Saturday, April 3, 2010

Confessions of a Pro-Israel Obama Supporter

I confess.

I voted for Barack Obama and I'm glad I did.  Like most of my fellow Jews, I think he's doing a pretty good job as President of the United States.  I also feel a special connection to the State of Israel and strongly support its right to exist as a democracy, defend itself, and not be held to a double standard by the U.N. or the rest of the world as it so often is today.

Those sentiments don't sound or feel the least bit radical or incongruous to me.  But that just shows how out of touch I must be with millions of other people who also say they care deeply about our country and the Jewish state.  Many of them have never been angrier or more concerned that Obama would like nothing better than to sell Israel down the river in his spare time as he bankrupts and destroys America with his socialist agenda. 

I would apologize for supporting this horrible man if I could just figure out what he is doing wrong.

We have a representative democracy that seems to have served us well over the years.  A majority of Americans elected Obama president 16 months ago .  The margin was even more dramatic if you consider that he won pretty much every state outside the former Confederacy and the Wilderness states where a large double-digit percentage of the voters acknowledged they would never vote for a Black man.  He was particularly popular with Jews who supported him by a 3-1 margin.

But many American Jews who identify themselves as staunchly "pro-Israel" have never been comfortable with Obama.  In recent weeks, several respected Jewish leaders have joined others who seem so confused that they don't know the difference between Haman and Mordechai--the villain and the hero of the Purim story in which an evil politician tries to destroy the Jewish people.

Obama is no Haman.  He has made it clear from the outset that he would like to be a force for progress in bringing about the two-state solution that is essential if Israel is to remain a Jewish democracy for longer than a few more years.

He has repeatedly stated his commitment to Israel's security and safety and has made it clear that the Palestinians and Arab states need to renounce terrorism and violence and recognize Israel's right to exist. 

Obama first voiced his unshakable support for Israel during his address to AIPAC prior to his election and recently sent Vice-President Biden to Israel affirm that commitment yet again. 

But when March Madness began on the basketball court, March Mishegos took over the Jewish press and several pro-Israel organizations.  And the insanity continues.

Like his predecessor, Obama has stated that the U.S. role in making peace would be made easier if Israel stopped building neighborhoods in the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem.  So the White House was understandably annoyed with both the timing and the substance of the decision to build 1600 new housing units in part of Jerusalem that was announced during Biden's visit.

The White House has made it clear that this awkward incident was a spat among friends--not a crisis or a major game-changer in U.S.--Israel relations. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu apologized for the timing of the announcement and has repeatedly insisted that this incident did not provoke a crisis between his country and the U.S.

It never seemed like that big a deal.  But a number of Jewish "leaders" and journalists clearly disagree.
AIPAC, the largest pro-Israel organization in the U.S., immediately called on the Obama administration to "diffuse the tensions" with Israel, branding statements by the White House "a matter of serious concern."  the AIPAC statement cites no specific comments or incidents as the cause of the undefined tension nor did it state what the Israeli government should be doing to help improve the situation. 

The next day, Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick announced that the incident in Israel "drove Obama into a fit of uncontrolled rage from which he has yet to recover" which caused him to "foment a crisis (and) launch a political war on Israel." 

Glick never offered quotes or any documentation for her dramatic claims but her column was lapped up and spread through the email network by concerned Jews.

A few days later, New York Post and Fox News military analyst Ralph Peters wrote a column featuring a very old photo of Obama standing next to Reverend Jeremiah Wright and stated that "regarding Israel, a lifetime of extremist associations has infected Obama with an emotional loathing for the Jewish state and a romantic vision of Palestinian terrorists as freedom fighters."  Like Glick, Peters cited no quotes or facts to substantiate his accusations.  But that email has also been widely distributed.

Then Former New York City mayor and Obama supporter Ed Koch went on Fox News to echo what he had just written--that Obama had "thrown Israel under the bus."  Koch criticized our president for his "abysmal attitude toward the State of Israel and his humiliating treatment of Netanyahu."  According to Koch, Obama insulted Bibi by having only a single photographer take pictures when the two met in Washington last week.  That was the humiliating treatment.  No specifics, facts, or quotes were cited by Koch to back his other serious accusations and criticism of Obama.

Netanyahu has said nothing publicly other than to "condemn and deny" a quote attributed to an anonymous source who quoted him as calling Obama "a disaster for Israel"  and to assert in a speech at AIPAC, that Israel has the right to build settlements in Jerusalem or anywhere else it wants to.

So what am I missing?  Where is the tension?  Where is the rage?  Where is the outrageous treatment of Netanyahu?  Where is anything resembling a crisis? 

