President Obama’s speech on the Middle East at the State Department last week, his icy glares at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office last Friday, his address before the AIPAC conference on Sunday, and his subsequent press briefings have all made clear that he is not sympathetically inclined toward Israel, nor does he consider Israel an ally worth defending.
Obama’s advocacy of the 1949 armistice lines as a starting point for negotiations demonstrate his lack of support for Israel’s right to defensible borders. His non-response to the Hamas-Fatah unity deal demonstrates that there is nothing the Palestinians can do that will make him accept the reality that their commitment to Israel’s destruction, rather than Israel’s continued control over Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, is the reason there is no peace between them and Israel.
And yet, disturbingly, major Jewish American organizations took it upon themselves this past week to defend Obama to their members and to the general public. The most prominent example of this was the Anti-Defamation League’s press release following Obama’s State Department speech. After Obama endorsed the Palestinian position that negotiations must be based on the indefensible 1949 armistice lines, and did so in the face of explicit Israeli entreaties that he abstain from doing so, the ADL released a statement applauding Obama.
ADL leaders Abe Foxman and Robert Sugarman congratulated Obama for his support for Israel. Among other things, their statement said, “This Administration has come a long way in two years in terms of understanding of the nuances involved in bringing about Israeli-Palestinian peace and a better understanding of the realities and challenges confronting Israel.”
Why on earth did the ADL feel it necessary to defend the indefensible? Why, in the midst of an open fight between Obama and the Israeli government, did the ADL feel it necessary to side with Obama against the government of Israel?
In his speech before AIPAC on Sunday, Obama did not repudiate his attachment to the Palestinians’ negotiating position. He did not mention any objection to the Palestinian demand to overrun Israel with millions of foreign Arabs. He did not announce any steps the U.S. will take to end its support for the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority, despite the fact that continued funding is outlawed by U.S. terror finance laws.
Moreover, Obama’s speech to AIPAC included a barely-veiled threat against Israel when he asserted, “There is a reason why the Palestinians are pursuing their interests at the United Nations. They recognize that there is an impatience with the peace process – or the absence of one. Not just in the Arab world, but in Latin America, in Europe, and in Asia. That impatience is growing, and is already manifesting itself in capitols around the world.”
In making this statement, Obama was effectively providing backing to the international campaign to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist. The forces promoting the Palestinian narrative throughout the world are increasingly calling for the destruction of Israel. Simply by mentioning this campaign without explaining that it is inherently anti-Semitic or at least in inherently hostile to Israel’s right to exist, Obama justified it.
And yet, Stand With Us, an organization founded to fight the campaign to delegitimize Israel, endorsed Obama’s AIPAC speech. In a press release issued shortly after Obama concluded his remarks at AIPAC, Stand With Us co-founder and CEO Roz Rothstein praised Obama saying, “We appreciated [Obama’s] repeated assurance that no debate about Israel’s legitimacy will ever be tolerated.”
The question is, why are American Jewish leaders defending Obama?
It would seem that there are three possible explanations.
The first explanation is fear. Several American Jewish philanthropists have mentioned over the past two years that they fear Obama. If he is reelected, they worry that since he will no longer need Jewish political contributions, he might strike out at Jewish-owned businesses the way he struck out at Republican-owned General Motors car dealerships when he nationalized GM. If they attack Obama for his positions on Israel, they worry that they will give him further justification for going after them.
The obvious response to these fears, it would seem, is to do everything possible to ensure that Obama is not reelected. If he is hostile enough to even consider going after American Jewish interests in a second term, then nothing American Jews do or don’t do will have any impact on him.
The second, perhaps more plausible, explanation is that Jewish leaders are concerned that their fellow American Jews are more attached to their identity as Democrats than they are to their identity as Jews. True, the overwhelming majority of American Jews express firm support for Israel. A poll carried out last week for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle Eastern Reporting in America (CAMERA) found that support for Israel is nearly unanimous among American Jews.
Yet neither the CAMERA poll nor previous surveys by the American Jewish Committee or Brandeis which had similar findings asked respondents to weigh their support for Israel against support for the Democratic Party. So it is possible that leaders are worried that if they oppose Obama’s anti-Israel positions too strongly, they will lose some support.
Survey information would be helpful for sorting out this issue. But on the face of things, it seems likely that serious donors to these groups care far more about Israel than the Democratic Party. The rest will either leave the organizations or be convinced that supporting Israel is more important than supporting Obama.
The third reason why U.S. Jewish leaders may be defending Obama’s positions on Israel is because the Israeli left defends his position on Israel. In the face of Obama’s latest baiting of Netanyahu, opposition leader Tzipi Livni attacked Netanyahu and accused him of destroying Israel’s relations with the U.S. She and her followers also defended Obama’s policies. Many American Jewish leaders must certainly believe that they cannot be more pro-Israel than the Israeli left.
Clearly, the party most responsible for calling out Livni and her associates for their irresponsible behavior is the Israeli public, which voted for Netanyahu and his coalition to lead the country rather than Livni and her party. But it important for American Jewish leaders to recognize the game being played – namely, Livni and Kadima are trying to exploit Obama’s position on Israel in an attempt to win a partisan battle against Netanyahu and Likud – before they jump into it.
Non-Jewish American supporters of Israel never tire of asking how it is that so many American Jews voted for Obama in 2008. Perhaps the easiest explanation is because the American Jewish leadership papered over his hostility.
Originally published in The Jewish Press.