Commentary Magazine


Topic: Back Obama

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.”

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.”

Read Less

Poll: An Overwhelming Majority of Jews Don’t Back Obama’s Israel Policy

President Obama’s cheerleaders in the media and the Jewish community have been resolute in asserting that, despite his clear animus for Israel, American Jews still back him. However, a new Quinnipiac University poll released this morning shows that despite the undoubted loyalty of Jews for the Democratic Party, a majority of Jews polled dislike Obama’s handling of the Middle East conflict.

Regarding Obama’s “handling [of] the situation between Israel and Palestine,” Jews responded with a whopping 67 percent disapproval of the president, while only 28 percent approved.

Given that Obama received more than 70 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, this is an astounding result. It also shows that, despite the clear partisan edge Obama enjoys among Jews, his animus toward the Jewish state has not gone without notice. Indeed, after 16 months of distancing America from Israel, feckless engagement with Iran, picking pointless fights with Israel’s government over the future of Jerusalem, and placing the onus for lack of progress toward peace on Israel rather than on a Palestinian leadership that won’t even sit down and talk, the administration has clearly lost ground among its most ardent supporters on this issue. Overall, the poll’s results showed that Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of the Israel-Palestinian dispute by a margin of 44 to 35 percent.

That said, administration supporters could still point to two other questions in the poll to cheer the president. Among all those polled, only 34 percent said that Obama was a strong supporter of Israel, while 42 percent believe he is not. Yet among Jews, 50 percent said that he was a strong supporter, with 46 percent disagreeing. In addition, another question asked whether respondents approved of the president’s handling of Iran. The response among all polled was almost an even split, with 44 percent approving of his Iran policy and 43 percent disapproving. Yet 50 percent of Jews approved, while only 42 percent disapproved.

What are we to make of these numbers? Well, one can always just dismiss polls as snapshots of opinion and say this one really means nothing. And given that Obama can point to positive results among Jews about his level of support for Israel as well as his handling of the nation that currently presents a possible existential threat to the Jewish state, perhaps we shouldn’t make too much of any of this.

However, even the positive results to the latter two questions show a remarkably low level of support for a Democratic president among the overwhelmingly Democratic Jewish community. Given that Obama ran in 2008 claiming that he was a strong supporter of Israel, it is significant that only half of American Jews now believe that pledge. Moreover, the 67-28 negative rating on Obama’s handling of the Israel-Palestinian issue among Jews clearly shows that his anger towards Israel and lack of sensitivity toward its concerns is not viewed kindly.

Whether any of this will affect Jewish votes in 2010 or 2012 is still an open question. In the aftermath of the 2008 vote, leftists were quick to assert that Obama’s strong showing among American Jewish voters showed that knee-jerk support for Israel was no longer the defining issue for Jews. They were certainly right when they asserted that most Jews are not single-issue voters who judge a candidate solely from a pro-Israel frame of reference. But past elections have shown that when a candidate places himself in opposition to Israel, there are negative consequences when it comes to obtaining Jewish votes. Though even Obama’s hostility would surely not be enough to tilt a majority of Jews to support a Republican challenger to the president, as Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush can attest, a president who is not seen as a strong supporter will get fewer Jewish votes when he runs for re-election.

Much can change in the next two years. On the one hand, Obama might come to his senses and back away from a policy bent on confrontation with Israel. On the other, the administration’s obvious willingness to live with a nuclear Iran may set off a catastrophic series of events that could overshadow all of Obama’s previous actions.  But no matter what lies ahead, this latest Quinnipiac poll ought to give the president and his supporters pause as they contemplate a clear weakening of support for Obama among a demographic group that was once one of his strongholds.

President Obama’s cheerleaders in the media and the Jewish community have been resolute in asserting that, despite his clear animus for Israel, American Jews still back him. However, a new Quinnipiac University poll released this morning shows that despite the undoubted loyalty of Jews for the Democratic Party, a majority of Jews polled dislike Obama’s handling of the Middle East conflict.

Regarding Obama’s “handling [of] the situation between Israel and Palestine,” Jews responded with a whopping 67 percent disapproval of the president, while only 28 percent approved.

Given that Obama received more than 70 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, this is an astounding result. It also shows that, despite the clear partisan edge Obama enjoys among Jews, his animus toward the Jewish state has not gone without notice. Indeed, after 16 months of distancing America from Israel, feckless engagement with Iran, picking pointless fights with Israel’s government over the future of Jerusalem, and placing the onus for lack of progress toward peace on Israel rather than on a Palestinian leadership that won’t even sit down and talk, the administration has clearly lost ground among its most ardent supporters on this issue. Overall, the poll’s results showed that Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of the Israel-Palestinian dispute by a margin of 44 to 35 percent.

That said, administration supporters could still point to two other questions in the poll to cheer the president. Among all those polled, only 34 percent said that Obama was a strong supporter of Israel, while 42 percent believe he is not. Yet among Jews, 50 percent said that he was a strong supporter, with 46 percent disagreeing. In addition, another question asked whether respondents approved of the president’s handling of Iran. The response among all polled was almost an even split, with 44 percent approving of his Iran policy and 43 percent disapproving. Yet 50 percent of Jews approved, while only 42 percent disapproved.

What are we to make of these numbers? Well, one can always just dismiss polls as snapshots of opinion and say this one really means nothing. And given that Obama can point to positive results among Jews about his level of support for Israel as well as his handling of the nation that currently presents a possible existential threat to the Jewish state, perhaps we shouldn’t make too much of any of this.

However, even the positive results to the latter two questions show a remarkably low level of support for a Democratic president among the overwhelmingly Democratic Jewish community. Given that Obama ran in 2008 claiming that he was a strong supporter of Israel, it is significant that only half of American Jews now believe that pledge. Moreover, the 67-28 negative rating on Obama’s handling of the Israel-Palestinian issue among Jews clearly shows that his anger towards Israel and lack of sensitivity toward its concerns is not viewed kindly.

Whether any of this will affect Jewish votes in 2010 or 2012 is still an open question. In the aftermath of the 2008 vote, leftists were quick to assert that Obama’s strong showing among American Jewish voters showed that knee-jerk support for Israel was no longer the defining issue for Jews. They were certainly right when they asserted that most Jews are not single-issue voters who judge a candidate solely from a pro-Israel frame of reference. But past elections have shown that when a candidate places himself in opposition to Israel, there are negative consequences when it comes to obtaining Jewish votes. Though even Obama’s hostility would surely not be enough to tilt a majority of Jews to support a Republican challenger to the president, as Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush can attest, a president who is not seen as a strong supporter will get fewer Jewish votes when he runs for re-election.

Much can change in the next two years. On the one hand, Obama might come to his senses and back away from a policy bent on confrontation with Israel. On the other, the administration’s obvious willingness to live with a nuclear Iran may set off a catastrophic series of events that could overshadow all of Obama’s previous actions.  But no matter what lies ahead, this latest Quinnipiac poll ought to give the president and his supporters pause as they contemplate a clear weakening of support for Obama among a demographic group that was once one of his strongholds.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.