After the embarrassing housing announcement in Israel for which Netanyahu apologized, Biden made a speech there in which he said:

"I am here to remind you, though I hope you will never forget, that America stands with you shoulder-to-shoulder in facing these threats. President Obama and I represent an unbroken chain of American leaders who have understood this critical, strategic relationship. As the President said recently, “I will never waver from ensuring Israel’s security and helping them secure themselves in what is a very hostile region.”

Doesn't sound like a crisis to me.

All this happened at the time when Obama was working around the clock to get health care reform passed during which he never mentioned Israel once.  After its passage, every time he appeared on TV he seemed downright giddy over his legislative triumph.  No anger or rage. No mention of a war on Israel or any talk about a crisis.

The larger and more troubling question is why so many Jewish organizations have jumped on the bandwagon expressing their concerns.  Their thinly-veiled message seemed to be that despite his repeated public statements of support for Israel they essentially agreed with those who questioned Obama's sincerity and motives. 

None of these individuals or groups did themselves or the Jewish people a service by adding to and promoting the unwarranted anger and hysteria that has swept the "pro-Israel" community.  A series of polls taken in both Israel and U.S. in recent days that show that most Jews support Obama and his concern about the negative impact of the radical settler movement and their damaging role in shaping Israel's domestic policies.

Polls released in two Israeli newspapers this week revealed that Israelis are evenly split on the issue of whether all neighborhood and settlement growth in the West Bank and Jerusalem should be halted.  A clear majority of non-Orthodox Jews in Israel support such a freeze.

A separate poll of Israelis showed that  69 percent of Israelis view Obama as "fair or friendly" to Israel while only 21 percent viewed the U.S. president as "hostile."

Recent polls by J-Street and Gallup show that more than 60 percent of American Jews approve of the job Obama is doing as president--15 percentage points higher than the U.S. population as a whole.

In addition, a Rasmussen poll of U.S. voters show that a majority believe that Israel should stop growing neighborhoods in the West Bank and Jerusalem.  By a 3-1 margin, American voters also believe that the Palestinians should recognize Israel's right to exist.

So not only are the alarmists who are trying to convince us that a U.S.-Israel crisis exists in the absence an any evidence, they are also out of touch with the majority of the constituencies they claim to represent.

There IS a serious crisis in Israel but it has nothing to do with Obama or the U.S.  It is the toxic impact of the Religious Right and the settler movement--a group that is small in numbers but huge in influence due to Israel's form of government which requires a leader like Netanyahu to put together a majority coalition to remain in power.  The religious Shas party is a key part of that group and Bibi had to name a Shas interior minister to form his government.  That minister is the one who blind-sided his own boss with the untimely announcement of the new construction in Jerusalem during Biden's visit.

Bibi's greatest challenge is not Obama.  It's deciding if and when he is going to spend more time and energy working on the inevitable two-state solution and less on sucking up to the fundamentalist fanatics who have consistently worked against the peace process.  Most American Jews don't want to acknowledge (much less deal with) those complexities so they just bash Muslims and Obama and define being "pro-Israel--American style" to include positions that most Israelis would find frightening.

Surveys have consistently shown that a majority of Israelis would be willing to give up the settlements if it would help the cause of peace.  Netanyahu certainly has the right to do whatever he wants.  The issue is whether it's smart for him to fly in the face of common sense, the will of his own people and most American Jews.

As a deeply committed Jew who has made almost two dozen trips to Israel and has held top positions in Federation, Israel Bonds, Jewish days schools, and other organizations I am aware of serious concerns in our community about continuity and the shrinking base of Jews who are choosing to become involved with existing community organizations.

It doesn't help our cause for those who claim to be leaders and staunchly pro-Israel to be so out of touch with the values and ideology of the majority of our people--particularly those who are not yet on Medicare.  They are our future and my sense is they are driven even further away by the posturing and lack of a factual basis for many of the claims and accusations that are supposedly being made on their behalf.

Jews are no strangers to crisis and we have suffered in the past under presidents and political leaders who were either indifferent or worse to our legitimate rights and concerns.  Now that we have a president and many other leaders who are truly advocates of peace and hope, it seems silly and counter-productive to ramp up the rhetoric and accusations without any facts or documentation to back them up.

Purim and March Michegos are over as is April Fool's Day.  Hopefully we can move forward from here with an approach that generates much more light and a lot less heat.  And if the leaders of the Chosen People or anyone else want to level vicious attacks against our president, they should at least back them with facts and sources. 

That's a change we can all believe in.






11 comments:

Mark Rubin said...

