The Celebrate Israel Festival on May 31 at Pier 94, slated to be the largest gathering to date of Israeli-Americans in New York.
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?
For all intents and purposes, construction in Jerusalem has come to a halt. Must Israel be forced to cede control of large swaths of Jerusalem before it becomes blatantly obvious that this president has, in fifteen months, eviscerated six decades of the American-Israeli partnership by unilaterally imposing his vision for “peace”?
Is there anything that can induce the administration to reverse course? Yes — the political keys to power imparted by the levers pulled by the voting public this coming November. The Jewish community must make it clear to Washington, immediately and unambiguously, that the stark reversal of decades of unity between the United States and Israel is harmful to America’s safety — and unacceptable to American Jews.
As American patriots and vigilant protectors of Israel, our united community will use every iota of our consolidated voting weight to support our views. Though the ever-growing Orthodox vote does not carry the largest numbers in the greater Jewish community, a strong united showing at the polls will in all probability influence various Congressional races.
A meaningful message must be sent to Washington insiders — Democrats and Republicans alike — and specifically to Congressional members who so publicly flaunt their pro-Israel credentials. While signing on to pro-Israel letters is a good and significant first step, Congress has effectively acquiesced to the administration’s damaging foreign policies, and this is intolerable to their constituencies.
Our elected officials must either demonstrably challenge this administration’s approach to Mideast policy and international relations or face an anxious and energized electorate. All candidates must know their actions or inactions will be heavily scrutinized. Candidates who share our ideals will be rewarded. Those who don’t will hear from us loud and clear. And we’d better back it up come November.
Wherever our community has a presence — in California, Ohio, Texas, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York — we must identify and support Congressional candidates (Democrats or Republicans) who share and identify with the views of our community. Our activism is vital to the process of gaining a stronger voice for our interests.
Our adversaries walk the halls of Congress indoctrinating members in their ideas and goals. We too must encourage those who can to visit and engage Congressional members, thereby creating a face for our causes. Be it at the home office or in Washington, we must make our positions clear. Don’t just count on AIPAC — get involved.
Community leaders must determine what methods will galvanize the Orthodox Jewish community and unite its tens of thousands of voters. Numerous Congressional seats across the country are up for grabs, and the 2010 midterm election is destined to be one of the most important in decades. We need to stop shaking our heads in disbelief and roll up our sleeves, initiate community-wide voter registration drives and turn out the vote this coming November in unprecedented numbers. If we don’t, we must shamefacedly accept the blame for the harsh consequences sure to follow.
We have an opportunity to send a clarion call to the White House that the direction of the ship of state is drastically off course. We are taking on water. The work to change that begins now. Our voice — the voice of the unified Orthodox Jewish community — has not nearly realized its potential. The eyes of history are watching. All hands on deck.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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