The Lonely Israeli Left

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Israel’s leftists are lonely these days. This was the central thrust of an opinion column in Tuesday’s New York Times authored by Aluf Benn, editor-at-large of the left-wing Haaretz newspaper.

 

 

Benn’s article, “Why Won’t Obama Talk to Israel?” was a plaintive call for US President Barack Obama to woo the Israeli public. As Benn put it, “Next time you’re in the neighborhood, Mr. President, speak to us directly.”

 

 

Benn’s article has been touted by Obama supporters and detractors alike as evidence that the president has a credibility problem with Israelis. Jewish Obama supporters sought to soften the impact of Benn’s article on their fellow Jewish leftists by claiming that Obama is listening to the likes of Benn. For instance, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg reported without irony that administration officials defend Obama’s silence toward Israel by arguing that his June 4 speech to the Muslim world in Cairo was also geared toward Israelis.

 

 

The June 4 address of course was the one where Obama compared Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to the Nazi Holocaust of European Jewry and to black slavery in the antebellum American South. It was also the speech where he embraced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s claim that Israel owes its existence to the Holocaust and not to the Jewish people’s legitimate right to self-determination in our homeland.

 

 

Benn’s piece is an interesting read, but not for the reasons that have been widely cited. It is interesting for what it says about the Israeli Left on the one hand, and what it says about Obama and his American Jewish supporters on the other.

 

 

Although Benn gives a long bill of particulars on why Israelis mistrust Obama, the general thrust of the article is supportive of the administration. Far from an attack on Obama, it is a cry for help. Benn and his fellow Israeli leftists want the administration to help them by changing the tenor of its policies, not the policies themselves.

 

 

WHEREAS THE American Left was triumphant in the 2008 elections, the Israeli Left was decimated in Israel’s general elections in February. Its two standard bearers – Meretz and Labor – were effectively wiped out. Its new flagship, Kadima, failed to win the support of any other party in its bid to form a governing coalition. Worse still, consistent polling shows that the general public rejects every one of the Israeli Left’s central policies. From the swift establishment of a Palestinian state, to the mass expulsion of Jews from Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem, to unilateral land giveaways to the Palestinians, the Israeli Left today speaks for a but a small minority of Israelis.

 

 

Benn cited last month’s Jerusalem Post poll which showed that a mere 6 percent of Israeli Jews view Obama as pro-Israel while some 50% of Israeli Jews perceive the president as more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israel. As he sees it, Obama’s failure to win the trust of the Israeli public will make it impossible for him to coerce the Netanyahu government into freezing Jewish construction in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem. This is a disaster for Benn and his colleagues. For unless the US can force the government’s hand, there is no chance that they will be able to see their radical policies implemented.

 

 

It is in his attempt to convince Obama to help the Israeli Left that Benn makes his most consequential critique of the US leader. As he puts it, Obama “seems to have confused American Jews with Israelis.”

 

 

Benn points out that Obama’s repeated attacks on Holocaust denial resonate more strongly with US Jews than with Israelis and that the two Jewish populations have “different historical narratives.”

 

 

Benn is onto something when he notes the differences between Israeli and American Jews. But he fails to grasp the real significance of what Obama is doing and what is actually happening in relations between the two communities.

 

 

It isn’t that Obama is confusing the two groups. Through both his rhetoric and his actions, Obama is demonstrating his priorities and concerns.

 

 

Obama cares about securing the support of American Jews. He does not care about gaining the support of Israeli Jews. Moreover, Obama feels comfortable wooing the former while alienating the latter because he recognizes something that Benn has apparently missed: Today a large and growing chasm separates leftist US Jews from leftist Israeli Jews.

 

 

During his recent meeting at the White House with hand-picked American Jewish leftist activists and centrist American Jewish leaders, Obama explained that he welcomes open disputes with Israel. As he put it, during the Bush presidency, there was “no daylight [between the US and Israel] and no progress.”

