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All Hands On Deck

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The American Jewish Committee’s annual survey of Jewish public opinion has been released and the numbers do not lie. Down from the stratospheric 78 percent of Jews who voted for him in 2008, President Obama currently enjoys a 57 percent approval rating in the larger Jewish community.

These statistics are instructive because America’s Orthodox Jews have not voted en masse for decades. And Washington knows it. The Orthodox community’s recent paltry voter turnout — mostly the result of sheer laziness and indifference — has sorely undercut the full potential of our political clout. Renowned political strategist Karl Rove recently made this point. “In order for your needs and concerns to be addressed at the highest levels of government,” he said, “the [Orthodox] Jewish community must become a serious and consistent voting bloc.”

Our lack of political activism is inexcusable in the best of times. But now, given the tenuous state of local, national, and international affairs for the Jewish people, it is unforgivable.

Over the past year, respected pundits have consistently painted an ominous picture of inept U.S. foreign policy – particularly as regards its shortsighted approach to Middle Eastern affairs. From the eloquent pens of Charles Krauthammer, Jeff Jacoby, Jonathan Tobin, Caroline Glick, and Ralph Peters, the message is consistent and undeniable: the current administration has inexplicably targeted its sole Mideast ally, and in doing so has rendered Israel (and the United States) considerably more vulnerable to devastating attack.

Though the talking points always include the words “unbreakable bonds” or “no daylight between us,” the White House and State Department have made it abundantly clear that America no longer shares exclusively mutual interests with Israel. Many prominent American Jews have vigorously protested. Glaringly, others have not.

The administration’s foreign policy shift vis-à-vis Israel threatens to destroy, virtually overnight, decades of solidarity between the United States and the only country in the Middle East that truly respects democratic ideals at virtually any cost. This inconsistent approach has significant national and regional security implications for both the U.S. and Israel.

Through mixed messages and poor communication efforts to address the legitimate fears and concerns of our community, the White House has only exacerbated the crisis. It is telling when Abe Foxman, Ed Koch and Sarah Palin agree on an issue. All Americans — certainly all American Jews — have good reason to be alarmed. But are they?

Unchecked by the threat of political ramifications from the large Jewish voting bloc that elected him, and emboldened by the wholehearted support of organizations such as J Street, Americans for Peace Now, Israel Policy Forum and others, the Obama administration has shown no restraint in its harsh and unyielding posture against all things Israeli.

Fidelity to democratic ideals, reverence for the approach adopted by prior administrations (both Republican and Democrat) to Mideast policy, and appreciation of the unique partnership that has seen the U.S. and Israel jointly prosper through countless seismic geopolitical shifts – all are seemingly absent from the inner circles of the Obama administration.

Is it any wonder that many Jews are outraged when administration representatives repeatedly tell Israel it needs to do more for peace as Hizbullah arms itself to the north, Hamas radicalizes in the south, and the Iranian nuclear threat grows unabated?

During meetings in Washington this past week with several members of Congress, it became all too apparent that a major disconnect exists between Democrats and a concerned Jewish public. Experienced Congressional members on the left, who should know better, seemed truly taken aback at the resentment and anxiety of the Orthodox Jewish community. Frankly, it is their lack of understanding and empathy that is really surprising.

The Jewish community’s concern for the safety and security of Israel has always transcended partisan politics. So it should hardly have come as a surprise that the recent Biden/Netanyahu contretemps and the subsequent fallout hit a raw nerve. So where are the Democrats? To this point, a small handful of Congressional Democrats have publicly voiced their concern with the rhetoric emanating from the White House, but the majority of Democrats have cautiously toed the party line and remained mostly silent. Where is their strength and leadership?

Those stalwarts in Congress who share and promote our views are actively seeking our voice. Must we wait for the U.S. to abstain on an anti-Israel vote at the UN before we awaken from our current apathetic state? Is it insignificant that the prime minister of Israel was compelled to cancel his plans to attend a U.S. nuclear summit, sponsored by the president of the United States himself, for fear that the newfangled American nuclear doctrine will further isolate Israel and force it into an indefensible corner from which it cannot emerge?

About the Author: Chaskel Bennett is a writer, respected activist and member of the Board of Trustees of Agudath Israel of America. He can be contacted at chaskelbennett@gmail.com.

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