UnXeptable)

The Republicans we engaged in conversation agreed with us that Israel has always been a beacon of stability and democracy in a region characterized by upheaval and authoritarianism. Several even acknowledged that Israel’s respect for the rule of law has driven innovation and progress, serving as a global exemplar. Most, however, were hearing for the first time that the Israeli government itself is now putting these things at risk.

Many asked for clarification of what exactly was going on in Israel. Those few that stayed for longer discussions agreed with us that supporters of Israel should reaffirm their support for Israel’s democracy. It wasn’t clear whether any of our curious or concerned interlocutors would actually prioritize this issue, but, given the stakes for Israel’s future, we knew we had to give this our best shot.

The Republicans who stopped to speak with us were not monolithic in their attitudes toward the Jewish state. Our efforts brought us face-to-face with Christian Evangelicals whose support for the Israeli government was unequivocal, and others who were surprisingly unenthusiastic about Prime Minister Netanyahu. One spoke of former President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and another recalled Trump’s complaint that Netanyahu didn’t stick with him as he challenged the results of the 2020 election.

Neither group seemed to know a thing about the hundreds of thousands of Israelis protesting against Israel’s beleagured prime minister. After explaining the situation to those who were interested, a handful politely disengaged. But an equal number indicated support for our efforts. Even this relatively small achievement underscored for us the value of reaching beyond our base.

In Milwaukee, a dozen of us who care passionately about this issue, including a local rabbi and several Jewish federation donors, were hoping that our message would be amplified by at least one of the Republican presidential candidates. That was not the case. But they will have several other opportunities to do so if our case begins to resonate within Republican circles.

Our experience in Milwaukee showed us the importance of engaging those with a range of priorities when it comes to Israel. Those of us in the U.S. who oppose the Israeli government’s judicial overhaul must be able to make the case to Republicans as well as Democrats. The next step is for pro-democracy activists to meet with Republican members of Congress to request that they co-sponsor the House resolution mentioned above. We have no choice but to continue this effort. Netanyahu must hear from Israel’s congressional champions on both sides of the political divide.

If the judicial reforms proposed by the Netanyahu coalition are allowed to advance, Israel’s national unity and security capabilities will be irreparably shattered, with enormous damage done to the U.S.-Israel relationship. This should be of immediate concern to all champions of a secure Israel, Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, Israeli-born and American-born Jews alike.

This article was originally published on the Forward.

Tali Reiner Brodetzki

Tali Reiner Brodetzki is an Israeli expat, currently working as an assistant professor of Integrated Science, Business and Technology at La Salle University in Philadelphia. She is a leading organizer of the local UnXeptable group in Philadelphia.

Brett Goldman

Brett Goldman is an American political consultant and lobbyist based in Philadelphia. He brings close to two decades of expertise navigating the intersections of business, government and politics in the United States, Israel and Africa.