 

 

Whereas Obama’s goal of openly distancing the US from Israel is a source of anxiety and frustration for Israeli leftists who believe that US pressure should be a means to the end of compelling Israel to give away land to the Palestinians, it is a positive development for American Jewish Leftists. Led by the new anti-Israel Jewish lobby J Street, and supported by groups like Americans for Peace Now, the Union for Reform Judaism, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the National Jewish Democratic Council, the American Jewish Left supports the White House’s hostile positions on Israel as an ends unto themselves.

 

 

J Street – a creation of Democratic fund-raiser and anti-Israel activist George Soros – was established ahead of the 2008 elections to lobby the White House and Congress to foment breaches in the US-Israel strategic relationship.

 

 

When Soros first raised the prospect of a Jewish anti-Israel lobby in October 2006, he argued that there was a need to institutionalize what had until then been ad-hoc anti-Israel lobbying efforts by American Jewish groups in order to scuttle Congressional support for Israel and undermine mainstream American Jewish organizations.

 

 

True to their mandates, today J Street and its fellow leftist Jewish groups Americans for Peace Now and Brit Tzedek v’Shalom lobby Congress to adopt positions that place the US in direct confrontation with Israel. The three groups are presently lobbying Congress to oppose an AIPAC initiative calling on Obama to pressure Arab governments to normalize relations with Israel. In their view, the move is objectionable because it doesn’t contain a demand that Israel stop building homes for Jews in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem. J Street similarly opposed Operation Cast Lead, claiming that Israel’s actions to defend its citizens from rocket and mortar attacks from Hamas-controlled Gaza were contrary to the interests of peace.

 

 

Although attacking Israel on the Palestinian issue is the central pillar of these groups’ missions, they are also involved in defending Iran’s nuclear weapons program and championing Syria in Washington. In late May, J Street lobbied Congress not to place new sanctions on Iran, claiming, “On Iran, the president is promoting tough, direct diplomacy… but the chances of [his] success won’t be helped by Congress imposing tight timelines or a new round of sanctions.”

 

 

The group has similarly supported ending sanctions against Syria and pressuring Israel to relinquish the Golan Heights to Syrian control.

 

 

In short, through their full-throated support for all of the Obama administration’s anti-Israel policies, the organized American Jewish Left has made clear that today it does not share a common goal with the Israeli Left. It does not view US pressure on Israel as a means to achieve peace and normalization between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Rather, like Obama, it views pressure on Israel as a means to weaken US ties to Israel in the interest of pursuing closer ties with the Arab world.

 

 

THE CURRENT split between the Israeli and American Jewish Left, as well as the Obama administration’s disparate treatment of both groups have policy implications for the Netanyahu government in its dealings with all three.

 

 

According to a n
umber of American Jewish leaders, Obama’s decision to meet with a hand-picked audience of American Jews at the White House on July 13 was a direct response to the Jerusalem Post poll. Obama’s senior advisers feared that the massive Israeli mistrust of Obama the poll exposed was liable to spill over into the American Jewish community.

 

 

To date, in contending with the White House, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been careful to minimize the significance of the White House-initiated crisis in relations. Fearing a domestic backlash, Netanyahu and his advisers have even gone so far as to leak reports of imminent agreements between the Obama administration and Israel on the issue of home construction for Jews in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.

 

 

What the White House’s distress over the Post’s poll shows, however, is that today – with a domestic consensus now backing Netanyahu against Obama – Netanyahu has less call to minimize the breach than Obama does. Indeed, doing so only advances Obama’s fortunes among American Jews and so strengthens the position of anti-Israel Jewish organizations that support him. Rather than leak stories about an impending deal, Netanyahu’s advisers should leak stories about American intransigence and hostility.

 

 

Moreover, given the administration’s overarching desire to put “daylight” between the US and Israel, reaching an agreement with Washington will bring no relief. Since it is the administration’s goal to weaken US ties to the Jewish state, clearly any deal that Israel could obtain would either be antithetical to Israel’s national interests or breached by the administration.

 

 

Perhaps in response to J Street’s ever-expanding media presence, Ambassador Michael Oren intimated last month that he intends to reach out to far-Left American Jewish groups. To the extent that this is a serious initiative, it should be dropped immediately.

 

 

Through their actions, J Street and its allies have made clear that their institutional interests are served by weakening Israel. Their mission is to harm Israel’s standing in Washington and weaken the influence of the mainstream American Jewish community that supports Israel.

