August 7, 2011

I'm Jewish and I support Obama, but honestly...

Adam Kredo is among those who have observed that President Obama's defenders play up U.S.-Israel military cooperation as a proof that he's good for Israel and for the Jews. Apparently, they think this will answer the critics of his effort to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians. 

Hopefully, the Administration does not genuinely anticipate winning back any Jewish voters or donors who may have dropped out over his dysfunctional peace moves -- because it won't work.

First of all, it's not clear the President has lost that many votes, and he's still far ahead in the fundraising race. Second, many of those he's lost are not just scared that he's exerting too much pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu -- many are disappointed that the President hasn't pressured Netanyahu enough. They feel he has squandered a fleeting opportunity to salvage the peace process before the Israeli public loses faith. 

Third, I can't think of a U.S. President whose Jewish bona fides have bounced back after being so roundly dismissed by Israelis themselves. Carter? Bush 41? And funny enough, they each accomplished great things for Israel objectively, but it barely registered absent that warm, fuzzy feeling.

Those American Jews who are backing (or even leading) Netanyahu's defiance of a U.S. role and his rejection of any genuine push for substantive negotiations have successfully planted the notion that Obama will "throw Israel under the bus" (yes, everyone loves to invoke that metaphor against this President). The best the President can hope for, having bet and lost on a settlement freeze twice already (TWICE), is that most American Jews will once again see that even a failing Obama is better than the Republican alternative on the full range of issues that American Jews care about.

It needs to be said, Obama has done himself no favor by assiduously avoiding travel to Israel during the first half of his term, when it could still have turned Israelis and American Jews on the atmospherics. Even if "it's never too late," it probably is too late at this stage. Jimmy Carter lost enough Jewish hawks in his first (and only) term that he gave the neo-conservative movement its biggest boost -- and yet his unprecedented Egypt-Israel peace treaty has stood the test of time. 

Obama has not lost that many Jewish voters or donors, despite some transparently counter-productive tactics regarding Israel and some domestic issues as well. But he has lost some, from the right and the left, and as we've learned in recent U.S. electoral history, every vote -- and every dollar -- counts.

The fact that President Obama repeated the settlements gambit, and that he continues to avoid visiting Israel, significantly undermines the credibility of all those who have been urging him (privately and publicly) to please-please-please visit Israel in his first year, in his second year, in his third year... Is there anyone, from J Street to the Zionist Organization of America, who hasn't encouraged the President to visit Israel? Would the Europeans have minded? Wouldn't it have reassured the Palestinians and the Saudis? Wouldn't it have shown President Obama as REALLY trying to bridge the growing gap between Israelis and Palestinians, rather than trying to win parlor games with Prime Minister Netanyahu?

All supporters of Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship should be thrilled with the level of bilateral military cooperation and with Washington's consistent diplomatic support. But had the President been a little better at listening than at being right, had he been more resolute than stubborn, perhaps we'd still be able to imagine a day when the military cooperation would be less vital. Perhaps we'd feel something in our kishkes beyond heartburn.

So here's a note to my fellow Democrats and Obama-boosters, and many of my best friends: For those American Jews who care one way or the other, it's not about the military relationship, which for better or worse we now take for granted. For us, it's about either pressuring or bolstering a seriously right-wing government. So please, if you're thinking of using the "military relationship" pitch, don't. Don't insult our intelligence or undermine your own credibility. Trust me, we're going to need it.

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