Many Democrats are rationalizing a policy they know is wrong

When President Barack Obama met with 15 representatives of American Jewish organizations July 13, Ha’aretz reported that he told them that he wanted to help Israel achieve peace but that if they were to benefit from his well-intentioned counsel, Israelis must “engage in serious self-reflection.”

Jonathan S. Tobin

The breathtaking condescension toward the Jewish state that this remark betrays, as well as the implicit dismissal of the last 16 years of Middle East history, says a lot about Obama and the direction in which U.S. foreign policy is heading.

The fact that Israel has already gone through several periods of serious self-reflection and made costly sacrifices in terms not only of territory but in blood has no significance for the president.

Here are just a few items that the president seems to think don’t matter in assessing the situation: the failure of a generation of peacemaking, including the Oslo Accords and successor agreements associated with that process; the 2000 Camp David Summit; the second intifada; Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza; the subsequent use of that territory as a terror base; and the failed attempt just last year to get the Palestinian Authority to take yes for an answer on statehood for their people.

All have apparently been swept down the White House memory hole. In the age of Obama, like a fundamentalist religion that dates all events as being either before or after a divine revelation, that which occurred prior to his election is meaningless by definition.

Rather than play down his penchant for quarreling with Israel, Obama is proud of it. Indeed, he asserts that such conduct is actually a virtue, since his hammering of Israel is merely “honest talk” that should be interpreted as the highest form of friendship.

Obama’s obsession with picking a fight about growth in Jewish settlements in the territories is a classic misdirection play. The United States had already agreed that calls for settlement freezes couldn’t apply to those communities that it had acknowledged Israel would keep in any peace agreement, let alone in Jerusalem.

But Obama has repudiated that pledge partly out of his determination that he must invalidate everything his predecessor did, and partly because settlements are a useful cudgel with which to beat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the rest of the Israeli government.

Even more important, the entire premise upon which his demand for Israeli reflection is based is false. So long as both the supposedly more moderate Palestinian Authority and the extremist Hamas movement that governs Gaza have no interest in peace on even the most generous terms that Jerusalem can offer — a detail upon which the P.A.’s leaders have been quite explicit — Obama’s pressure ploy is pointless.

Though Obama speaks to Jewish groups of equal pressure on the Arabs, everything that the administration has done and said in its short time in office makes it clear that the president’s sole target is the government in Jerusalem, not the terrorists running Gaza or the corrupt Fatah functionaries in Ramallah.

Taken together with his appeasement of the Arab and Muslim world as reflected in his Cairo speech and a feckless policy of engagement on Iran, one would think that Obama would be in trouble with his Jewish supporters. Though there have been rumblings from some Jewish leaders that expressed worries about Obama’s attitude to Israel, the passive response to the downgrading of the alliance with Israel cannot be denied.

There are those who believe that the continued support for Obama can be traced to a lack of enthusiasm on the part of most U.S. Jews for Israel’s current government and settlements — though others go so far as to say that it also shows a general lack of interest in, let alone support for, Israel among liberal Jews.

There is no way that Obama would have won as much as three-quarters of the Jewish vote last November had most not believed him when he claimed he was a supporter of Israel. Contrary to the boasts of the left and the fears of the right, most Jewish Democrats still care deeply about Israel.

Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, a man whose long and honorable record of support for Israel is beyond question, attempted to defend Obama’s positions in a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal and then later in responses to critiques of it. He continues to believe that having a popular liberal Democratic president who claims to be a supporter of Israel is good for the Jews even if some of his policies are open to question. But Dershowitz’s half-hearted apologias betray a worry that perhaps he was fooled by the president’s campaign promises.

Had a Republican done and said the same things that Obama has in the last six months, who can doubt that he and other Democrats would be demanding that Jewish Republicans repudiate their party’s leader?

The question remains what will be the tipping point for Jewish Democrats at which it will be impossible for them to go on pretending that they not elected the most hostile president to Israel since the first George Bush?

If the current trend continues without a strong negative reaction from Jewish Democrats who raised money for Obama and voted for him, then we are entitled to ask why they are either silent or rationalizing a policy that they know is wrong.

Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of Commentary magazine and a contributor to its blog at www.commentarymagazine.com.

Jonathan S. Tobin portrait
Jonathan S. Tobin

Jonathan S. Tobin is opinion editor of JNS.org and a contributing writer at National Review.