Last year those of us Jews who didn't support President Obama in his bid to be elected president were subjected to ridicule. If we didn't support him it was because we were prejudiced or misinformed. This mocking didn't just come from his partisans, but also from the media. In a particularly blatant bit of electioneering, the New York Times's Jodi Kantor reported from Florida that Jews who supported Obama were generous and wonderful but that those who opposed him were narrow minded bigots. In it we got this lecture:
Mr. Obama is Arab, Jack Stern's friends told him in Aventura. (He's not.)
He is a part of Chicago's large Palestinian community, suspects Mindy Chotiner of Delray. (Wrong again.)
Mr. Wright is the godfather of Mr. Obama's children, asserted Violet Darling in Boca Raton. (No, he's not.)
Al Qaeda is backing him, said Helena Lefkowicz of Fort Lauderdale (Incorrect.)
Michelle Obama has proven so hostile and argumentative that the campaign is keeping her silent, said Joyce Rozen of Pompano Beach. (Mrs. Obama campaigns frequently, drawing crowds in her own right.)
Mr. Obama might fill his administration with followers of Louis Farrakhan, worried Sherry Ziegler. (Extremely unlikely, given his denunciation of Mr. Farrakhan.)
No substantive reason for doubting the candidate's concern for Jewish issues was raised. After all candidate Obama sat in church where the pastor expressed antisemitic sentiments for twenty years. Instead the Times manufactured a false "factoid" that it could dismiss. A politician who was praised by Rolling Stone for being a radical is not one who is going to be sympathetic to Israel.
Since the election we've been subjected to slightly more honest reporting. Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post has written admiringly of the President's Jewish influences. One of them was Rabbi Arnold Wolf who advocated for a Palestinian state back in 1973, which was way out of the Jewish mainstream.
When he prepared for his speech to the Muslim world, the President seemed to gather a pretty wide range of Muslims in order to ensure that he didn't offend his target audience. But yesterday when the President gathered Jewish leaders, giving offense wasn't really a concern. The President convened a mostly receptive audience. While there were certainly mainstream Jewish organizations represented, the President made sure that partisan organizations such as the NJDC, J-Street and APN - all headed by Democratic Party activists - were there. Even AIPAC is now headed by individuals who are allied with the President..
So yesterday's gathering was less a matter of assuaging Jewish leaders as the blog entry at the New York Times is headlined, but rather to declare to American Jews that he knows best how to bring peace to the Middle East. And his mostly worshipful audience complied.
The only reported sour note was that Malcolm Honlein questioned the President's commitment to put Israel on the spot.
Participants said some of the toughest questioning of Mr. Obama came from Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Two said that Mr. Hoenlein told the president that diplomatic progress in the Middle East has traditionally occurred when there is "no light" between the positions of the United States and Israel. But Mr. Obama pushed back, citing the administration of his predecessor, George W. Bush.
"He said, 'I disagree,' '' said Marla Gilson, director of the Washington action office of Hadassah, the women's Zionist organization. "He said, 'For eight years, there was no light between the United States and Israel, and nothing got accomplished.'
The proper response to such glib obfuscation is that during the Clinton administration, when there were clear disagreements between Israel and the United States ended up in the violence of the so-called "Aqsa intifada." Even if President Obama denies that Israel's withdrawal from Gaza even happened during President Bush's term in office - given the President's commitment to end all settlements, one wonders why he ignored this - is open warfare really a better result than nothing?
Additionally Yaacov Lozowick points out:
Nothing got accomplished? Let's see. The Palestinians launched the worst wave of suicide murders anyone had ever seen (the various factions in Iraq later outdid them). Israel figured out how to beat them, in spite of the 100% of contemporary observers worldwide who said this couldn't be done and Israel must cave in. Later on, Israel unilaterally left Gaza, disbanding all its settlements on the way out. The Palestinians responded by democratically electing Hamas to govern them, and cheered as Hamas and it allies (including some Fatah elements) escalated the rocket attacks on Israel.
Of course that would confirm something the President would never acknowledge: that there is a military solution to terrorism. Nor would he acknowledge that no amount of pressure on Israel will bring peace unless there's a fundamental change in the Palestinian Authority. (via memeorandum)
While Ira Forman of the NJDC and Jeremy Ben Ami of J-Street both described the President's performance as "masterful," Jennifer Rubin points out that his commitment to engagement with Iran was hardly reassuring.
On that front, representatives of two groups in attendance related to me that there was little resistance to the plan of the president looking for positive signals by September from Iran before looking at sanctions. One explained that "if the Iranians will demonstrate seriousness on the nuclear issue, we have a package for engagement." (Does a single one of the sixteen not understand that the mullahs are expert at giving positive and entirely meaningless signals, thereby indefinitely stringing us all along?)
While the President complained that it's a "misperception" that he's unduly pressuring Israel, the fact that he stacked his meeting with organizations that are sympathetic to his policies and excluded two organizations that were likely to be critical shows that the President's idea of outreach to Jews is to dictate to them.That's what happens when the President knows he can take your support for granted.
The question those American Jewish organizations who uncritically support President Obama's Middle East policy now have to answer is this: given that the President has decided to reset America's relationship with Israel in a way that a vast majority of Israelis - including leftists - object to, how can still describe yourself as pro-Israel?
Crossposted on Yourish.Posted by SoccerDad at July 14, 2009 5:43 AM