This week in two meetings with prominent American Jews, President Barack Obama threw down the gauntlet. Either the Jews of America will rise to the challenge or they will allow Obama to marginalize them.
It is their choice, and now is the time for them to decide.
In the first meeting, Obama met with centrist Jewish leaders from major Jewish organizations like the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, the Anti-Defamation League and AIPAC. Major donors to these groups, like to almost every other major Jewish organization in America, are largely Democrats.
According to The Washington Post, the purpose of the meeting was “to defuse antagonism toward [Obama] and to convince [Jewish leaders] that he shares their concerns about the safety of Israel and the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.”
That is, the main goal of the meeting was to silence Jewish criticism of Obama’s deal with Iran.
So far, Obama seems to have accomplished that goal.
Although, according to a source who spoke to The Algemeiner, the atmosphere at the meeting was “ungiving, very stern and tense.” Since the meeting took place, none of the leaders who participated has openly criticized Obama’s policies regarding Iran. Their silence comes despite the fact that, according to the participants who spoke with The Algemeiner, Obama did not allay the concerns they expressed regarding the dangers his nuclear deal with Iran constitute for Israel.
The second meeting of the day was a far friendlier affair. According to The Algemeiner, participants included supporters of the anti-Israel organization J Street, including Alexandra Stanton, Lou Susman, and Victor Kovner. Other outspoken leftist Jews, including Haim Saban and former AIPAC presidents Amy Friedkin and Howard Friedman, also attended.
As The Algemeiner reported, participants in this meeting were much less concerned about Obama’s deal with Iran. At least one participant, described as more “centrist” than other participants gushed at the president, saying, “You are doing the right thing [with Iran]. We are behind you 100 percent.”
Participants in the second meeting also were excited at the prospect of Obama making good on his threat to act against Israel at the UN Security Council. Indeed, they lobbied him to abandon Israel at the international forum. A participant told The Algemeiner that one of his colleagues told Obama, “If you decide to go against Israel at the UN, let us know first and we’ll do the legwork for you, in the [Jewish] community…so you’re not going to come in cold.”
The purpose then of Obama’s second meeting with American Jews was not to silence dissent, but to mobilize his supporters to weaken community opposition to his hostile policies toward Israel, both in regard to Iran and in regard to the Palestinians.
And here, too, the meeting was largely successful.
An indication of the success of Obama’s efforts to rally his Jewish supporters in favor of his anti-Israel policies came on Wednesday, when the Jewish arm of the Democratic Party, the National Jewish Democratic Council, issued a stunning press release. In it, the NJDC condemned Sen. Marco Rubio for supporting Israel. On Monday, Rubio announced that he is running for president.
Rubio’s pro-Israel crime involved his plan get the Senate to condition approval of Obama’s nuclear deal with the ayatollahs on Iran’s recognizing Israel’s right to exist. According to the NJDC, Rubio’s plan, “has no purpose other than to politicize the US-Israel relationship at a time when the Jewish state needs our steadfast support. It is shameful that Sen. Rubio would further politicize this issue to advance his own political goals.”
If the NJDC is truly steadfast in its support for Israel, it is hard to understand what its members are so upset about.
As far as Israelis are concerned, Rubio’s plan is aligned with the widest political consensus imaginable.
The Israeli Left, led by Labor Party leader Yitzhak Herzog, supports Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand that sanctions against Iran should be dropped only after Iran recognizes Israel’s right to exist.
As to America, it is hard to understand how anyone in the American mainstream could oppose conditioning Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons on its abandonment of its aim to destroy Israel.
Obama himself has always insisted that protecting Israel’s security is a paramount goal of his presidency.
Both in his meetings with Jewish leaders and in his interview earlier this month with The New York Times’s Tom Friedman, Obama claims to have been deeply hurt by accusations that he doesn’t care about Israel’s security and said that he would consider it a personal failure if Israel were weaker when he leaves office.
Yet, by refusing to condition a nuclear deal that as Obama himself acknowledges will reduce Iran’s breakout time for military nuclear capabilities to zero on Iran’s eschewal of the goal of Israel’s destruction, the NJDC, like Obama himself, is not protecting Israel or supporting it. Like Obama, the NJDC is indirectly legitimizing Iran’s goal of destroying Israel.
By attacking Rubio for promoting a position that is intuitively reasonable, and in line with a very low common-denominator of support for Israel, the NJDC revealed that, from its perspective, the only way for Republicans not to “politicize” support for Israel is by joining Democrats in opposing Israel.
