Candidly Speaking: The Obama visit and American Jewry
During the election season, President Obama’s charm campaign toward the Jewish community eased tensions.
AIPAC Photo: REUTERS
Israelis will enthusiastically greet President Barack Obama in the course of his
first visit to the Jewish state since being elected president. But they will
also be apprehensively listening to his statements and hoping that his meetings
will solidify the US-Israeli relationship.
He has arrived at a time when
the political influence of American Jewry, the most affluent and powerful
Diaspora community in our history, is in decline. This is starkly exemplified by
its failure to influence successive administrations to commute the sentence of
Jonathan Pollard, whose unprecedented inhumane treatment is now even raising
ugly allegations of discriminatory prejudice.
This erosion of Jewish
political influence stems from the combined impact of burgeoning global
hostility against Israel, the increasing isolationism of the Obama
administration, and the emergence from the closet of highly vocal Jewish
minority groups campaigning to pressure the Israeli government.
Jewish establishment accepts within its own ranks Jews who shamelessly canvass
the US administration to pressure the democratically elected government of
Israel to adopt policies that it considers would undermine its security and in
the long term even threaten its existence.
The gravity of the issue is
evidenced not merely by marginal groups like J Street, but by the disturbing
outbursts from rabbis and synagogues publicly defaming Israel in a manner
inconceivable a few years ago.
The atmosphere on campus is also
distressing, with a number of Hillel directors welcoming anti-Israeli Jewish
groups in order to be “inclusive.”
This mirrors the debates within
mainstream Jewish organizations on whether to retain and legitimize within the
“big tent,” Jews calling for BDS or boycotts of products produced over the Green
The problem is further compounded because the majority of Jews
continue to support the Democratic Party. This exerts pressure on Jewish leaders
to desist from alienating their funders by aggressively confronting the
administration in relation to policies deemed hostile or biased against
It is also apparent that some Jewish leaders hesitate to be
forthright in their criticism for fear of antagonizing the administration and
being denied access to the White House.
There is even growing concern
among some American Jews about an anti-Semitic backlash against Jewish power.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism,
identified this and to his credit stated that the “acquisition of Jewish power
is a blessing not a misfortune” and urged his fellow Jews to “never minimize,
apologize, or be squeamish about Jewish power.”
THESE FACTORS explain the
less than robust Jewish responses to negative tilts by the administration toward
Israel and its appeasement of aggressive Islamists.
extends beyond issues relating to Israel and is reflected in the lowering of the
American Jewish profile, even in relation to global anti- Semitism.
way of illustration, consider the statement of Egyptian President Morsi
referring to Jews as descendants of pigs and apes; Turkish President Recep
Erdogan’s disgusting outburst at a UN gathering describing Zionism as a “crime
against humanity”; the Argentinian government’s betrayal of its Jewish citizens
in its devil’s pact with Iran with President Cristina Kirchner obscenely
accusing Argentinian Jewish leaders of indulging in espionage and conspiring
with enemies of the state. All these anti-Semitic incidents, which a few years
ago would have resulted in a storm of protests and calls on the administration
to demand withdrawals and apologies, merely elicited muted condemnations with
During the election season, President Obama’s charm
campaign toward the Jewish community eased tensions.
that aside from seeking Jewish support, his more positive approach toward Israel
was also motivated by a realization that former efforts to impose a Middle East
settlement had been counterproductive.
However, Obama’s subsequent
selection of personnel for key cabinet positions, in particular the appointment
of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, set alarm bells ringing and resurrected
doubts about his repeated commitments that Iran would never become a nuclear
power under his watch.
Yet, aside from Morton Klein, head of the Zionist
Organization of America, there was no meaningful Jewish campaign opposing
When leaders avoid confronting such situations, my
instincts suggest that they will lose respect and begin sliding down the
slippery slope toward political impotence.
Yet, not having been privy to
discussions and understandings that may have taken place behind the scenes, I
hesitate to be dogmatic in my assessment of this issue.
claim they were aware from the outset that Hagel would almost certainly be
confirmed and that, as a matter of strategy, they wished to avoid polarizing the
situation on the eve of Obama’s visit to Israel. They point out that even during
the worst political confrontations with Israel Obama maintained defense ties in
an exemplary manner. They were also concerned that a confrontation at this time
could further undermine congressional bipartisanship which is crucial to
AIPAC, the key organization promoting Israel whose recent annual
conference was attended by over 13,000 participants, at no stage expressed an
opinion about Hagel, despite its traditional record of aggressively confronting
anti-Israeli political candidates.
Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation
League and David Harris of the American Jewish Committee did express their
concerns on various occasions but failed to launch public
Whether or not these tactics prove to be justified, it is
clear that the electoral support of the majority of Americans Jews failed to
deter Obama from appointing Hagel, despite his awareness that this would deeply
distress most of them. It may in fact signal that ongoing Jewish support has
encouraged Democrats to take Jews for granted and substantially weakened their
However, the spotlight is now focused on President
Obama’s visit to Israel. Every visiting US president has addressed the Knesset
and Obama’s refusal to do so is perceived by many Israelis as a symbolic
Yet the real litmus test as to the president’s intentions will be
reflected by the manner in which he responds to the concrete issues impacting on
Israel’s security and future.
How will he act in relation to Iran? Does
he intend to pressure Israel again to make further unilateral concessions to the
Palestinians on the basis of a quid pro quo in relation to Iran? Will he revert
to promoting the 1949 armistice lines as the benchmark in renewing negotiations?
Will he continue appeasing the Islamists – the Egyptians, the Turks? In
addition, it should be clear that if Obama fails to employ US pressure on the
Europeans to prevent sanctions being imposed against Israel or abstains from
vetoing anti-Israeli UN Security Council resolutions, he would be, indirectly,
abandoning the Jewish state to the wolves.
If American Jewish leaders
have been keeping their powder dry for these crucial issues and are able to
ensure that a bipartisan Congress remains firmly supportive of Israel and
ensures our security requirements, their restraint will be vindicated.
this context, even a weakened American Jewry still carries enormous clout, and
its ongoing support for Israel remains crucial. Jewish leaders must strategize a
campaign to determine the best manner of enhancing the security of the Jewish
state and encouraging the US administration to adhere to its commitments and
In the long term, this will also profoundly influence the
standing and well-being of American Jewry whose fate is inextricably linked with
that of Israel – even if some of them do not acknowledge it.
website can be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com.
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