The vocal left-flank of the Democratic Party has recently attracted headlines for its controversial rebukes of Israel; in reality, many of these critiques extend to the highest levels of the party. Frontrunner presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders had already made apparent his disapproval of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his willingness to be more openly critical of Israeli policy during the primary debates leading up to the 2016 elections, yet while Sanders is hardly the first to make such public criticisms, many liberal American politicians have been reluctant in the past to confront the prime minister. However, the last two years of President Donald Trump’s reckless actions and his visibly chummy relationship with Netanyahu may have been instrumental in allaying fears of said criticisms’ political blowback, particularly when they focus on the prime minister himself.

The most recent rumblings began when Netanyahu pushed Bezalel Smotrich, the newly elected head of Habayit Hayehudi to forge a union with the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party with the expressed goal of making sure both crossed the electoral threshold (the Union of Right-Wing Parties did in fact enter the Knesset but earned a meager five mandates despite polls predicting a greater share of the vote). Senator Elizabeth Warren was quick to denounce the move, focusing on Netanyahu’s myriad actions as a threat to democracy, touching on both his cavorting with extremists and his many corruption charges. Texan Beto O’Rourke too commented at a campaign event that Netanyahu’s push for this union was further proof of the prime minister’s lack of good faith in negotiating a settlement with the P.L.O.

Netanyahu then upped the stakes even further when, hoping to boost his electoral fortunes, he promised to annex Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank. Here, the reaction was far more universal: along with O’Rourke and Sanders came criticism from more centrist Democrats like Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who made certain to emphasize her Israel bona fides. Rising star Pete Buttigieg, often described as a pro-Israel progressive followed a similar tack, decrying calls for annexation while noting that support for Israel does not coincide with support for the prime minister or his policies; a harsher variation was shared by O’Rourke who explicitly shamed Netanyahu as a racist, but expressed the importance of maintaining close ties with Israel in spite of the prime minister’s problematic behavior. Most significant of all were statements released by four of the most visibly pro-Israel members of Congress warning about the dangers of annexation. The group included Representatives Nita Lowey and Ted Deutch, both of whom had spoken out forcibly against  Representative Ilhan Omar’s controversial statements about Israel just weeks ago.

These comments are symbolic for a number of reasons: firstly, one can’t ignore the alacrity with which these warnings were made. In the past, such statements from an Israeli leader might have been brushed aside as problematic but practically harmless sloganeering. At worst, the Israelis might receive a weak slap on the wrist. In this instance, the reactions were a nearly instantaneous outpouring of condemnation, drawing a definitive line in the sand. Expansion of settlements has always been viewed as, at the very least, “unhelpful” by American administrations, but talk of annexation threatens to upend decades of American foreign policy and further tarnish the United States’ role as a credible mediator, perhaps irreparably so. Criticism of expansionist policies is not, and has never been, the sole purview of American left-wingers, instead running the gamut from politicians like Sanders to figures long associated with more hawkish positions (and, it should be noted, every past Republican administration), pointing to a far greater consensus on what is considered legitimate criticism of Israel among Democrats than is often portrayed in the media. Finally, and perhaps most importantly was the framing of criticism that deliberately differentiated between the actions of the Israeli government—and more specifically, the prime minister—and the affinity displayed towards the country itself. Blanket statements that conflated Netanyahu with a monolithic sea of Israelis were deliberately avoided in favor of criticizing policy that was seen as harming both states’ overlapping interests. Lest anyone view these comments singling out Netanyahu for opprobrium as problematic, a recent Pew survey actually reveals how close they hew to the public’s sentiment regarding Israel.

This duality brings to mind the events of last year, when actress and activist Natalie Portman courted controversy by cancelling her appearance at the Genesis Prize ceremony, ostensibly because of the Israeli government’s response to the Gaza border demonstrations. Initially pegged as yet another instance of BDS, Portman was quick to clarify that her decision not to attend stemmed primarily from her not wanting to legitimize the prime minister or his policies, while simultaneously making it abundantly clear that she both rejected the boycott campaign and celebrated and cherished her Israeli identity and the country’s accomplishments. Then, as now, there was a conscious effort to qualify the situation and move the debate away from the margins of both the right and left sides of the political spectrum. With the creation of a space in which nuanced criticism of Israeli policy is tolerated and embraced, the party has laid the groundwork for staving off far more extreme elements that make no distinction in their condemnations and champion a fatalistic worldview that sees isolation as the only possible way to change Israel’s behavior.

The real test, of course, will come if and when Netanyahu decides to make good on his annexation promise. Adept politician that he is, it is unlikely that the prime minister’s vision includes the immediate absorption of most or all of the West Bank into Israel. A more likely scenario involves relatively uncontroversial settlement blocs like Jerusalem suburb Ma’ale Adumim or parts of Gush Etzion, areas that are routinely included in peace plans as territory to be swapped for land within Israel proper. The reaction to these hypothetical actions by members of the Democratic Party must then assist in setting a two-fold precedent: making clear that the prime minister would bear the consequences for his actions when Democrats return to the seat of power while simultaneously preventing its leftist flank from pushing for far more putative actions that may be in turn be exploited by the Israeli right.