Good column. Recall, also, that this anti-Israel, anti-Semitic President is the first U.S. President to have a Passover Seder in the White House, and that it's happened twice, which certainly answers the expected claim that he did it once "for show."

The reality, I think, is that Obama's domestic taxation policies are inconsistent with the short term interests of some older, wealthier Jews in America, who happen to be leaders in our community. There's a lot of subtext here that has precious little to do with solving a problem in the Middle East, and much to do with electoral politics in the U.S., and the consistent perception that Obama can be broken. (So far, not so much, but these people aren't ready to give up the ghost and get busy solving problems.)

David said...

"Most" American Jews? Really? You've just shown that most American Jews voted for Obama -- and I suspect that if they're anything like me they have every expectation of voting for him again in 2012. What's your evidence for your generalization and its rather disturbing implication that "most American Jews" have turned against the President?

jack said...

i am one of those american jews who didn't vote for Obama in large part because of concerns about his foreign policy instincts. his dealings with the middle east conflict has only confirmed my concerns.

In the entire world the only real ally of Israel is the USA. is it sensible to pick a public fight with that ally over building in a community that everyone to date assumed would remain in Israel in order to impress the other side with our impartiality? i don't think so and the reason is simple: the reason there is no peace in the middle east is almost entirely attributable to the refusal of the palestinians and the arab world to accept a jewish state in their midst. the settlements are not helpful, true, but does anyone doubt that if the arabs accepted this fact or any one of the good faith offers made to the palestinians since 1999, the overwhelming majority of the israeli population would go along for peace? after every peace offer or withdrawal the result is the same: more war, rockets, terror. indeed half of the proposed palestinian polity is under the control of an implacable terror group, Hamas.

of course israel is not blame free. but in weighing the accounts of blame i fail to see why ISrael is the party that is really failing to make the grade here. it is willing to talk directly, and has taken steps on the ground to ease life in the west banks, resulting in marked economic growth.

for many american jews we see israel at a crucial juncture. its legitimacy as a state is constantly called into question and its ablility to defend itself against terror is more circumscribed with each passing month. add to that the strategic threat from iran and it is hardly unreasonable to conclude that adding US hostility over relatively small matters will not advance the ball. ask yourself this question: would you as an israeli prime minister trust in the nuclear umbrella of the US under the control of Obama?? or for that matter any president with the oil center of the universe under potential threat of being unusable for mankind for centureis after a widened nuclear confrontation.

Larry Gellman said...

Jack--

The whole point of this article is that I have yet to be shown that Obama is saying that Israel hasn't made the grade. Please provide me with a quote. An example. SOMETHING other than this constant stream of undocumented accusations. Then we can talk.

N. Friedman said...

Mr. Gellman,

While you write a good column, I think it is a fantasy.

Obama wants people in the Muslim regions to believe he is pro-Arab. Hence, he takes a tough stance against Israel in public while Abbas, in the pattern that existed prior to Sadat, refuses direct negotiations with Israel. And, Obama supports that nonsense. Yet, you see nothing odd about that.

While there are occasional comments about what Arab do, the comments are not stated with force. There is no condemnation. Incitement in the Palestinian Arab press - PA organs at that - merits not hardly a, if any, word from Obama. Instead, he worries about apartments to be built on land that is in the midst of Jewish neighborhoods. As if that were a real obstacle to peace. In what way? That, not government action that incites violence, worries Obama.

In any event, past is normally prelude. So, if Obama makes demands now over ridiculous matters, what will happen in negotiations? Again, past is prelude.

For the record: I am a liberal Democrat. I have voted always for Democrats - except for Jacob Javits when I was much, much younger. I shall never ever vote for Obama. I am disgusted by him and his behavior. And, I know that I am not alone in my view. So, I may not speak for more than myself but I am willing to bet that there are many liberal Democrats like me who will not vote for him no matter what.

N. Friedman said...

Note: For people not old enough, Javits was a new deal type liberal who ran in the Republican party.

Yaacov said...

Larry,

The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

In September 2008 Olmert made an offer to Abu Mazen that went even further than the offers made in 2000 and 2001. Abu Mazen never even responded, assuming that Obama would shortly be elected and he'd be more friendly to the Palestinian side.

It's now 19 months later. The negotiations that were advancing on George Bush's watch have never been re-started. There are various reasons for this, but it's hard to escpae the thought that Obama has repeatedly staked positions far beyond what the Palestinians ever said, such as that there can be no negotiations while any changes are being maed by Israel on the ground (Palestinian chages and incitement are fine); if those are the positions of the American president, the Palestinians can hardly be expected to say otherwise.

