The president of the world’s sole hyperpower, the United States, called up a state to which it gives military aid by the billions, Egypt, and insisted the state meet its Vienna Convention obligations to protect the embassy of an ally, Israel. For some reason, this minimal attempt to maintain global stability is being hailed by liberal Jewish groups – the Israel Policy Forum is a particularly eyeroll-inducing example – as an act of pro-Israel advocacy worthy of being inscribed into the rocks of the Sinai Peninsula itself. (The Peninsula, of course, having been given to Egypt by Israel on the basis of U.S. security assurances something like the embassy riot would never be allowed to happen.)
Today’s Gallup poll has Obama’s approval among Jews at 55 percent, which is a five-point drop from where it was last time Gallup polled the issue. So Obama’s Jewish defenders have some ground to make up. They’re already reverting to their 2008 rhetorical strategy, which involves giving supporters excuses to never tune in to criticism. This time though, their “only Republican smear artists say that…” shtick is going to be harder to pull off.
Before getting to that, there’s also a distinct tune out strategy – designed to get supporters to dismiss criticism they’ve already heard – in which these groups indulge. It was a tune out move when NJDC head and newly crowned Obama Jewish outreach director Ira Forman addressed Biden’s well-documented anti-Israel history by intoning that “Biden embodies the Jewish ideal of practicing tikkun olam.” There’s nothing sophisticated going on there. It’s just a shoddy, unresponsive argument (and two years later, unsurprisingly, Biden was repeatedly condemning Israel and telling people to “get over” it).
In the never tune in strategy, by contrast, the goal was to make sure low-information Jewish Democrats were insulated from ever encountering criticism. There were all kinds of ways this move got made in 2008. The most blunt was when the Obama campaign simply banned its surrogates from debating Republican Jewish Coalition members publicly. In other cases, the tactic was a touch more subtle, and involved hammering supporters with the message that anti-Obama concerns were “sleazy” or “deceptive” or “mudslinging,” and opponents were “genetically incapable of telling the truth” about what a great friend to Israel Obama would be. Why check out what you already know is false, right?
Liberal Jewish groups were particularly insufferable on the issue of Obama’s ideological mentors, and the NJDC branded those concerns as guilt-by-association. You’d have to ignore reality, their line went, to believe Obama’s associates would influence his views on Israel. The NJDC was so proud of that line, they were still running it two years later:
Prior to Obama’s election, our Republican friends told us that we should ignore Obama’s statements on Israel, ignore Obama’s perfect record on Israel, ignore Obama’s vigorous outreach to the Jewish community, and instead find him guilty by distant association. They told us that Obama was like the Manchurian Candidate, and once he was elected, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers, Rashid Khalidi and other fellow travelers would be running the country and dictating policy on Israel. They told us that Obama might not even be committed to Israel’s survival. [I may have missed the retraction when Obama told the Arab world that America’s bond with Israel is “unbreakable.”] They told us that Obama does not believe that Israel is a sovereign state.
Putting aside the sheer bloody gall of Obama’s Jewish defenders requesting apologies on wrong predictions, and ignoring how most of those “they told us” lines are strawmen, it turns out that “Republicans” weren’t the only ones who thought Rashid Khalidi’s influence would be felt in administration policy-making. As the New York Times outlined over the weekend:
Judging by Mr. Obama’s background, temperament and worldview, Palestinians expected him to bring a new focus to the peace process and a greater sympathy for the Palestinian cause. It did not go unnoticed that he is friends with a prominent Palestinian-American scholar, Rashid Khalidi. Mr. Obama named a high-profile special envoy to the region, George J. Mitchell Jr. He also spoke empathetically about the suffering of the Palestinian people in Gaza after an Israeli military campaign against Hamas there. And the president’s demand of Israel that it freeze settlement construction cheered the Palestinians.
The assumption that Obama’s long-time influencers would influence him appears to have extended beyond Republican circles. It probably seemed even more tenable after campaign incidents where the then-senator slipped into the kind of rhetoric indigenous to anti-Israel graduate seminars and fringe sites.
The Palestinians were too optimistic in thinking Obama could electorally afford more than the three or four blowups he’s had with Israel. Another case of recklessly heightened expectations. But they were right there with the rest of us in expecting, on the basis of Obama’s ideological history, at least that many.
So this time around, as liberal Jewish groups struggle to explain why you should believe them rather than your lying eyes, the least they can do is show some argumentative modesty. It would be a real pity if they revived their 2008 combination of insult and condescension, given how it turns out they were staggeringly wrong. If they had been right, then maybe some insult and condescension might be justified. But it’s the opposite of that.