 

 

Rather than empower these anti-Israel groups by legitimizing them, the government should take a page out of Obama’s playbook. Obama gave the impression of hosting a big tent for American Jews by inviting both friendly far-Left groups and friendly centrist groups to meet with him on July 13. He legitimized his friends at J Street and Americans for Peace Now by treating them as equals of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

 

 

By the same token, Israel’s embassy should act as a big tent by reaching out to Israel’s supporters on both the political Right and the center. All groups that support Israel should be welcome.

 

 

As to the Israeli Left, to date, Netanyahu has successfully built a strong, stable center-right coalition by going over its head and forming a national consensus around support for defensible borders, a united Jerusalem and rejecting unreciprocated concessions of any kind. While the prime minister arguably made an unnecessary and potentially disastrous mistake in announcing his support for a demilitarized Palestinian state, by and large, he has successfully marginalized the Left.

 

 

Benn’s anguished plea for help from the Obama administration shows that Netanyahu’s policies are having the desired effect. His political opponents are descending into the depths of political irrelevance. Netanyahu should leave them to their richly deserved fate.

 

 

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

 

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11 Comments

  • Marcel 07/31/2009 at 13:51

    One of the first things Israel’s latest stooge of the globalists and their evil agenda did when he assumed power was get on his hands and knees and beg Livni and Kadima to join him while excommunicating into the nether regions diehard rightists like Feiglin.
    He was following the orders of his masters as Israel has no real leaders only followers.
    No one with a backbone is permitted to rule in Israel,hence we have the supine Olmerts,Livni’s,Barak’s,ad infinitum.
    Livni stood her ground and said no to Bobo while the retreat and surrender Defenseless Minister Lefty Barak ,greedy for power said yes.
    Look how long it took for the sham man Netanyahu to bend on his stand of ‘No Palestinian state’ .And now he is helping Hamas to rebuild in Gaza something Olmert would not do after Cast Lead.
    Who needs non kosher leftists in power when Netanyahu is doing a better job than they.
    And then we have Shifty Shimon the failed lefty loser who is getting more power and attention than pervious president’s of Israel under Bobo the boob of the globalists.
    The removal of Jews from their homes and land continues under the stealth leftist Netanyahu who masquerades as a right wing leader.
    He follows the same working tact of other chameleons like the fake right wingers Bush ,Spector,McCain,Olmert,Livni and Sharon.
    Can’t anyone else see another Sharon style coup against the right under Netanyahu ?Likud has replaced the left and so the other leftists are still thinking on their next move.
    Lets not forget what birth canal Kadima,Olmert and Livni came from
    We all know the truth ,that he is another lacky for the globalist agenda which endangers Israel’s existence.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z2rhCHDc1MA&feature=channel_page

    Reply
  • Jeff Cherry Hill, NJ 07/31/2009 at 14:14

    Caroline – Trudy Rubin, a McClatchy columnist and slobbering Obama supporter, wrote that Aluf Benn, and Israelis in general, don’t need Obama to woo them… but that they just need to listen and believe in peace.
    http://www.philly.com/inquirer/opinion/20090729_Worldview__Shoring_up_faith_in_peace.html
    Pathetic.

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  • Ron Grandinetti 08/01/2009 at 21:05

    Caroline welcome back, I believe I speak for all of us by saying we missed you.
    I also hope your son doesn’t have his nights and days mixed, we need mom to get a good night’s sleep.
    I guess it, time to call a spade a spade. Barak Hussein Obama is a Muslim and he does not like Israel, the reason he can’t face or talk to them straight up.
    Israelis have to come to the realization they need to take what course of actions are best for them and not be influenced by the Obama administration.
    Obama is losing popularity in the US as the kool-aid drinkers are coming out of their coma. His health plan is coming apart at the seams and it’s only the beginning. He realizes this and he is on TV constantly trying to persuade everyone he wants to do what’s best for the US. Nobody is buying it. It’s all a matter of time.
    Israel also should continue to build in all of Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem, the capital of the Israeli Nation. Since G-d provided the land for the Jews only He has the right to take it away.
    George Soros is a scumbag and he is evil. He would love to destroy the US and Israel both. He and his organization are behind Obama and helped in his election.
    Time for Israel to take a stand and tell Obama and his stooges “HELL NO”.

