Conservative pro-Israel groups are preparing for a massive assault on President Obama’s Israel record that will dwarf any similar efforts from four years ago. But this time around, Obama won’t have support from his top Israel surrogate, Dennis Ross, a trusted face in the Democratic pro-Israel community who stumped at synagogues and helped calm Jewish voters in 2008. Eli Lake reports:
“I am the counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy,” [Dennis] Ross said in an email on Friday. “The Washington Institute is a non-profit organization and I cannot do political work from here. When I acted for the campaign in 2008, I had to take a leave of absence to do so. Having only recently returned to the Institute, I cannot now again take a leave of absence.” …
Ross himself said, “I can give substantive advice to the administration, the president’s campaign, or any campaign that would ask for it. And, of course, when I speak I can talk about my views on policy and I have been supportive of the president’s policy on leading foreign policy issues.”
Ouch. Ross can advise any campaign? And speaking in the past tense about supporting Obama’s policies? It doesn’t sound like there was much love lost there. Ross did just return to the Washington Institute, but it’s hard to imagine he would be blamed for taking some time to help the president of the United States on the campaign trail. Note that Ross also bluntly criticized the president’s early focus on the settlement freeze in WaPo last month.
Aaron David Miller, Ross’s deputy on the peace talks under the Clinton administration, suggests that Ross wasn’t thrilled with the idea of trying to sell Obama’s Israel record to Jewish voters:
“Dennis is about doing things,” said Aaron Miller, who was Ross’s deputy on the peace process during the Clinton years and is now a scholar at the Wilson Center, a public policy think tank in Washington, D.C. “The peace process is stuck and is likely to remain stuck. The fact is no amount of hand-holding is going to assuage the concerns and suspicions of a pro-Israel community which has now seen some of its fears realized. It may well be that this is the other piece of this. I wouldn’t want to try to sell Obama to the Jewish community in this environment.”
Whatever the reason for Ross sitting this one out, it doesn’t look good for Obama or his pro-Israel outreach. The New York Times reports that another one of Obama’s top Jewish surrogates, Penny Pritzker, is also taking a less active role in the campaign than she did in 2008. Obviously, the president will always have the die-hard believers to stump for him at synagogues — Alan Solow, DWS, Robert Wexler. But will that be enough to combat the GOP’s serious play for the Jewish vote?