There are those who claim there is virtually nothing a Democratic president can do to Israel to cause liberal Jews to abandon his cause. But that is an exaggeration. Were a Democratic president to dramatically shift U.S. Middle East policy to Israel’s disadvantage without at the same time paying lip service to the concept of the U.S.-Israel alliance, there would probably be drastic consequences in terms of liberal Jewish support for that president. But even a president who made it clear from the first day of his administration he would distance the United States from Israel could retain the backing of liberal Jewish activists so long as he still claimed to be the friend of the Jewish state.
That is the only way to explain the willingness of so many Jewish Democrats who profess to be backers of Israel to line up in support of President Barack Obama’s re-election. As accounts of last night’s Barack Obama fundraiser for Jewish donors show, it doesn’t take much for a Democratic leader to seduce the Jewish faithful. As far as Israel is concerned, Barack Obama may be the least friendly resident of the White House since the first president George Bush or even Dwight Eisenhower, but that has not prevented him from raising large amounts of cash in the Jewish community. Nor will it prevent him from winning the majority of Jewish votes next year.
It was less than a month ago that Obama specifically timed a major Middle East policy speech in order to ambush visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. By demanding in that speech Israel accept the idea future peace talks would treat the 1967 lines as the starting point for negotiations without also stating American support for Israel’s retention of Jerusalem and the major settlement blocs (as his predecessor George W. Bush did) or by making any demands on the Palestinians, Obama dramatically tilted the diplomatic playing field to Israel’s disadvantage. Netanyahu faced down Obama and won the applause of Congress for doing so. But even as Obama renewed a campaign of pressure on Israel in the last week, the president was able to go to Jewish donors last night and masquerade as a friend of the Jewish state.
We shouldn’t be surprised by any of this. Most liberal Jews are fervently partisan Democrats and still wrongly fear conservative Christians far more than Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and al-Qaeda combined. The standards liberal Jews have adopted on that issue are so low it allows virtually any Democrat, even one with no history of support for Israel (as was the case with Barack Obama in 2008) a pass by merely the uttering of a few catch phrases.
And even though Obama has spent his presidency picking fights with Israel, all he needs to charm Jewish donors is to mouth a few more insincere phrases. But the good news for Israel is (as Netanyahu’s speech to Congress demonstrated), American support for Israel is a consensus issue for the overwhelming majority of Americans. The low standards of liberal Jews on the issue won’t prevent Congress from acting as a brake on Obama’s less than friendly policies toward the Jewish state. As one person who attended the Obama fundraiser told Politico, the number of ovations the president received was not as many as Netanyahu got from Congress.