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On the Boil: Obama, the Democrats and the Jews

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The disproportionately high profile of American Jews in the Presidential election contest and the efforts invested by both candidates portraying themselves as supportive of the Jewish State has assumed surrealistic levels.

Overall, Israel’s standing in the US today is at an all-time high. Yet, the Democratic Convention spotlighted the emergence of a hostile anti-Israeli component of the party which threatens to undermine the long-standing bi-partisan support of Israel exemplified by the standing ovations Netanyahu received during his May 2011 address to Congress.

Economic issues will invariably be the dominant factor influencing voters and most American Jews will base their political choice on a multi-dimensional basket of issues. But the majority would like to be assured of the wellbeing of the Jewish state and expect their President to behave towards Israel as an ally and be sensitive to its security requirements.

Although most Jews continue to support Obama, growing numbers, especially the orthodox, have concluded that on the basis of his tortuous Cairo speech and his earlier diplomatic battering of Israel, he is more committed to the Palestinian than the Israeli narrative and will vote against him.

With the impending elections, Obama launched a concerted charm offensive to avoid further defections from his Jewish constituency. He repeated that he will “always have Israel’s back”, emphasized his exemplary record in strengthening Israel’s defense capabilities and reiterated that he had delivered the most pro-Israeli speech at the UN, unprecedented by any US President.

Initially, it seemed he was succeeding. But subsequently, Jewish angst was revived by numerous aspects of Obama’s behavior.  There are intensified doubts regarding his genuine intention to resort to the military option if needed to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.  These anxieties were reinforced by Obama’s failure to repudiate the intimidating rhetoric from Administration spokesmen conveying veiled threats against Israel acting independently, especially the  offensive remark by Joint Chief of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, who did not wish “to be complicit” if Israel acted against Iran’s nuclear project.

Another cause for concern was the cozy US relationship with Turkey in which the US surrendered to their demands to exclude Israel from joint military exercises or even participate in a conference on global terrorism.  There was also Obama’s failure to adequately condemn the Non Aligned Summit which endorsed Iran’s nuclear policy, appointed a Holocaust denier as its new head and whose representatives from 120 countries listened politely to the genocidal ravings of their Iranian hosts.

But the most chilling message was the elimination of pro-Israel components from the current Democratic National Platform. In particular, the deletion of all reference to recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – which conformed to the policy of the Administration. After a huge outcry and following three calls for approval from delegates, it was clumsily reinserted, provoking a flood of audible boos from many delegates.

But other key clauses relating to Israel were not restored. These included reference to “Israel, our most reliable Middle East ally”, condemning Hamas, rejecting a return to the indefensible 1949 armistice lines and calling for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to be resettled in a Palestinian state rather than in Israel. Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin described this platform as “the most radically unsupportive statement of policy on Israel by any major party since the founding of the state of Israel”.

Subsequently, Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s harsh dismissal of Israel’s plea to draw red lines in relation to moving beyond sanctions combined with the president’s refusal to meet Netanyahu during his visit to NY, served to heighten tensions with Israel even before the elections. It also provided a chilling projection of what to expect from a second Obama term.

Why don’t Jews abandon a party that is, at best, ambivalent towards the Jewish state?

The reality for most American Jews is that since the era of President Franklyn Roosevelt, their bond with the Democratic Party is embedded as a political DNA and even considered a quasi-religion.

Yet it is likely that President Obama would have acted even more harshly against Israel were Jews not such an important component of the Democratic party. There is therefore a positive aspect to ongoing Jewish involvement to retain existing Democratic Congressional bipartisan support – in the absence of which Israel’s defense infrastructure would erode and the international community would undoubtedly throw us to the wolves.

So when influential pro-Israeli Democratic Congressmen or prominent Jewish Democrats like Stuart Eizenstat or Dennis Ross retain their party affiliation, even those disagreeing with them should be relieved that within this prevailing dangerous Democratic political terrain there remain influential Jews willing to combat those seeking to distance the US from its traditional alliance with Israel.

Alan Dershowitz exemplifies this. He is a devoted champion of Israel who recently reaffirmed his support of Obama despite having previously condemned his policies, even comparing him to Chamberlain.

To his credit, Dershowitz condemned the Democratic party platform and even after the amendments told the Algemeiner that he was bitter “not only with regard to Jerusalem”, but also with the other crucial issues which were not reinstated. He accused “rogue elements” within the Democratic party, from Arab-Americans to anti-Israeli Jews, of seeking to undermine “the bi-partisan support for Israel which characterized American politics since 1948” and destroy the US- Israel alliance. He vowed to convey this to the President who he hoped would “make statements prior to the elections reaffirming the contents of his 2008 platform”.

Thus, even those who would aspire to see more Jews demonstrating displeasure with Obama at the polls should realize that it is a disservice to Israel to demonize Democratic supporters like Dershowitz if they speak up and protest against anti-Israeli policies.

This is not an endorsement of those who argue that Jews should avoid regarding Israel as a wedge issue in the elections. It is precisely during the election season that American Jews should maximize their democratic right to influence policy by responsibly criticizing and objecting to policies they consider to be flawed or immoral.

Indeed, to ensure that politicians take greater account of Jewish sensitivities, one would expect mainstream American Jewish leaders, whilst remaining apolitical, to speak out far more aggressively against any party which adopts anti-Israeli positions, whether Democrat or Republican.

This applies especially now, despite that if re-elected, Obama is capable – as he was following the last elections – of reneging on his undertakings. Indeed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently unblushingly told an international journalist that like all politicians, President Obama’s remarks about Israel prior to elections should not be taken too seriously.

Indicators suggest that the majority of Jews will continue to vote for Obama but despite conflicting polls, an increasing minority, especially the most committed, is likely to oppose him and may well provide the lowest level of support for a Democrat president since Carter.

In addition, many Jews, unwilling to sever their umbilical cord with the Democratic party, may well continue supporting their Democratic Congressional representative yet oppose Obama at the Presidential poll – which would actually serve to reinforce bipartisanship towards Israel, currently under siege.

The writer may be contacted at ileibler@leibler.com

This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom



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