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  • Eleazer 08/01/2009 at 22:52

    The American Jewish left remind me of allagory of the Pied Piper. Obama is the Pied Piper, and the left are dancing to his tune. Sadly though such dancing will ultimately lead to their destruction.
    The founding of the state of Israel was to be our sanctuary in the midst of the hostile sea of anti- semitism. As we see the rise of increasing anti-semitism in the west once more, this nation of Israel is needed more than ever. The American Jewish left will find that they will need such a sanctuary in the days ahead, but by their actions they consider themselves unworthy of such an escape.
    Ultimately, we need to remember where our true loyalties lie. Are we American, Canadian, British etc. first, or Jews? Remember the German Jewry, (of which I am a descendant) lest we fall into the same trap as many of them did -considering themselves German first to their detriment.

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  • BigB 08/02/2009 at 11:35

    two comments
    Indeed the true Left in israel is pretty small, but its voice is mighty large. Try to get a good Zionist op-ed or opinion into any major outlet and see how far you get.
    Israel is not really divided into left and right but into Sovereignists, Galuthists, and those who don’t care. The Galuthists want a return of the High commissioner who will protect the Jews in exchange for fealty. The Sovereignists look for self-rule and self-regard.
    Through this prism, how many sovereignist Jews can be among the Jews who choose to remain in the Galuth? Those 80 percent whose champion is Obama simply seek affirmation for their bias, which is that Jews cannot and should not be in a position of power, of sovereignty, unless in the service of the Emperor, or the Khaliff. This attitude dovetails perfectly with the Islamist view of Jews as useful Dhimmis, who were shorn by Allah of any right to hold the reins of power. Sovereign israel flies in the face of both Galuthists and Islamists, which is why they band together to try and cut Israel down to size – a Dimmi, subservient client state.
    The Jewish Galuthists, the American radical left and International Islam are natural allies in the Great War on a free Israel. Don’t blame them, they can’t help it. Meanwhile among the reality-check people, defense, industry, clean-tech, commerce, real academia, the status of Sovereign Israel as a major pillar of the West waxes inexorably.
    As for Bibi, he has learned how to throw the Media a bone to chew on, while Har Chomma is innundated with Jews, and Juden-rein is wiped off the negotiation table.

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  • Ron Grandinetti 08/02/2009 at 13:40

    The founding of the state of Israel was to be our sanctuary in the midst of the hostile sea of anti- Semitism. As we see the rise of increasing anti-Semitism in the west once more, this nation of Israel is needed more than ever.
    Well put Eleazer.
    In fact a sanctuary provided by G-d.
    Every American Jew is connected to Israel by tradition, heritage and by G-d.
    American liberal Jews need to wean off the kool-aid and stop being JINO, time to start being Jewish.

    Reply
  • Marcel 08/03/2009 at 9:22

    The reality of Israel’s dire situation is a hard pill to swallow and this is why the denial is so great.
    I read the talks backs to Caroline’s article and there is really no mention of the One Israel religiously ignores and this is the problem with Israel.
    If Israeli’s were as focused on Him as they are on the US and Obama,the nation would not be in the deep hole it has dug for itself.
    A nation which ignores her God and chases after everyone and everything else will in the end meet up with Him under more painful circumstances.
    The truth is rejected for lies.
    Israel is never alone whe she looks to her Creator.

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  • Marc Handelsman, USA 08/04/2009 at 12:38

    As the Obama Administration applies more pressure for Israel to give up Judea and Samaria, President Obama will begin to lose American Jewish support. Discerning Jews know that Israel-bashing and Anti-Semitism go together. Prime Minister Netanyahu must show resolve in making Israel’s security his top priority. Israel needs to maintain a strong Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria as a strategic buffer against Arab aggression. Finally, the Israeli Left and its American counterpart naively believe that land for peace will solve the Arab-Israeli conflict. And they will be discredited, indeed.

