In case you haven’t yet had the pleasure, you can read Commentary’s latest symposium, “Obama, Israel & American Jews: The Challenge” on the magazine’s website (www.commentarymagazine.com
Prominent American Jews ranging from Alan Dershowitz to Abraham Foxman to Ed Koch were asked give their take on the challenge posed to Israel and the U.S. Jewish community by the tone and policies of the Obama administration, and whether those policies will lead Jewish voters to reconsider their support of the president and his party.
Most of the respondents were skeptical about American Jews’ readiness to abandon the Democratic ship. As former AIPAC executive director Morris J. Amitay puts it: “For Jewish American Obama supporters, the time for giving this administration the benefit of the doubt should be over . A great deal of the responsibility for getting the administration back on the right course, for both Israel and America, now falls on Obama’s Jewish supporters, who must make their concerns known .
“I would be pleasantly surprised if my liberal co-religionists were up to this task – but I fear that I will be disappointed.”
Much of the pessimism voiced in the symposium was based on the fact that Jewish voters knew all about Obama’s past personal and political associations and voted for him anyway.
“Sure, Obama mouthed a few bromides about Israel’s security during the campaign,” writes syndicated columnist Mona Charen, “but Jewish voters, like other Americans, were aware that this candidate’s history was uniquely hostile to Israel. They knew of Obama’s tame attendance at Jeremiah Wright’s church (which gave Louis Farrakhan a ‘lifetime achievement award’ and offered space in its bulletin to Hamas). They were aware of his friendships with Bill Ayers and Rashid Khalidi and of his affection for Third World causes .”
Though Charen concludes that “Arguably, Israel’s security was not a high priority for the 78 percent of Jews who voted for Obama,” she notes that “Israel has better friends in America than American Jews. A 2008 poll found that 82 percent of American Christians believed they had a ‘moral and Biblical’ obligation to support Israel (including 89 percent of evangelicals). A 2010 Gallup survey found that 85 percent of Republicans sympathize more with Israel than with the Palestinians. The figure for Democrats was 48 percent . If Israel’s relationship with its most important ally depended only on American Jews, a frightening situation would be even worse.”
Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby concurs with Charen that “Long before his election as president, it was clear that Barack Obama felt little of the traditional American warmth for Israel or any particular repugnance for the enemies that Israel and America have in common . Yet many American Jews chose to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, telling themselves that he could be numbered, as Alan Dershowitz wrote at the time, ‘among Israel’s strongest supporters.’ Only the willfully blind could believe that now. And many American Jews are willfully blind .”
As to whether most American Jews would abandon a Democratic presidential nominee because of his or her perceived animus toward Israel, Jacoby responds: “There is no reason to think so . Reams of data confirm that solidarity with Israel is now far stronger among Republicans and conservatives than among Democrats and liberals. That is why if they are forced to choose between standing with Israel and standing with the Democratic Party, many American Jews will simply deny that any choice must be made.”
For Jonathan Kellerman, bestselling novelist and professor of clinical pediatrics and psychology at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, “The only surprise about the tension between the Obama administration and Israel is that anyone is surprised . The greater issue isn’t that Obama is no great friend of Israel and never will be. The fascinatingly perverse tendency of Jews to vote against their self-interest is. Even with my psychological training, I don’t understand it. However, it is nothing new.
“Our history is rife with fractiousness and the tendency to over-intellectualize and to complicate simple issues of self-preservation. To some extent, our ability to promote an infinite array of opinions has contributed to the richness of our culture. Often, however, it has lead to tragedy. Let’s not forget that it was a certain group of Jews that invited the Romans into Jerusalem.”
These selected quotes merely scratch the surface. Set aside some time to read the entire symposium – a few of the 31 respondents actually attempt a defense of Obama, and their comments may well be the most enlightening if only because they illustrate the weakness of the pro-Obama side of the debate.
Jason Maoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org