WASHINGTON – The date for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s return to
Washington was set this past week for July 6, a month after the navy’s deadly
raid on a ship bound for Gaza caused him to cancel.
Though the headlines
have changed since the visit was originally arranged, the reception is expected
to be the same: warm and public. In other words, a direct contrast to the last
meeting, in March, when Netanyahu was ushered in and out of the White House at
night without so much as an official photo.
Partly the anticipated feting
is understood to be an equalizer for the welcome President Barack Obama
to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas earlier this month,
included an Oval Office press conference.
But just as
predicted overture to Netanyahu is viewed as the administration
burying the hatchet that ruptured relations between the two countries
of the spring.
It’s a move that happens to coincide with the
those American Jewish groups who argued that the public bad blood was
everybody, including America’s efforts to move the peace process
indeed, while the meeting will focus on bilateral issues, the lead-up
telling for what it reveals about the state of the American Jewish
The tensions first erupted during a trip Vice
Biden took to Israel in early March to patch up an already rocky
during which the Interior Ministry approved new Jewish housing in east
Jerusalem. Biden ended up strongly condemning the move, whose timing
apologized for. Biden appeared to accept the apology, but after his
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and senior White House aide David
publicly upbraided Israel again and made demands for policy changes.
struck Anti-Defamation League head Abraham Foxman, first out of the box
the fracas broke out, as excessive.
“We are shocked and stunned
administration’s tone and public dressing down of Israel on the issue of
building in Jerusalem,” he said.
Soon after came the American
Public Affairs Committee, which issued an unusually sharp statement
“The Obama administration’s recent statements
the US relationship with Israel are a matter of serious concern. AIPAC
the administration to take immediate steps to defuse the tension with
state,” it said. “We strongly urge the administration to work closely
privately with our partner Israel, in a manner befitting strategic
address any issues between the two governments.”
Capping a month
similar statements by other major Jewish organizations, in April the
Prize-winning Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel weighed in with an ad in
York Times pushing back against the US approach to Jerusalem, declaring,
“pressure will not produce a solution.”
Jewish groups on the
however, tended to send a different message, notably J Street, the new
progressive lobby energetically pressing for a two-state solution.
Street took out its own ad responding to Wiesel’s statements on
one a letter by former Meretz MK Yossi Sarid saying, “Barack Obama
aware of his obligations to try to resolve the world’s ills,
here. Why then undercut him and tie his hands?” And at the first signs
US-Israel flare-up, the group sent out a statement that “the Obama
administration’s reaction to the treatment of the vice president last
to the timing and substance of the Israeli government’s announcement was
understandable and appropriate... As Vice President Biden said,
a friend can deliver the hardest truth.’ That is what he, Secretary of
Hillary Clinton and White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod have done
days – and J Street, along with many friends of Israel, stands solidly
YET HOWEVER many friends of Israel stood alongside J
didn’t seem to be enough to reassure the White House that it didn’t need
change its tone on Israel.
It was Wiesel who ended up being the
one to get an invitation to a private White
House lunch with Obama after his letter appeared.
And he wasn’t
one to get showered with attention.
The annual conferences of the
Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Washington
for Near East Policy and other events with largely Jewish audiences got
high-profile administration speakers, including Clinton and Axelrod, who
more on Arab than Israeli infractions all while proclaiming the
the US-Israel relationship.
White House meetings with Jewish
rabbis were held, conference calls were made.
The effort was
dubbed a “charm offensive,” and the groups that the White House felt the
charm were the establishment organizations. J Street has been trying to
case that it speaks for large numbers of American Jews not represented
mainstream groups, presenting a new political dynamic in Washington. But
for an administration self-proclaimed to be seeking change, it was the
structures that appeared dominant in this episode.
secure support from the Jews who matter, it’s not enough to have the
Jews who are not affiliated with the mainstream organizations,” said one
activist of White House officials. “They’ve come to the conclusion that
really do need the AIPACs, the ADL supporters... It’s a statement on
real power still is.”
“The lesson here is that the administration
to always keep in mind the need to communicate with the Jewish community
pro-Israel community,” said William Daroff, director of the Jewish
of North America’s Washington office. “Despite what some people say, the
representative and most efficient vehicle for communicating with the
community is through the national mainstream Jewish organizations.”
Hadar Susskind, J Street’s director of policy and strategy, saw the
differently. He challenged the notion that the administration had taken a
different tack after the tensions over east Jerusalem, saying the
in keeping with ongoing efforts to talk to Jewish groups, J Street among
“I think the administration was reaching out broadly all
said. “It has strong, continual relations where it’s engaging with these
all the time.” And he added that the most significant issue wasn’t the
atmospherics but the policy, and that the administration took a position
was in line with J Street’s stance.
“The US government stated
clearly that it did not approve of the Israeli announcement,” he noted.
stood its ground on the policy, which is right.”
the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations,
that policy was a key issue when assessing what had unfolded over the
and that the administration’s response showed that the policy
establishment groups such as his was the right one.
“I think they
that we represent the great center of American Jewry,” he said, but
“If the ideas we expressed had not been valid or persuasive, it would