Obama then moved the post again by pretending that Gilo and Ramat Shlomo are the same - exactly the same - as Itamar or Har Bracha. Again, the Palestinians can't be expected to say anything less.

There was also the silly pretense by the Obama adminsitration (mostly by Hillary), that the Bush-Sharon letters of 2004 hever happened. And then there was the pretense that constuction in Jerusalem had not been acquiesced in by the Obama adminsitration, even though it had.

Bottom line: Obama has proven to Israelis he can't be trusted - that can't be good for peace; and he has allowed the Palestinians to stake positions which make negotiations, much less agreement, ever more remote.

Nothing to be proud of, it seems to me.

PS. The data in that Haaretz poll you cite didn't say what Haaretz said it said. Go back and read the numbers, not the headline.

PPS. I have been on record since the 1970s as advocating a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza, and have been an opponent of settlements. Don't get me wrong on this.

TJGodel said...

Good Column! It's easy to be pro-Israel, but very hard to face facts and propose solution for a future of peace. Typically what I hear words like "that will never" or "we should never" when concerning Israel and peace.

anon said...

Reading the comments here is depressing. Phrases like "Obama can never be trusted" and "past is prelude" make me think some Jews are unable to see that the status quo is unacceptable into the future. As demographics there change and the Middle East grows more extremists in part due to the two-state stalemate, I wonder if some of those people who want to demonize Obama think becoming the new old South Africa is the answer. The two-state solution is the only solution, it is clear to the vast majority. The longer some people want to put that off by demonizing Israel's biggest ally, the more Israel will lose support in America and the harder an equitable solution can be found.

N. Friedman said...

anon,

Since part of your comment is directed at me, I am responding.

Your view seems to be that Israel alone can solve its problems by ceding land to Palestinian Arabs who will, in exchange, end their war against Israel once and for good. That, however, is not a reality. That is a fantasy, at least at this time.

Now, I do not oppose a two state solution. If it ends the dispute, I am all for it. If not, then other ideas need to be tried. But, I surely want the dispute resolves as much as anyone. Bloodshed is bad. Ruling people who do not want your rule is bad. Violence is bad, etc., etc.

Assuming, arguendo, your concerns about demographics, Israel cannot force the Arab side to say, creation of a Palestinian Arab state next to Israel ends the dispute. Only the Arab side can say that and only the Arab side can really mean it (or fake it). Thus far, there is not the slightest evidence that the Arab side is willing to end the dispute on a two state or any other basis that leaves Israel a state for the Jewish people. And, polling evidence over the course of many years shows that any settlement that may be negotiated with the Israelis is intended as an interim solution. Facts are facts, anon. That, more than anything else, explains why Arafat did not accept President Clinton's December 2000 proposal or Ehud Olmert's 2008 proposals, both of which supposedly, according to Arab sources, met the red-line set by the Arab side.

Also, your notion of the pre-Mandela South African state completely misunderstands what apartheid era South Africa was about. Notwithstanding efforts to redefine apartheid to cover Israeli behavior, the two countries have entirely different ideologies and realities. So, I would think you, a supposed friend of Israel, would refrain from repeating propaganda hurled at Israel by its enemies and, instead, focus on resolving the dispute - the dispute as it actually is, not the one which demonizes one side and sugarcoats and elides the negatives of the other side.

Rebecca said...

What I find depressing is 1) the fact that knowledgeable Jews like Gellman continue to defend Obama, and 2) the prospect that the vast majority of Jews will vote for him again in 2012. Gellman says he wants evidence of Obama's and his administration's anti-Israel bias, and then proceeds to ignore the evidence that is there for all to see:

1) his choosing to make the Ramat Shlomo affair into a crisis point
2) the linkage of building in totally Jewish areas in parts of Jerusalem captured in 1967 (Ramat Shomo, Pisgat Ze'ev, Gilo, Ramot) to settlements in Judea and Samaria
3) his open snubbing and disrespect of Netanyahu
4) leaks about Dennis Ross' dual loyalty simply for noting Netanyahu's limits of concessions given the Israeli political realities
5) the advisors -- e.g. Samantha Powers, Zbigniew Brzezinski (even though he promised in the campagin not to listen to him on Israel)
6) the Cairo speech's justification of the existence of the State of Israel as being a response to the Holocaust and not based on the right of the Jewish people to a state
7) his going to Cairo and not Israel
8) the evidence that he will seek to impose a solution of the Israel / Palestine problem on the parties, which is excatly what the Palenstinians are hoping for.

Go ahead Larry, keep kidding yourself or choose to wake up and face the reality of the most anti-Israel president EVER.