In a recent Jerusalem Post interview
, former deputy secretary of state Elliot
Abrams said President Barack Obama “sees Israel as a problem,” reminding us of
the question that won’t go away.
It’s a question being asked by many a
political pundit, and not just on the island of Manhattan or in Israel. As an
American-Israeli who is often interviewed by perplexed conservative talk show
hosts, and having written extensively about this president’s relationship with
Israel, the recurring question of American Jewish support for Israel has become
one I can no longer avoid.
It goes something like this: – Is Obama really
hostile to Israel, and if he is, why does he still have massive Jewish support?
Furthermore, will there be a lateral shift in 2012? Concerning the first
question, I believe the answer is clear to almost all Israelis. Three major
opinion surveys taken in Israel in the past two years have posed the question,
“Is President Obama pro-Israel?” The results have ranged from only four percent
answering affirmatively in the first poll to 15% in the most recent one (taken
at the onset of the 2012 presidential campaign).
With few exceptions,
Israelis have been appalled ever since that first confrontational White House
meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, when, after receiving a stern
lecture from the president about the illegality of Israeli settlements, Israel’s
prime minister was ungraciously left alone to fend for his dinner. Furthermore,
most Jewish Israelis, whatever their views, were offended by Obama’s
unprecedented political ambush this past May, when he publicly “suggested” that
Israel return to its precarious pre-1967 borders just as Netanyahu was boarding
his plane for a visit to Israel’s “best friend” in Washington.
Jewish Israelis are not Jewish Americans, and that is where the difference lies.
Having lived in the United States for 35 years before immigrating to Israel
almost 20 years ago, I know as well as anyone that Jews are not monolithic
supporters of Israel. I wish it were otherwise, and it’s painful, but as with
any American voters, there is a process of prioritization that occurs when
selecting presidential candidates – and for most American Jews, Israel is not at
the top of the list.
In short, the litmus test determining American
Jewish support is not a candidate’s position on Israel. Liberal positions on
issues such as abortion, gay marriage, school prayer and health care are what
determine the vote in the core of America’s Jewish community.
confrontational positions on Israel may be problematic for many American Jews,
but are easily rationalized away by Democratic talking heads, who insist that
most Israelis actually support the pre- 1967 borders, even though the
undoubtedly left-leaning former foreign minister Abba Eban once referred to them
as “the borders of Auschwitz.”
The reality is that most American Jews,
while not necessarily economic liberals, are definitely social liberals who
would find it difficult to support a staunchly pro-Israel conservative candidate
like Michelle Bachmann. The term “knee-jerk liberal” or “knee-jerk Democrat”
certainly applies here, and while most American Jews would decry such a
characterization, the facts validate its veracity. In 1980, Ronald Reagan ran
against incumbent Jimmy Carter, whose anti-Israel credentials certainly rival
those of Obama.
When Reagan succeeded in capturing 35% of the Jewish
vote, it was considered a major accomplishment, as many independent-minded Jews
for whom Israel was a highpriority issue shifted to the other side of the aisle;
but the majority remained faithful to the overall Democratic agenda and
rationalized away the anti-Israel feeling that Carter conveyed.
a similar case. This president, whose sympathies clearly lie with the Islamic
world, is no friend of Israel. His lack of appreciation for the Israeli
narrative was obvious long before his victory in 2008. It’s no coincidence that
his first major foreign policy speech was given in Cairo, during which he
repeatedly proclaimed his deep respect for the religion of Islam. It’s also no
coincidence that he bowed to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Last but not least,
it’s no accident that he has chosen not to visit Israel even once during his
term. Ideological litmus tests aside, the time has come for American Jews who
truly care about Israel to remove their rose-colored glasses and consider an
The writer is a former mayor of Shiloh, and founder and
president of the Shiloh Israel Children’s Fund. He is the author of two books,
including his latest,
The Islamic Tsunami (Israel & America in the Age of