Last week the Anti Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee circulated a proposed “unity pledge” for American Jews which, according to a press release, was designed “to encourage other national organizations, elected officials, religious leaders, community groups and individuals to rally around bipartisan support for Israel while preventing the Jewish state from becoming a wedge issue in the upcoming campaign season.”
Most have understood that to mean taking the issue of the Middle East off the table in the upcoming presidential campaign.
Telling Americans to cut back on ventilating a core issue in American politics for fear that voters might rally around the advocate for one of the positions as opposed to the other, is, on its face, bizarre. And since the topic of Israel is not President Obama’s strong point, it smacks of downright partisanship to suggest that it should not be a robust part of the political debate.
Yes, the last thing our community needs is to see support for Israel become a partisan or “wedge” issue in the upcoming campaign. Standing with Israel should not be exclusively identified with one political party. Indeed, expressions of support for Israel and its security have been part of the presidential campaign landscape for decades now, with virtually all Republican and Democratic candidates more or less on the same page.
If the pledge is designed to discourage some of the more shrill attacks that argue that one candidate or another is out to destroy Israel, we might see the point. But is President Obama’s declared desire to reach out to the Muslim world by reevaluating certain of our foreign policy premises – which have benefited Israel immensely over the years – out of bounds?
And what of his war against the settlements? He is at odds with both Democrats and Republicans on the issue. Is that too off the table in terms of political debate?
And what of his embrace of the 1967 lines? Is that a taboo subject? Should Ed Koch’s recent support of a Republican congressional candidate as a means of demonstrating his unhappiness with Mr. Obama’s treatment of Israel been verboten?
We’ve had very few positive things to say about the liberal J Street lobbying group. But J Street’s reaction to the unity pledge is instructive: “You can have a unified support for Israel – for the state of Israel, for the concept of Israel, for its future and for its security – but [have] a vehement disagreement about how you get there. And that’s what we have.”
In other words, certain Jewish organizational leaders need to chill out. Their fear that Mr. Obama has been losing a significant amount of Jewish support is all too palpable. Isn’t that the obvious reason for this misguided effort?
We don’t recall a similar “unity” campaign in 2004, when President Bush was being assailed by liberal Jews for his warm relationship with the Likud government and clear tilting toward Israel even if it meant offending the delicate sensibilities of Yasir Arafat.