If 2016 has shown us anything, it’s that America is more divided than ever. The presidential election has shown a stronger presence from the extremes of both the left and the right than ever before. Americans have grown disdain and anger for those who do not identify with their political party. As people move to the extremes, stubborn partisan idealism has prevented civil discourse and open-minded debate. A great divide has grown between a Democratic White House and a Republican Congress, and our government has gridlocked.
Pure partisanship will only present a barrier to progress. This past week, I attended AIPAC’s Saban Leadership Seminar. AIPAC is a bipartisan organization with the goal of promoting the U.S.-Israel relationship through lobbying and activism. Participants at the conference held various political beliefs, and both Democrats and Republicans were well-represented. However, everyone came together around the one issue of Israel. Through open-minded discussion, I found that, although many of the participants did not identify with the same party as me, we agreed on more than we thought we ever would. There was not a complete consensus, and there never will be, but with open-mindedness and a willingness to compromise, we can settle our differences.
This past week, President Obama refused to veto a UN Security Council Resolution condemning Israel’s occupation of land beyond “the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem.” This resolution calls the Old City, the holiest Jewish site, occupied territory, and demands that Israel cease all activity in the area. The U.S. has, in the past, vetoed such policies against Israel, and many pro-Israel advocates, including myself, are furious with Obama for refusing to do so. Some have gone so far as to say that Obama is against Israel (our only democratic ally in the Middle East), but I do not believe that is the case. Instead, I believe that the liberal Obama is at odds with conservative Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who continues to push for expanded settlements. Obama has shown support for Israel in the past with actions such as giving Israel the largest military aid package ever. Obama's lack of action at the UN is simply his final blow in a long-standing conflict between him and Netanyahu, and this act of partisan bickering has disastrous consequences for both Israel's security and its relationship with the U.S.
The partisan divide not only creates tensions in foreign affairs, but it also frequently hinders the operation of our government domestically. The most notable example is Congress’s failure to vote on Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee to fill the currently empty seat on the Supreme Court. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised that the Senate would not consider any Obama nominee, despite the fact that the seat has been vacant for nearly a year. I’m not saying that the Senate is required to confirm Garland, but by stalling the confirmation vote, Senate Republicans are lessening the effectiveness of the Court, one of the nation’s most important institutions. With a vacant seat, there is now an even number of members on the Court, creating the possibility of a tie vote that would prevent a ruling on a case. We have seen several cases this year that the Court could not decide, all because Senate Republicans refused to cross the aisle and work with President Obama on filling the ninth seat.
While partisan divides bring governments to a halt, bipartisanship is a catalyst for achievement. AIPAC, for example, is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the U.S., rivaling the NRA, despite having only nine lobbyists on staff. AIPAC succeeds where others fail because of its ability to reach both parties. Its supporters represent a wide range of political opinions, enabling it to influence legislators on both sides. AIPAC supporters do not agree on every issue, as I learned firsthand at Saban, but at the end of the day, we all come together to fight for the cause that unites us— Israel’s survival and perseverance. If America as a whole takes the same approach that AIPAC has on a broader scale, the nation will benefit greatly. At the end of the day, Democrats and Republicans both want to see America thrive; they just have different opinions on how to accomplish that goal. However, if we can make America a higher priority than our partisan agendas, we will make compromise much easier to reach, and we will push America forward.