After Obama, Netanyahu now turns attention to burying hatchet with US Jews

Republicans scoff at the notion that Netanyahu and the GOP made common cause in an effort to weaken Jewish support for the Democrats by so brazenly opposing Obama's Iran policies.

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November 10, 2015 11:45

Jpost TV: Netanyahu and the Democrats

Jpost TV: Netanyahu and the Democrats

 
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With the bitter row over the Iran nuclear deal in the rearview mirror, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now turns his attention to patching things up not just with the Obama administration but also with one of its key constituencies - the American Jewish community.

"The prime minister has to create a climate where he lets the American Jewish community know that Israel is a bipartisan issue and not a partisan [one], and that both parties should be supporting Israel, not just one," said Seymour Reich, the former head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

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Speaking to The Jerusalem Post from New York, Reich said that Netanyahu's very public challenge of Obama's signature foreign policy achievement left a bad aftertaste in the mouths of many Jews who were put in the unenviable position of choosing to support their president over the objections of the Israeli government.

When asked if the prime minister has a lot of ground to make up with the American Jewish community, Reich concurred.

"He does, but he can accomplish it very easily with words and action in terms of addressing these issues," he said. "He can make it clear in his messages that his speaking before the House on the Iranian deal was an error and that he did not intend to create a division that did occur within the American Jewish community, but that's in the past."

Republicans, for their part, scoff at the notion that Netanyahu and the GOP made common cause in an effort to weaken Jewish support for the Democrats by so brazenly opposing Obama's Iran policies.

"The argument that [Israel has become] a wedge issue designed to attract Jewish voters is really kind of silly," said Marc Zell, the co-chairman of Republican Overseas Israel and vice president of Republican Overseas International. "There aren't that many Jewish voters in the United States, and most of them tend to be located in states where Republicans don't really have any chance of obtaining electoral votes during the 2016 election. New York and California are Democratic states, and there's very little the Republican Party is going to be doing about that."



Zell notes that even with a "problematic" president like Obama, a majority of Jews still voted for the Democrats in 2012, making the "wedge issue" argument moot.

"Republicans support Israel because it's important to support Israel, it's in the interests of the United States to support Israel, and I would hope that the Democratic Party, despite its very left-wing tendencies of late, will adopt a bi-partisan approach to Israel," he said.

As for the notion that Netanyahu should reach out to liberal Jews following his public row with the administration, Zell is not convinced.
Jpost TV: Netanyahu in the US - The Republican View

"It's important for the prime minister of Israel to keep lines of communication open with all parties, but I don't think he has any bridges to mend," the Republican said. "He did what was in the interests of the Jewish state and the Jewish people [by appearing before Congress and speaking out against the Iran deal]. The fact that Jewish leaders in the United States chose to support the president on this issue is unfortunate because I think as current events are showing and as they will continue to show over the next few months, this deal is a bad deal and the United States' rapprochement with Iran is a very bad idea."

During his trip, Netanyahu is scheduled to appear before the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank closely aligned with the Democratic Party. He is also due to address Jewish organizations eager to hear about ways he intends to turn the page in relations with Washington. For liberal Jews, however, the Iran deal and the Palestine question remain bones of contention with the prime minister.

"It's saddened me to say that American Jews are becoming increasingly isolated from Israel," Reich said. "The Iranian deal as a point in question was supported by a majority of American Jews, whereas many of the Israeli leaders, and the prime minister in particular, were opposed to it."

Reich noted that Vice President Joe Biden received a standing ovation from a gathering of Reform Jews when he spoke of the need for Israel to make progress in the peace process with the Palestinians. This pits a bulk of American Jews well to the left of the current Israeli government.

Still, there are attempts to de-emphasize past disagreements between the two leaders and instead place the focus on strengthening US-Israeli ties.

"This is not a partisan, political visit," said Sheldon Schorer, a spokesperson for Democrats Abroad in Israel. "This has nothing to do with Democrats versus Republicans. This is the leader of Israel visiting the leader of the United States to talk about issues of mutual concern. And the Iran deal happens to be an issue of mutual concern."

"Until now, there has been a harsh discussion between the two parties," Schorer said. "Now we need to deal with the effects of this agreement."

With observers on both sides acknowledging the poor personal relationship between Obama and Netanyahu, Schorer believes that ultimately the interests of both governments trump any residual animus.

"A lot of that is overblown, especially in the context of the current talks," he said. "They each represent their constituencies of their respective countries. Whatever personal feelings they have between themselves is irrelevant."

The perception of Obama as anti-Israel in light of his determination to see passage of the Iran nuclear deal also does not sit well with Democrats.

"One does not have to be a Likudnik to love Israel," Schorer said. "Well, surprise, there are other people in Israel who have disagreements with Mr. Netanyahu. The fact that there are political differences on how to push forward the peace process and on how to deal with Iran is understandable. But both of them, knowing this and having had the experience they have, will deal with this in a professional manner."

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