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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler

I had no wireless access last night after the wedding (I am staying in New Jersey again - different house) and this morning I have been swamped with work plus a meeting. But here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sample for Wednesday September 21.
1) People problem

An article in the Atlantic argues that President Obama has a people problem, not a Jewish problem.
The storyline is older than the modern state of Israel. Reporters portray American Jews as parochially fixated on Israel and ask: Will the issue help Republicans win support from the rare affluent group that votes Democratic? The answer is no. There's a round of these articles every presidential cycle, and the answer is the same every time. Obama will likely perform worse with Jews in 2012 than in 2008. But that's because he'll likely perform worse with nearly everyone.
(The Lid argues that since Jews are disproportionately Democratic, the drop off Jewish support is more significant than that of other groups.) One point that I think is misleading is this:
Don't mistake the outliers for the tribe. Even a majority of religiously conservative Jews voted for Democratic House candidates in the 2010 election. Overall, in that historically awful Democratic year, two-thirds of Jews still backed Democrats in the House elections, according to polling by Jim Gerstein.
Orthodox Jews usually live in large urban centers, where the Democratic party is especially strong. If the districts nationally are generally like the ones I'm familiar with, they are close to being one party districts, which have few significant Republican challengers. Shmuel Rosner makes some good observations about the Atlantic article including:
That Israel isn't at the top of the Jewish agenda doesn't mean it has no impact on the Jewish vote. This impact can be manifested in two ways: A. That the President is seen by Jews as not-supportive-enough of Israel can add to the general erosion of support that is mostly about the economy, or B. That the President is seen by Jews as not-supportive-enough of Israel prevents his campaign from using his support for Israel as counter-weight to other problem (namely, it prevents them from telling Jews: Yes, we know you're worried about the economy, but look how great he is on Israel).
Most importantly: As Kuhn rightly mentions, "we pay attention to the Jewish vote, above all, because Jews contribute an outsized share of financial support to political campaigns". However, he fails to follow through with the obvious implication of such point: the "Jewish problem" isn't really about the numbers - it is about the support of donors. If Obama is not losing at all among most Jews, but is losing the 20 most generous Jewish funders, that's important. If most Jews don't put Israel high on their agenda but many big funders do - that's important. So there's another piece of information we don't yet have - without which we can't yet jump to the conclusion that there's no "Jewish problem": We don't have a poll of Jews who give a lot of money to campaigns.
The "Jewish President" article (and others) complain that the reason that Jews (and others! h/t LennyBoyUSA) don't appreciate the President's stand on Israel is because it hasn't been reported correctly. But data about donors would contradict that. Donors are more likely to be politically involved and aware than the average citizen, or even voter. Reporting wouldn't make the same difference as they are following events from an insider's perspective.

