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Monday, June 07, 2010

Obama, Israel and American Jews

Jeff Jacoby wrote this article as part of a symposium in the current issue of Commentary. It's spot-on.
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. As Commentary's editors suggest, his exceptionally close ties to the man he described as his spiritual mentor, the Israel-bashing Reverend Jeremiah Wright, should have given pause to any pro-Israel voter. So should the persistence with which he vowed to undertake direct presidential diplomacy with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- the virulently anti-American, anti-Israel, anti-Semitic president of Iran -- "without preconditions." 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.

Time and again, Obama has made clear both his lack of sympathy for the Jewish state and his keen desire to ingratiate himself with Arab and Muslim autocrats. The disparities in the administration's tone and attitude have been striking. For the prime minister of Israel, there have been humiliating snubs and telephoned harangues; for the rulers of Iran, invitations to "engage" and sycophantic New Year greetings. When Damascus was reported to be arming Hezbollah with Scud missiles, Obama's secretary of state observed mildly that the US "would like to have a more balanced and positive relationship with Syria." When Israel announced plans to build more homes in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem, by contrast, the secretary of state angrily condemned the announcement as "an insult to the United States."


Is it likely that two-thirds of the overwhelming majority of Jews who backed Obama in 2008 would abandon him in 2012, assuming he runs for re-election and his animus toward Israel persists? To ask it another way: Would most American Jews vote against a Democratic nominee out of concern for Israel?

There is no reason to think so. American Jews have been stalwart Democrats for nearly a century, and their partisan affiliation shows no sign of weakening -- not even as the Democratic Party's support for Israel grows steadily weaker. When Gallup earlier this year surveyed Americans on their sympathies in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 85 percent of Republicans expressed support for Israel -- but only 48 percent of Democrats did 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. As evidence, consider a recent Quinnipiac University poll, in which fully 50 percent of Jews described Obama as a "strong supporter of Israel" -- a far higher proportion than the 19 percent of evangelicals, 23 percent of Protestants, and 35 percent of Catholics who said the same. Denial is not an uncommon response to cognitive dissonance, and a goodly number of Jewish Democrats will find it easier to keep telling themselves that Obama is strongly pro-Israel than to re-think their party loyalty.
Read it all.


At 12:21 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

American Jews will give up being pro-Israel long before they give being liberal. And if they have to choose - it will not be coming down on the side of Israel.

What could go wrong indeed

At 2:24 AM, Blogger Sunlight said...

If things are left how they are, I would agree with NormanF. However, there are steps Israel could take... Here's one:

Well, as I've described here before, on a micro level, Israel's recommendations are still unresolved. A bunch of our local folks went the the AIPAC convention in D.C. before the election. They heard candidate Obama speak. They came back, accompanied by somebody from the Israeli consulate, and just drooled about Obama at a community event (my eyes were rolling) and how great he would be for Israel based on what he said. The very next day, Obama backtracked on what he had said. Our community leaders and, possibly just as important, the Israeli consulate guy never changed their assessment with the community. The myth of the original speech went on through the election. And the consulate never did a letter to the editor of our local Jewish newspaper or anything. The Jewish community consists of liberals and they don't read outside their little circle, so really Israel could do some good by re-orienting with letters to the editors of the local papers. Otherwise, the locals (who don't read much outside the NY Times) think they are supporting Israel by voting (D) because of the local leaders and the consulate.


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