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When President Obama met with 15 representatives of American Jewish organizations on July 13, he told them, Haaretz reported, that he wanted to help Israel achieve peace but that if they were to benefit from his well-intentioned counsel, Israelis must “engage in serious self-reflection.”
The breathtaking condescension toward the Jewish state that this remark betrays as well as the implicit dismissal of the past 16 years of Middle East history says a lot about Obama and the direction in which American foreign policy is heading. The fact that Israel has already gone through several periods of serious self-reflection and made costly sacrifices in terms not only of territory but in blood has no significance for the president.
Here a just a few items the president seems to think don’t matter in assessing the situation: The failure of a generation of peacemaking including the Oslo Accords and the successor agreements associated with that process, the 2000 Camp David Summit, the second intifada, Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, the subsequent use of that territory as a terror base and the failed attempt just last year to get the Palestinian Authority to take yes for an answer on statehood for their people.
Rather than play down his penchant for quarreling with Israel, Obama is proud of it. Indeed, he asserts that such conduct is actually a virtue, since his hammering of Israel is merely “honest talk” that should be interpreted as the highest form of friendship.
Though Obama speaks to Jewish groups of equal pressure on the Arabs, everything the administration has done and said in its short time in office makes it clear the president’s sole target is the government in Jerusalem, not the terrorists running Gaza or the corrupt Fatah functionaries in Ramallah.
Taken together with his appeasement of the Arab and Muslim world as reflected in his Cairo speech and a feckless policy of engagement with Iran that continues to extend legitimacy to a regime that has already forfeited its credibility with its own people, one might think Obama would be in trouble with his Jewish supporters. Though there have been rumblings from some Jewish leaders expressing worries about Obama’s attitude to Israel, the passive response to the downgrading of the alliance with Israel cannot be denied.
There are those who believe the continued support for Obama can be traced to a lack of enthusiasm on the part of most American Jews for Israel’s current government and settlements though others go so far as to say that it also shows a general lack of interest in, let alone support for Israel, among liberal Jews.
It is true that unlike the Israeli left, which has been completely marginalized by the Palestinians’ rejection of peace, the Jewish left in the United States is currently riding high. The spectacle of the small J Street lobby – a group that exposed its extreme nature last December when it opposed Israeli military efforts to stop missile attacks on its southern towns from Gaza – strutting into the White House alongside representatives of large mainstream groups illustrates the new political reality of Washington in 2009.
But the overwhelming majority of American Jews who voted for Obama last year did not back him because they anticipated he would pick pointless fights with Israel to advance a peace process that Palestinians scorn. Most did so because they are partisan Democrats and share his views on domestic issues. But there is no way he would have won as much as three-quarters of the Jewish vote had not most believed him when he claimed he was a supporter of Israel. Contrary to the boasts of the left and the fears of the right, most Jewish Democrats still care deeply about Israel.
Some of those who vouched for Obama during last year’s campaign have said the president’s offenses are not yet egregious enough to warrant a rebuke. Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, a man whose long and honorable record of support for Israel is beyond question, attempted to defend Obama’s positions in a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal and then later in responses to critiques of that article.
While Dershowitz continues to believe that having a popular liberal Democratic president who claims to be a supporter of Israel is good for the Jews even if some of his policies are open to question, his half-hearted apologias betray a worry that perhaps he was fooled by the president’s campaign promises.
About the Author: Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor of Commentary magazine and chief political blogger at www.commentarymagazine.com, where this first appeared. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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