2) Another take on the Jewish President

David Bernstein makes some excellent observations about the New York Magazine article arguing that President Obama is Israel's best friend.
Relatedly, on the substantive side, it’s pretty clear to me that the Obama Administration wanted to topple the Likud-led government so they could get a more dovish government more to their liking in power. This led the Administration to publicly demand that Israel initiate a full settlement freeze, something the Palestinians themselves had never demanded [as a precondition to negotiations]. The strategy, as I see it, was that with a new extremely popular president Israel wouldn’t be able to say no, but Netanyahu’s coalition was too right-wing to say yes. So the government would have to fall, as Shamir’s did in the early ‘90s in part because he couldn’t get along with the Bush Administration. This proved a spectacular miscalculation. Netanyahu had a much broader coalition than Shamir’s, including the Labor Party. And Israel has become a major issue in conservative politics, which is was not twenty years ago. Pressure on Netanyahu invited pushback from the Republicans, leading Democrats to tell the president to ratchet it down. And again optics-wise, how often does the U.S. try to undermine the coalition governing one of its democratic allies?
I would add that it wasn't just Shamir; Clinton's treatment of Netanyahu (or Netanyahu's inability to get along with Clinton) was a factor in Netanyahu's 1999 defeat. But I think later Bernstein makes an even more important point:
Finally, with regard to domestic politics I pointed out repeatedly during the 2008 campaign that one of Obama’s weaknesses was that his entire adult life was spent in circles in which liberal/left views were taken for granted. In Obama’s circles, publicly pressuring Israel and using “evenhanded” language to refer to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (while favoring Israel beneath the rhetorical surface) seems perfectly reasonable, even a bit “right-wing.” The JStreet types that are Obama’s natural constituency would certainly think so. (The mistaken assumption, pushed by JStreet itself, was that the average pro-Israel American was the equivalent of a JStreeter. This isn’t true, and to the extent it applies to some Jewish voters, the JStreeter types are almost all hardcore Democrats, not the swing voters/donors Obama is having trouble with.)
The New York Times reports House Republicans Discover a Growing Bond With Netanyahu. It starts off with a counter intuitive incident:
When the Obama administration wanted to be certain that Congress would not block $50 million in new aid to the Palestinian Authority last month, it turned to a singularly influential lobbyist: Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. At the request of the American Embassy and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mr. Netanyahu urged dozens of members of Congress visiting Israel last month not to object to the aid, according to Congressional and diplomatic officials. Mr. Netanyahu’s intervention with Congress underscored an extraordinary intersection of American diplomacy and domestic politics, the result of an ever-tightening relationship between the Israeli government and the Republican Party that now controls the House.
Doesn't that disprove the "ungrateful ally" message?

3) Martin Kramer on the UDI

Quoted by Lee Smith at the conclusion Showdown at the United Nations
One rule of Middle East politics, says Kramer, is that “if people are expecting something to happen, it won’t.” Most of the major events of recent regional history came out of the blue?—?from the Israel-Hezbollah war of 2006 to the Mavi Marmara incident, and from 9/11 to the Arab Spring. In fact, some are wondering if the U.N. bid may at last provoke a Palestinian version of the Arab Spring. Doubtful, says Kramer. “If there was going to be a Palestinian Arab Spring, it would’ve happened already. But the Arab Spring has shown that the other Arabs are not all free with only the Palestinians waiting to be liberated. Rather, the Palestinians are arguably better off than lots of others around the region. What irks the Palestinian leadership is that it hasn’t been in the spotlight for a while.” First there was the Arab Spring, and now, with Bibi coming to New York, it looks like the Palestinian Authority still isn’t going to have the spotlight to itself.
4) Followup

Yesterday, I wrote about Glenn Kessler's mistaken "fact check" of Governor Perry. Reader Lynn (again!) reminded me that the (lack of) revision of the Palestinian Covenant, wasn't just a matter of observing the actions of the Palestinian Authority; there is documentary evidence that this was true. In 2009, the Palestinian Authority approved a new charter (.pdf). The charter is less an ideological statement than a procedural one and Barry Rubin observed:
Now here’s an important lesson for you. When a radical group is portrayed as moderate based on some position it supposedly has taken or some statement made there has to be a catch somewhere. Here’s the tip-off in this case, a single sentence in the new charter: “This internal charter has been adopted within the framework of adherence to the provisions of the Basic Charter.” In other words, every detail of the original charter still holds; nothing is repealed, no error admitted, no explicit change of course accepted. Of course, Fatah has changed a lot from the 1960s. It is less focused on violence (though that doesn’t mean it has renounced terrorism necessarily), less explicitly militant in its demands, more willing to deal in a cooperative manner with Israel. Neither genuine moderation nor remaining intransigence should be exaggerated. On practical day-to-day matters, Israel can work with Fatah and needs to ensure that Hamas doesn't overthrow it. At present Fatah leaders understand well that a return to large-scale violence is against their interests. But make a comprehensive peace agreement? Not going to happen.
As recently as 2009 the PLO affirmed that its 1968 covenant was still operational. Gov. Perry was correct that the Palestinian Authority still needs to renounce terror. And Glenn Kessler needs to correct his veteran reporter error. I have sent this information to Kessler, but I believe that an advantage of being a fact checker is never having to say that you're wrong.

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