A new poll released this week by Bloomberg reinforces the growing sense that Israel has become a partisan issue. Today more and more Democrats view support for Israel as a Republican position. Whereas two thirds of Republicans support Israel even if its positions are at odds with those of the administration, three quarters of Democrats support the administration against Israel. Polls in recent years indicate that Republican support for Israel is nearly unanimous, while less than half of Democrats support the Jewish state.
It appears that Obama’s charm offensive among American Jews over the past two weeks on the one hand, and the NJDC’s statement that empties the term “pro-Israel” of all meaning on the other, are aimed at removing the issue of Israel from the political debate at least until Obama achieves his goal of signing a nuclear deal with Iran by June 30.
This makes sense, because as Obama apparently sees things, there are two forces that can scuttle his deal, and they are intimately linked – major Jewish donors, and Hillary Clinton.
On Wednesday the White House reversed its previous position and announced that it would support a Senate bill to require Obama to bring his deal with Iran before the Senate for approval.
Obama’s reversal was not a major concession.
The Senate bill ignored the constitutional provision requiring two thirds of senators to approve international treaties. Under the current Senate bill, two thirds of senators will have to oppose Obama’s radical deal with Iran in order to scuttle it.
All that Obama now requires to secure his deal is to maintain the support of 34 Democratic senators.
And the only one who can endanger that support is Clinton.
As the NJDC showed, Obama has successfully brought about a situation where, for Democrats, supporting Israel means opposing Obama and supporting Republicans. If substantive arguments haven’t sufficed to convince them to fall in line, the Justice Department’s highly questionable decision to indict Sen. Robert Menendez – Obama’s most outspoken Democratic foreign policy critic – on shaky corruption charges just as his confrontation with the Senate over his Iran policy was coming to a head, no doubt has forced at least some Democrats to toe his line.
By mobilizing his Jewish supporters to silence opposition to his policies among American Jews, while making it difficult for more mainstream Jewish leaders to openly criticize him, Obama hopes to neutralize the issue of his hostility toward Israel among Jewish Democrats.
To date, Hillary, who was herself a full partner in Obama’s moves to marginalize Israel supporters during her stint as secretary of state, has said as little as possible about his foreign policy. As a result, she has given no reason for Democratic senators to consider parting ways with the president on Iran.
So far, Clinton’s only move to put distance between herself and her anti-Israel former boss was to allow Malcolm Hoenlein from the Conference of Presidents to issue a statement late last month in his name claiming that Clinton told him that she thinks the US and Israel should bury the hatchet. Clinton, for her part, neither confirmed nor denied Hoenlein’s statement.
Almost simultaneous with Clinton’s announcement Sunday that she is running for president, came a statement from her campaign that she seeks to raise the whopping sum of $2.5 billion in order to secure her election.
There is no way that Clinton can hope to raise that sum without securing the support of major Jewish donors. While some major Jewish donors do not care about whether or not the US supports Israel, as an unnamed Jewish Clinton supporter told JTA this week, Clinton will also need to win the support of donors who do support Israel.
In the source’s words, “Some of the most prominent Jewish Democratic donors are very concerned about the relationship the president has had with Netanyahu and the Iran deal.”
If these Jewish donors band together and condition their support for Clinton on her issuing a clear statement opposing Obama’s deal with Iran and opposing any plan to abandon US support for Israel at the UN Security Council, they will accomplish three vital things.
First, they will loosen Obama’s control over otherwise pro-Israel Democratic senators and other pro-Israel groups in the Democratic Party, including the NJDC. In so doing they will reopen the possibility that Congress will scuttle Obama’s deal with the mullahs.
Second, they will take a major step toward rebuilding Democratic support for Israel that Obama has worked so hard to diminish.
Finally, they will reestablish their political significance in American politics. By supporting Obama, even as he has abandoned the US alliance with Israel, Jewish Democrats have lost their political leverage and power. That power is contingent upon their refusal to abandon Israel.
During the next two months, Obama will be focused on closing his deal with Iran, and Clinton will be avidly seeking to lock up the Democratic nomination for president by building an impregnable fortress of campaign funds. If the American Jewish community uses this critical period to leverage Clinton’s financial requirements to convince her to oppose Obama’s deal that paves the way for a nuclear armed Iran, then they will reassert their relevance in American politics and they will restore support for Israel to its pre-Obama position as a bipartisan position.
If they fail to do so, then Obama’s bid to transform Israel into a partisan issue will succeed. If a Republican wins the White House in 2016, he will face an anti-Israel Democratic opposition. And if Clinton wins the White House, she will have no reason to support Israel.