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If Jews Back Obama’s Pressure, Why Was the ‘Charm Offensive’ Necessary?

For those who were thrilled by President Obama’s decision to distance the United States from Israel and to treat Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem as illegal settlements, the recent “charm offensive” by which the White House has sought to deflect the growing criticism from friends of the Jewish state has to be a downer. With recent polls showing that a majority of American Jews disapprove of Obama’s handling of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and with most of the centrist leadership of American Jewry expressing dismay over the president’s positions on Jerusalem, the left’s assertion that the president can count on Jewish support for his pressure on Israel has been effectively debunked.

But that hasn’t stopped The New York Times from once again trotting out one of the standards of their coverage of American Jewry. The headline of the piece published today on their website couldn’t make the agenda of the article any clearer: “On Israel, Jews and Leaders Often Disagree.” The familiar conceit of the feature is that while the big names of American Jewry and the leaders of the alphabet soup of organizations still support Israel, the rank and file do not.

The piece argues that the overwhelming support for Obama in the 2008 election and the reliably liberal Democratic cast of Jewish voters must mean that they applaud his clear animus for Israel. Of course, if that were true, Obama wouldn’t have bothered campaigning as if he were a devoted friend of Israel. Despite that, the leader of the left-wing J Street lobby is still trying to promote the idea that most Jews don’t support Israel’s policies and want Washington to pressure it to accept a two-state solution. But as uneasiness over the administration’s hostility grew in recent months, it became clear that even most Jewish Democrats knew that Israel’s government has accepted such a solution but that it is the Palestinians who won’t make peace. Thus, J Street has made little headway in Washington with a Congress that is still reliably pro-Israel and unhappy about the administration’s drift. But that doesn’t stop the Times from treating its claims as self-evident.

But for all the protestations by the left of Jewish support for pressure on Israel, it has to be obvious that the White House doesn’t buy it. If they were as confident as J Street that their Jewish Democratic base liked what they were doing, then why would they have spent so much time in the last month trying to back away from a fight with Israel that they had picked in the first place. Why shlep Elie Wiesel to the White House yesterday for a private audience with the president after he published an ad in several newspapers warning Obama that Jerusalem was the “heart of our heart and the soul of our soul” if the administration wasn’t convinced that the famed Holocaust survivor’s concerns weren’t far more representative of public opinion than the partisan natterings of J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami?

While the charm offensive may not do much more than calm some panicky Jewish Democrats who are willing to believe Obama’s new promises just as they swallowed his campaign pledges, it does prove one thing: the White House knows that an open feud with Israel and its friends is political poison.

Indeed, the best the Times could do to support its thesis that Ben-Ami is right is to gather a few members of a Secular Humanist Temple in suburban Detroit to find a some Jews who are willing to attack Israel’s government. While the members of that tiny slice of Jewish demography are as entitled to their opinions as anyone else, the notion that this small splinter group of Jews who eschew religious faith in favor of a secular ethnicity is representative of American Jewry is absurd. But even there, among members of a Temple who cannot help but be far more liberal than the average Jewish congregation, the Times still discovered that there were some who were concerned about those who unfairly blame Israel for the conflict. As 87-year-old Rosetta Creed stated: “It makes me angry that the Israelis are always blamed for the problems and asked to make concessions,” Ms. Creed said. “You know, the Israelis are not the ones launching rockets and placing fighters in houses with children inside.”


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