Civil Fights: Listen to the Left

Left-of-center American Jews can no longer pretend there is no problem with Obama.

By
July 22, 2009 22:35
Civil Fights: Listen to the Left

Obama 248.88. (photo credit: AP)

Too many articles lambasting the continued Jewish support for US President Barack Obama have overlooked a crucial point: Many American Jews agree with his positions on Israel. Like him, they think Israel should completely freeze the settlements, withdraw to the 1967 lines and divide Jerusalem, and that peace would break out if only it did so. None of these views are shared by a majority of Israelis. But as long as American Jews hold them, expecting them to echo mainstream Israeli concerns over these policies is delusional. What is genuinely puzzling, however, is why Obama supporters appear equally deaf to the anguished cries of Israel's left, which has long advocated precisely these policies. When the editorial staff of Haaretz, a bastion of Israel's hard left, pens three opinion pieces criticizing Obama in the space of 10 days, it ought to be clear even to left-of-center American Jews that Obama has an Israel problem. THE FIRST, by veteran diplomatic correspondent and columnist Aluf Benn, appeared on July 10. Titled "The left went to the beach," it sought to explain why Israeli leftists, who vocally supported previous American demands for a settlement freeze, have not rallied behind Obama's. Not only have there been no demonstrations, but at a Knesset debate in early July, he noted, not a single MK urged compliance with Obama's demand. One reason, Benn posited, is that Obama never tried "to communicate with the Israeli public." He "spoke to Arabs and Muslims, but not Israelis. His neglect increased Israelis' fears that we do not have a friend in the White House." This impression was bolstered by "the administration's pathetic attempt to deny the existence of understandings on settlement construction" between Obama's predecessor and Israel: "It was possible to accuse Israel of violating its promises, or to say that the policy had changed and explain why, but not to lie." Additionally, "Obama obtained nothing from the Palestinians and the Arab states in exchange, and his insistence on a settlement freeze only encouraged Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in his refusal to negotiate with [Binyamin] Netanyahu. Under these circumstances, it is hard for the Israeli left to blame the government for ruining the chances for peace." Finally, "the more time passes, the more it appears that the demand to freeze settlement construction was meant to demonstrate a distancing from Israel." Obama has turned a settlement freeze "into a matter of honor," and "when the argument is about who is stronger instead of the real issue, anyone who urges Netanyahu to give in to Obama will be accused of being unpatriotic. And the Israeli left does not want to be backed into that corner." Thus after six months in office, Obama has made even Israeli leftists, who enthusiastically supported his election, doubt his friendship with Israel, rendering them unable to support his policies without appearing unpatriotic. And, equally grave, he has actually undermined the peace process by encouraging Abbas's refusal to negotiate. A week later, Haaretz devoted its editorial to the Obama problem. Titled "Speak to us, too," it began by slamming Netanyahu for "entering into an unnecessary and harmful conflict" with Obama's administration and "rejecting Obama's essential desire" to bring peace. Obama's presidency, it asserted, has created "a unique opportunity" for peacemaking that "it would be a shame to miss." But then came the punch line: "Now, the US administration must convince the Israeli public that it has a friend in the White House, and that the administration's positions correspond with Israel's national interests. After talking to the Arabs, Muslims and Iranians, in speeches and on television, it is only right that Obama also address the Israeli public." Again, the message was clear: Even Israel's left wants convincing that Obama will not sacrifice Israel's interests. THEN, LAST Friday, star columnist Yoel Marcus chimed in. For all Obama's goodwill, he wrote, "there is something naive, not to say infuriating, about his policy of dialogue and about the whistle stops he has chosen in his travels regarding our issue. He spoke in Turkey, he spoke in Egypt, he appeared before students in Saudi Arabia, Paris, England, Ghana and Australia. Even there the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was mentioned... The only place he hasn't been is Israel. He has spoken about us, but not to us." Moreover, Obama "is behaving as though everything starts and ends with the question of whether Israel will or will not freeze construction in the settlements," completely ignoring such crucial details as that the Oslo Accords resulted in waves of suicide bombers and the Gaza pullout in daily rocket attacks. His "obscuring of the fact that the Palestinians have not managed to overcome their passions and be worthy partners for a peace agreement" is "upsetting." Finally, while "Obama assumed he did a great thing when he spoke in Cairo about the Jewish people's suffering in the Holocaust," the "implied distortion: that we deserve a state because of the Holocaust" is "infuriating." "As a leader who aspires to solve the problems of the world through dialogue," Marcus concluded, "we expect him to come to Israel and declare here courageously, before the entire world, that our connection to this land began long before the Israeli-Arab conflict and the Holocaust, and that 4,000 years ago, Jews already stood on the ground where he now stands." In short, Obama is placing the onus entirely on Israel, thus absolving the Palestinians of any need to amend their behavior. Moreover, by basing Israel's claim to statehood on the Holocaust rather than the Jews' historic connection to this land, he has fed the Arab fantasy that Jews are colonialist interlopers with no right to be here, and that the Palestinians are being sacrificed to atone for European misdeeds - thereby fostering Arab intransigence and unwillingness to end the conflict. When even the hard-core leftists of Haaretz's editorial board feel that a) Obama seems hostile to Israel and b) his policies actually undermine the peace process, his American Jewish supporters ought to take note. Because no matter how sincerely Obama wants peace, a president who has lost even Israel's hard left has no chance of delivering it.


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