The “closed” meeting between President Barack Obama and 50 representatives of
the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations last week
was hailed by the chairman Alan Solow and executive vice chairman Malcolm
Hoenlein as an “extraordinary session,” providing “open lines of communication
with President Obama and his administration” and an “opportunity to articulate
the views of American Jews on issues that face the country.”
In a similar
vein, the White House said the meeting reaffirmed “America’s unshakable support
for Israel’s security, opposition to any effort to delegitimize or single it out
for criticism, and a commitment to achieve a peace that will secure the future
for Arabs and Israelis alike.”
In contrast to the 2009 meeting, J Street
was not invited.
From all reports, Obama went out of his way to persuade
participants that he was committed to Israel. More importantly, he unequivocally
reaffirmed his commitment to maintain US military aid at the current record
However, despite his positive remarks, it would appear that he
remains committed to a policy of applying one-sided pressure to make further
Participants thanked the president for having
exercised the US veto at the UN Security Council. But in response to expressions
of regret at the harsh anti-Israeli statements made by US representatives before
and after the vote, Obama stated that White House officials consider it
imperative for the US “to do something to show balance” in view of the delicacy
of Arab public opinion during these “sensitive” times.
It was also
disconcerting to learn that despite the recent tsunamis in the Arab world, Obama
still sees a linkage between the turmoil – including the threat from Iran – and
the need for concessions to the Palestinians.
This distortion of reality
is accentuated when viewed in conjunction with recent US statements downplaying
radical Islamic fundamentalist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt,
which the State Department now describes as “moderate,” despite its clear
objectives of creating a Shari’a state and destroying Israel.
alarming was a JTA report quoting Obama making a patronizing call to the Jewish
leaders to speak to their friends and colleagues in Israel, and to “search your
souls” as to whether its government is serious about making peace.
Rabbi Steven Wernick, executive vice president and CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, observed that Obama “did talk about the fact that Israel is the
stronger party here, militarily, culturally and politically. And Israel needs to
create the context for it to happen.”
The president was obviously
implying that it bears primary responsibility for advancing the peace
Obama also reaffirmed his long-standing view that PA President
Mahmoud Abbas is a moderate peace partner, but said “the Palestinians don’t feel
confident that the Netanyahu government is serious about territorial
In stark contrast to his efforts to understand what
motivated Abbas, Obama failed to credit the unprecedented concessions offered by
our democratically elected prime minister, whose policies are supported by the
vast majority of the people.
Indeed, if the opposition held the reins of
government, its approach would barely differ.
Binyamin Netanyahu was the
first prime minister to introduce a 10-month freeze on settlement construction,
in response to US pressure. Nevertheless, throughout this period, Abbas refused
to negotiate with him.
Thus, when Obama urged further concessions,
insisting that “both sides” make a “greater effort,” it would have been
appropriate for a Jewish representative to ask him whether he saw parallels
between the corrupt and duplicitous leadership of Abbas and Hosni Mubarak, whom
he recently disowned.
What further concessions can be made to appease the
Palestinians, who still refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, reject
demilitarization and doggedly insist on the ‘right’ of all refugees and their
descendants to reside in Israel? Should Netanyahu agree to return to the
indefensible 1948 armistice lines? These lines (although erroneously referred to
as 1967 borders) were described by Abba Eban as the “Auschwitz borders” and were
never intended to be permanent.
Should Netanyahu disregard UN Security
Council Resolution 242, which understood that those borders would need to be
adjusted? Does Obama expect Israel to unilaterally withdraw? We have seen the
results of Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza – the empowerment of Hamas and
the intensification of rockets and terrorism, culminating in the Gaza
ISRAEL’S LONG-TERM viability remains highly dependent on US support
– more so today than at any period since the creation of the state. It is highly
gratifying that the American public and Congress are strongly supportive. But in
the White House, we have a president whose priority is to appease the Islamic
states, and even engage with radical Islamists, which inevitably conflicts with
support for the Jewish state. Thus the burden of responsibility for Israel
advocacy and resistance to sacrificing it on the altar of expediency now rests
with our American Jewish supporters.
Obama seeks to be reelected, and has
displayed a willingness to forgo ideology in pursuit of this
Jews represent a small but important strategic group in US
politics. They have considerable leverage, but if in a meeting with the
president representative leaders fail to respond to bizarre and patronizing
remarks, they will cease to have any impact.
Strategizing a policy under
such circumstances is no easy task.
Jewish community leaders must
carefully weigh responses to government policies they consider to be contrary to
Jewish interests. Speaking up may jeopardize future access, but responsible
leaders must never refrain from respectfully doing so.
The awful legacy
of Rabbi Stephen Wise, whose blind adulation of Franklin Roosevelt during the
Holocaust resulted in one of the darkest pages in American Jewish history, has
been internalized by a postwar generation of proud American Jewish leaders
prepared to stand up and be counted. Yet given American Jewry’s long association
with the Democratic Party, standing up to a president like Obama represents a
However, their response will undoubtedly have an
historic impact on the future of the Jewish people and the Jewish