Republicans Won't Defy Trump on His Holocaust Statement - and Israel Should Pay Attention

The way a resolution to restate Jewish focus of Holocaust was shot down sends unmistakable signal when it comes to new rules of power in D.C, Jewish community and, by extension, Israel.

Republican members of the House of Representatives gather in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill as the 115th Congress convened in Washington, January 3, 2017.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Any hope of a congressional repudiation of the White House Holocaust Remembrance Day statement that left out Jews and anti-Semitism fell victim to partisan politics on Tuesday.

A proposed resolution in the House of Representatives would have contravened the White House statement, declaring "the indisputable fact that the Nazi regime targeted the Jewish people in its perpetration of the Holocaust and calling on every entity in the executive branch to affirm that fact.”

Introduced by Democratic Rep. Joseph Crowley of New York last week, the resolution would have pushed back against the statement and the White House’s defense of the decision as an intentional move to be “inclusive” of all Holocaust victims. U.S. President Donald Trump’s spokespeople have repeatedly refused to express regret or apologize for it, after nearly every American Jewish organization criticized it – including those who support the new president, like the Republican Jewish Coalition and the Zionist Organization of America. From his podium, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer called such criticism “ridiculous,” “disappointing” and “pathetic.”

In an effort to push the resolution forward on Tuesday, Crowley, who serves as the House Democratic Caucus Chairman, took to the floor and argued that Congress must “restate the truth as clearly as we can – the White House was wrong on this.” The congressman added that “it is beyond belief that President Trump would allow a Holocaust remembrance statement to go out under the banner of his White House that did not discuss the genocide perpetrated against the Jewish people.”

According to a report in the Washington Examiner, the declaration was made during the debate concerning three resolutions disapproving of three Obama administration rules about the Bureau of Land Management and Education Department. Crowley attempted to defeat a procedural vote in order to force Republicans to consider his resolution.

Crowley was ultimately unsuccessful. Republicans rejected the his plan in a party-line vote.

The way this played out sends an unmistakable signal when it comes to the new rules of power in Washington, the American Jewish community and, by extension, Israel. Under the Obama administration, whenever the winds seemed to be blowing cold from the White House or the Democratic Party on an issue of concern, there was always a last recourse of support in Congress in the Republican Party. While turning to GOP supporters didn’t automatically tip the scales on issues of concern to American Jews (usually Israel), it was at least an opportunity for advocates to counterpunch and make a strong public statement, putting pressure on the executive branch.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu most famously took advantage of this dynamic during the divisive debate on the Iran nuclear agreement by getting himself an invitation to address the Senate to argue against Obama’s deal.

To be sure, a statement about the Holocaust is not the same as a high-stakes deal. But the dynamics of how it played out are instructive and Israel should pay close attention.

When Crowley first sent out a “Dear Colleagues” letter to rally support for his resolution, his intention was to make it bipartisan. That idea hit a brick wall when over 100 Democrats but not a single Republican signed on.

The congressman's plan, according to a report in The Hill, had been to try and force a floor vote on the matter by collecting 218 signatures, for which he would “need support from 24 Republicans to bypass GOP leaders and bring the resolution directly to the floor.” That plan failed, too, and there was no indication that Republicans were at all interested in negotiating softer language.

However, the fact that Republicans in Congress will not stand with the Jews on the Holocaust statement should serve as a warning: When a conflict occurs between the Jewish community and the Trump White House, it can’t look to Congress for any kind of relief.

When it comes to Donald Trump, you are either with him or against him. That point was hammered home on Monday, when Trump aide Sebastian Gorka told a conservative talk show host that “asinine” and “absurd” criticism of the Holocaust statement was solely driven by a desire to “attack the president.”

Netanyahu seems to be getting the message. He has clearly been taking his cues from the Trump team, refusing to criticize it over the problematic Holocaust statement and – like the White House – remaining silent about the wave of anti-Semitism that has resulted in repeated waves of bomb threats against over 50 Jewish institutions in the United States.

Anyone who hopes or believes Netanyahu will raise either of these issues when he meets with Trump in Washington next week will surely be disappointed.

The harsh new reality puts Netanyahu in a weakened and utterly Trump-dependent position. His government has alienated much of the congressional Democrat leadership over the past eight years, and in their minority position, the friendships that do remain are of limited value.

Now he must see clearly that if his longtime pals in the GOP are forced choose between Israel and their man in the White House, there is little doubt now – if there ever was – who he will choose.