(photo credit: AP)
US President Barack Obama and his administration are making an unprecedented effort to reach out to the Jewish community. The president has made moving the Middle East toward peace a priority and has spoken of the "unbreakable" bond we share with Israel. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons "futile," and last week Obama had some of his most senior foreign policy figures meet with top Israeli officials - in Israel. Yet, there are still those who leap at any chance to attack the president, including in an op-ed in last week's The New York Times, "Why Won't Obama Talk to Israel?" by Aluf Benn.
First, it is important to bring perspective to the vocal group of individuals in our community who remain unhappy with our president. Despite this group's extraordinary efforts to smear Obama in the Jewish community during last year's campaign, the president received 78% of the Jewish vote. The media has much experience overhyping the man-bites-dog Obama-has-a-Jewish-problem story, but at some point Obama's actual record ought to beat out salacious copy.
THE SMALL anti-Obama wing of the Jewish community has long found refuge in Web sites like American Thinker, where their fictional understanding of the presidency is confirmed (a representative title: "Obama's hostility to Israel is clear"). But there are some times when elements of their argument spill into more respectable platforms such as The New York Times and The Washington Post.
One can't get past the title of Benn's op-ed in the NYTimes without being struck by the question he poses: "Why won't Obama talk to Israel?" Benn asserts that "neither the president nor any senior administration official has given a speech or an interview aimed at an Israeli audience." He then dramatically writes, "The Arabs got the Cairo speech; we [Israel] got silence."
Beyond the notion that Obama happened to be standing in front of an Arab audience, it is hard to understand how Benn misses the fact that Obama was not only speaking to the people in the room. In this digital world with the power of the Internet and a 24/7 news cycle, the president was addressing all of us - including Israel. This was especially true when the president spoke clearly and powerfully about America's unbreakable bond with Israel in front of that Arab audience. The message to Israelis was clear: You do your part for peace and I'll pressure the Arab states to do the same. Meaning, Obama is not going to rely on the political playbook of platitudes when dealing with Israel and her neighbors.
If Benn did not hear that Obama aimed elements of his Cairo speech at Israelis, he was not listening.
What may speak louder than Obama's words are his actions. As the ink of Benn's op-ed was drying, the president sent Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, National Security Advisor Gen. Jim Jones and Middle East Special Envoy George Mitchell to talk with their Israeli counterparts. They spoke about issues ranging from US policy against Iranian nuclear proliferation to the continuing strategic partnership between our governments. We now see numerous media reports reflecting the reality that this administration will couple any settlement deal with sharp pressure on the Arab world to normalize relations with the Jewish state.
NO ONE can credibly claim Obama and his administration are not talking to Israel. The reality is the administration is not only talking with Israelis, it is intensely collaborating and communicating with it- in person. In fact, Obama spoke with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu face-to-face about settlement growth. This administration is talking with Israel about the wide range of policies on which we agree - and those precious few areas on which we disagree.
Benn went on to attack some of Obama's most senior advisers, who also happen to be Jewish. "[T]he president has fallen under the influence of top aides - in this case Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod - whom the prime minister has called 'self-hating Jews,'" he wrote. That may be a compelling anecdote, especially since the daily Haaretz, for which Benn is the editor at large, broke that story. The only problem is that it isn't true. Netanyahu's spokesman denied those remarks and said, "The prime minister never spoke those words."
I understand that we in the Jewish community can be a bit paranoid at times, but to say that this administration does not support and communicate with one of our closest allies is to disregard reality. Obama, his pro-Israel policies and the president's pro-Israel advisers continue to receive strong support in the Jewish community. This administration has made an unprecedented effort to engage this community and has placed Middle East peace high on the agenda.
The long-term security of Israel will only be fully ensured if peace is achieved. Obama has made clear that the road is difficult, but the president is working hard to make that day come. However, there will still be those with the undying chutzpah to attack the president for not being sufficiently supportive of Israel. I urge them to actually listen to what the president is saying and watch what he is doing - they might be surprised.
The writer is chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council.
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