Commentary Magazine


Topic: Charm Offensive

Obama’s Backing of Israeli Rocket Shield: Charm Offensive or Harbinger of More Pressure?

The White House’s charm offensive toward Israel’s supporters continued this week with a nice dividend for the Jewish state: financial backing for the country’s “Iron Dome” anti-missile system designed to protect Israeli towns against Palestinian rocket attacks. Haaretz reported yesterday that the Pentagon informed Israel’s Defense Ministry that the president had approved the transfer of $205 million for the purchase of 10 Iron Dome batteries that could help shield southern Israelis towns such as Sderot that have been battered in the past by Katyushas and Qassam missiles from Hamas terrorists in Gaza.

Iron Dome has, of course, been in the works for years, and the decision is merely a continuation of U.S. support for the project that began during the Bush administration. But to Israel’s great frustration, approval of the money for these purchases had been held up for the past couple of years. Obama’s critics could well point out that he deserves the blame for stalling the Israelis for the past 16 months as well as the credit for the final approval. That said, if the weapons system works as well in practice as it did in tests, it has the potential to minimize the missile threat from Gaza in the future.

The timing of the decision may have been dictated by the administration’s desire to walk back from the hostility its stands on Jerusalem and insults to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu provoked from friends of Israel. The charm offensive belies the left’s claims that most American Jews back Obama’s Israel-bashing. The White House’s clear desire to undo the impression it had previously sought to foster of America distancing itself from the Jewish state is an indication that it doesn’t believe most American Jews support a policy of further pressure on Israel.

However, backing for the Iron Dome project may have another context. Even if the system isn’t foolproof, should a new terrorist offensive against Israel be launched either in the south by Hamas or, as widely anticipated, in the north by an even more heavily armed Hezbollah, a defensive shield against rocket attacks could give the administration the leverage it needs to prevent substantial Israeli counterattacks against either threat. Moreover, in the unlikely event that the “proximity” talks with the Palestinian Authority make progress, the existence of even a leaky missile shield will strengthen American pressure on Israel to make further territorial surrenders to the Palestinians. After all, the reason why most Israelis are aghast at the prospect of a further pullback in the West Bank is the knowledge that such a move could put virtually all central Israel — and the vast majority of the Israeli population — in missile range and potentially put the metropolis of Tel Aviv in the same sorry condition as bloodied and battered Sderot.

Seen in this light, the American money spent on Iron Dome batteries could help buy future Israeli concessions to the Palestinians. Though the anti-missile defense the program promises is desperately needed by Israel — and a move for which Obama deserves applause — it is an open question whether the country will be better off or more secure if this charm offensive purchase is the harbinger of more American pressure.

The White House’s charm offensive toward Israel’s supporters continued this week with a nice dividend for the Jewish state: financial backing for the country’s “Iron Dome” anti-missile system designed to protect Israeli towns against Palestinian rocket attacks. Haaretz reported yesterday that the Pentagon informed Israel’s Defense Ministry that the president had approved the transfer of $205 million for the purchase of 10 Iron Dome batteries that could help shield southern Israelis towns such as Sderot that have been battered in the past by Katyushas and Qassam missiles from Hamas terrorists in Gaza.

Iron Dome has, of course, been in the works for years, and the decision is merely a continuation of U.S. support for the project that began during the Bush administration. But to Israel’s great frustration, approval of the money for these purchases had been held up for the past couple of years. Obama’s critics could well point out that he deserves the blame for stalling the Israelis for the past 16 months as well as the credit for the final approval. That said, if the weapons system works as well in practice as it did in tests, it has the potential to minimize the missile threat from Gaza in the future.

The timing of the decision may have been dictated by the administration’s desire to walk back from the hostility its stands on Jerusalem and insults to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu provoked from friends of Israel. The charm offensive belies the left’s claims that most American Jews back Obama’s Israel-bashing. The White House’s clear desire to undo the impression it had previously sought to foster of America distancing itself from the Jewish state is an indication that it doesn’t believe most American Jews support a policy of further pressure on Israel.

However, backing for the Iron Dome project may have another context. Even if the system isn’t foolproof, should a new terrorist offensive against Israel be launched either in the south by Hamas or, as widely anticipated, in the north by an even more heavily armed Hezbollah, a defensive shield against rocket attacks could give the administration the leverage it needs to prevent substantial Israeli counterattacks against either threat. Moreover, in the unlikely event that the “proximity” talks with the Palestinian Authority make progress, the existence of even a leaky missile shield will strengthen American pressure on Israel to make further territorial surrenders to the Palestinians. After all, the reason why most Israelis are aghast at the prospect of a further pullback in the West Bank is the knowledge that such a move could put virtually all central Israel — and the vast majority of the Israeli population — in missile range and potentially put the metropolis of Tel Aviv in the same sorry condition as bloodied and battered Sderot.

Seen in this light, the American money spent on Iron Dome batteries could help buy future Israeli concessions to the Palestinians. Though the anti-missile defense the program promises is desperately needed by Israel — and a move for which Obama deserves applause — it is an open question whether the country will be better off or more secure if this charm offensive purchase is the harbinger of more American pressure.

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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.”

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




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