The intense sniping between the outgoing and incoming administrations over the stalled Middle East peace process is the latest sign of a growing partisan divide over Israel.
President-elect Trump, with the support of the overwhelming majority of Republicans in Congress, accused the Obama administration of "total disdain and disrespect" toward Israel Wednesday. Shortly afterward, Secretary of State John Kerry defended President Obama's decision not to veto a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements with pointed criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government.
"If the choice is one state … Israel can either be Jewish or democratic," Kerry said. "It cannot be both, and it won't ever really be at peace."
It is highly unusual for an administration to lay out the rationale for a change in policy toward a close ally with less than a month remaining in office, especially with the knowledge that its position contradicts that of the president who will be taking office in January.
But the hostility between Obama and Netanyahu is nothing new, and it appears to be part of a sea change in how the liberal wing of the Democratic Party views the United States' special relationship with Israel.
"What's sad is the notion that we have had unwavering bipartisan support for Israel is more of an illusion than a reality," said Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. "We've developed a huge partisan gap partisan between Republicans and Democrats on the issue of whether they are pro-Israel or not."
For decades, there was a strong bipartisan consensus in favor of support for Israel. If anything, Republicans were slightly more likely to dissent from this mainstream view than Democrats.
"You used to be able to find critics of Israel in the Republican Party," wrote the liberal journalist John B. Judis in the New Republican in 2014, mentioning GOP senators Charles Matthias and Chuck Percy. "But the Democrats, and particularly liberal Democrats, stood squarely behind whatever the Israeli government was doing."
When Ted Kennedy ran to the left of President Jimmy Carter in the Democratic primaries in 1980, he ran to his right by today's standards on Israel.
"Our alliance with Israel is an alliance based on common democratic ideals and mutual benefit," Kennedy said in a speech that year. "We must never barter the freedom and future of Israel for a barrel of oil — or foolishly try to align the Arab world with us, no matter what cost."
The roles have now reversed. "With just a couple outliers, Republicans in the House and Senate are almost 100 percent in favor of the pro-Israel agenda," said Brooks. Meanwhile, there is growing Democratic dissent. Bernie Sanders ran as the most progressive major candidate for the party's presidential nomination this year and was far more critical of Israel than Hillary Clinton.
When Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress last year, nearly 60 Democrats boycotted, including Sanders, rising liberal star Elizabeth Warren, eventual 2016 Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine and Jim Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in the House.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., called Netanyahu's speech a "tawdry and high-handed stunt." Rep. Betsy McCollum, D-Minn., compared it to a "campaign event." Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., said, "I'm offended as an American." Rangel, who has since retired from the House under the cloud of scandal, tweeted, "Bibi: If you have a problem with our POTUS's foreign policy meet me at AIPAC but not on the House floor."
These comments were a model of diplomacy and restraint compared to some Democrats have directed at Netanyahu over the past several years. A "senior Obama administration official" called Netanyahu a "chickenshit" in a background conversation with the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg. Sanders' short-lived national Jewish outreach coordinator once wrote, "Fuck you, Bibi."
Even Bill Clinton reportedly left his first meeting with Netanyahu, during the Likud leader's earlier stint as prime minister in 1996, fuming, "Who the fuck does he think he is? Who is the fucking superpower here?"
Pro-Israel Democrats see Netanyahu — or more precisely, the conservative Netanyahu's poor relations with center-left U.S. governments — as the sticking point.
"It doesn't matter that the president and the prime minister don't like each other," Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., told the Los Angeles Times. "I'm mostly concerned about the U.S.-Israel relationship and that it remains strong and remains bipartisan. … The minute Israel becomes a partisan issue, then the U.S.-Israel relationship suffers."
Yet Israel has been an area of contention between Democratic and Republican presidential candidates since at least 1996. It was that year's GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole who sponsored the bill that required the relocation of the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a shift President George H.W. Bush and his Secretary of State James Baker.
"It's very easy to chalk this up to a personal animus on the part of this administration," said Brooks, a "one-off" grudge match between Obama and Netanyahu. But some of these fissures were apparent during Ariel Sharon's Kadima government as well.
Democrats booed an attempt recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital during their 2012 convention (the motion also would have inserted a mention of God in the platform). There was a further effort to dilute pro-Israel language in the platform four years later.
"The troubling trend is where the rank-and-file grassroots is," Brooks said.
The pro-Israel consensus among Republican voters isn't contestable. Gallup found Republicans sympathize with the Israelis over the Palestinians by a margin of 79 percent to 7 percent. The Pew Research Center came up with similar numbers: Republicans prefer Israel 75 percent to 7 percent, conservative Republicans 79 percent to 4 percent. GOP-leaning indepen adents are pro-Israel by 72 percent to 9 percent.
White evangelicals, who supply about a third of the Republican vote in presidential elections, are more than twice as likely than Jews to believe God gave Israel to the Jewish people. Only Orthodox Jews are slightly more likely to believe this.
What's happening with public opinion among Democratic voters is subtler. They still sympathize with Israel over the Palestinians by 53 percent to 23 percent, according to Gallup, or 43 percent to 29 percent, according to Pew. But liberal Democrats say they sympathize with the Palestinians by 40 percent to 33 percent and Democratic leaners are divided almost equally.
As younger Democrats become more secular and committed to multiculturalism, they become more sympathetic to the Palestinians and perhaps somewhat more receptive to arguments from Democratic leaders like Kerry and Carter that Israel is somehow at risk of becoming an "apartheid state."
Progressive activists in particular find it harder to identify with Israeli governments that are more conservative, an Israeli economy that is become less socialistic and more market-oriented and is strongly supported by socially conservative Christians.
Even many Jewish liberals now argue that the best way for Israel to protect itself over the long term is to make territorial and political concessions to the Palestinians of the type favored by the Obama administration and those to its left. One prominent progressive organization is J Street, which bills itself as "the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans" but is frequently criticized by the pro-Israel community. J Street did not respond to requests for comment.
There nevertheless remain significant pockets of support for Israel among Democratic elected officials. Incoming Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer opposed the Obama administration's UN Security Council abstention, as did former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
But Wasserman Schultz could be succeeded at the DNC by Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., whose harsh rhetoric about Israel and support for boycotting, sanctioning and divesting from Israeli institutions has drawn criticism, as have his past dalliances with the Nation of Islam.
That Schumer supports Ellison's candidacy for DNC chairman doesn't inspire much confidence among pro-Israel voices. "The question is which Chuck Schumer really leads," said Brooks. "How is he going to deal with a Senate Democratic caucus that doesn't all share his views?"
"The Iran deal was a perfect case in point," he added. "[Schumer] came out in opposition to the Iran deal, but he came out in opposition in name only. He couldn't even get his own junior senator, Senator Gillibrand, to stand up to the Iran deal."
Even many conservative Republicans say it is important that support for Israel revert to its bipartisan norm.
"Our hope at Faith and Freedom Coalition is that reasonable Democrats like Sens. Menendez, Schumer, Manchin, Casey and others will reject these feckless flailings of an expired political regime on its way out of office," said Tim Head, executive director of a pro-Israel Christian conservative group. "These latest antics at the U.N. are little more than the waning afterglow of a setting foreign policy agenda that soon will be corrected and discarded. But it will take a unified effort by Republicans and Democrats alike to rehabilitate the global reputation of the United States."