A new book by foreign policy pundit Peter Beinart, The Crisis of Zionism, seems certain to reignite the debate over President Obama’s feelings toward Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the focus will be a little different this time around. It will be not on his exposure to the likes of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, William Ayres or Rashid Khalidi but rather on the prominent members of the Chicago Jewish community who took him under their wing.
Mr. Beinart writes (in an excerpt of the book that appeared in Newsweek):
The story of Obama’s relationship to Netanyahu and his American Jewish allies is, fundamentally, a story of acquiescence. Obama took office with a distinctly progressive vision of Jewish identity and state, one shaped by the Chicago Jewish community that helped launch his political career. Three years later – after a bitter struggle with the Israeli government and the American Jewish establishment – that vision is all but gone.Obama entered the White House after an adulthood spent – more than any predecessor – in the company of Jews. Most of his key legal mentors were Jews (Abner Mikva, for example); many of his biggest donors were Jews; his chief political consultant, David Axelrod, was a Jew; he lived across the street from a synagogue. And for the most part, the Jews Obama knew best were progressives, shaped by the civil-rights movement and alienated from mainstream American Jewish organizations over Israel.
Mr. Beinart goes on to say that this all accounted for the fact that
Obama’s initial statements about Israel often mirrored the liberal Zionism of his Jewish friends. Like them, he embraced the progressive aspects of Israeli society and Jewish tradition while critiquing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank…. In the words of Rabbi Arnold Wolf, an earlier supporter who ran the synagogue across the street from Obama’s house, Obama “was on the line of [the dovish Israeli group] Peace Now.”
Indeed, during his 2008 run for the White House, candidate Obama said that being pro-Israel does not mean hewing the Likud line.
According to Mr. Beinart, political reality eventually set in and President Obama abandoned his push for a settlement freeze and no longer stated publicly that any Israeli-Palestinian agreement would have to be based on 1967 lines with land swaps. Of course, Mr. Obama’s new, more restrained approach ignores the issue of Israeli retention of the major settlements in any final agreement – something that had been recognized by President George W. Bush – and thus preserves his fealty to the vision of his early supporters.
And that is precisely why many of us will continue to wonder whether Mr. Obama will revert to form should he win in November and venture into a second term unconcerned with having to face the voters again.