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  • Dan from Piter 08/04/2009 at 19:18

    I do respect Ms. Glick brilliant journalistic style – (mostly) logical, facts based and very vivid analysis of ever changing political situation in Israel and Middle East in general.
    Being a American Jewish Democrat (yes, one of those 78% percent who voted for Obama) – I am deeply conflicted about difference in his Campaign’s pre-election promises and what is actually happening, BUT I do not tend to generalize that to his long forgotten “radical anti-American” agenda as Caroline mentioned in one of her articles on this super hot-button issues for Jewish people everywhere. I think Churchill said that “If you were not a Liberal when you were young – you didn’t have heart, if you didn’t become Conservative when you got older – you don’t have brains” (or smth. along these lines). I do not agree when Obama’s vicious crtics attribute his policy decisions to his (Muslim?) background,his affiliation with anti-Semite radicals Jeremiah Wright and Rashid Khalidi – after all Bush was in bed with Saudis who are responsible for 19 9/11 hijackers and didn’t do anything to prevent Hamas from gaining power in Gaza “elections” in 2006.
    I do agree that “evenhanded” (read more pressure on Israel) approach that Obama team applies in Israel and in the Middle East in general is wrong and will not be successful – but we also see that as Arab leaders reject negotiations with Israel until the minor issue of “Settlements freeze” is resolved and refuse to stop anti -Israel incitement – Administration will learn that counting on these states will not get it anywhere and it will have to adjust its policy. Caroline denies that perspective calling Obama a radical bent on anti-American ideas – I disagree with that particular estimate. He is certainly well educated and very articulate and nuanced person – especially in contrast with his predecessor.
    The point is that whereas I do agree that we should and will crtoise those policies of Obama adminsitration that we justly see as threatening Isarel’s security and well being – let us stay away from demonization of his persona (Muslim, socialist, anti-Semite, ….) – that is below Jewish dignity.
    What I am sure of is that as divided as we (Jews) are on this and many other issues like: “What is best for Israel?”, “How we can survive as ethnic/religious/cultural entity’ etc – we NEED TO GET some understanding and reconciliation as hard as it may seem. Labeling your opponents (I suspect that I will get labeled too on this site if my post gets through 🙂 is not a Jewish way to get your point across – logic and hard facts’ analysis is. I applaud Carline’s throught logical style – when it is based on hard facts – but also call upon more objective attitude even to one’s opponents (such as “Lonely Israeli Left” and even traitors from American Jewish Left ). Thank you!

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  • Baruch 08/05/2009 at 11:28

    It is absolutely important to understand that by contrast in the United States Jewish leftists such as David Axelrod, political advisor to Obama, and Andy Stern, SEIU union president, are literally flooding the halls of government while promoting communism.
    Israel’s political leadership must understand that the American Jewish Left is comprised of those whose interests are at odds with the majority of the American people. They are also not Zionists in the traditional sense of supporting the modern State of Israel and the freedom which it affords Jews there and throughout the world. This is a communist movement, which enslaves people and is contrary to the historical Jewish experience of freedom.
    The Israeli Left suffered a defeat because if Israel’s political leadership were to link itself with the American Jewish Left, which currently is pulling the strings in the Obama administration, then this would be tantamount to suicide for the State of Israel.
    Thank you very much for the ability to express my point of view on your blog.

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  • Dan from Piter 08/05/2009 at 15:18

    I have attempted to post comments on this very interesting article two times yesterday 8/4/09. Whereas my opinion was not always in accord with that of Ms. Glick – I have provided respectful reasons for my disagreements with some of her assessments of the nature of Obama Administration changed policies in the Middle East and specifically with personal accusations of unhinged radicalism, blatant anti-Semitism, neo-Marxism and other personal qualities that cannot be objectively verified by her – or anyone on this blog or any other. I am very curious if Conservative voices in our very diverse Jewish community worldwide have reasonable tolerance for some dissent with the views they present in blogs, articles, interviews etc? because I DO agree with accusations of the Left (and Jewish Left for that matter) of being much LESS tolerant to dissenting voices in our community.
    I do hope that these voices will be heard and a first test would be publication of this comment. Thank you, Shalom!

    Reply

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