Commentary Magazine


House Democratic Memo Is Another Blow to J Street

Last week,  Jennifer noted the Democrats’ panic, which led to the release of the Howard Berman e-mail extolling the Obama administration’s supposedly pro-Israel record. The memo seemed to be a reaction to the beating that Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak is taking in Pennsylvania in ads from the Emergency Coalition for Israel.

But there’s more to discuss here than just the fact that Sestak has been wrong-footed on the issue and forced to play defense. The Berman memo is yet more proof that J Street’s assertion that the Democrats have embraced its idea — that criticism of Israel is the highest form of love for the Jewish state — is bunk.

The memo is yet another aspect of the charm offensive that has been conducted by the administration since its disastrous decision to pick a fight over building in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Ever since the supposed insult to Vice President Joe Biden was answered with unprecedented discourtesy to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the administration has been backtracking furiously from its desire to distance itself from Israel. Rather than follow along with the J Street program of putting pressure on Jerusalem to acquiesce to Palestinian demands, the Obama team has been going out of its way to cozy up to Netanyahu since the spring. Given the instincts of those running things in both the White House and the State Department, this has been an awkward and at times inconsistent change of heart. But as much as Obama’s critics are still right to question both his sincerity and his long-term intentions, in the last few months the heretofore rapidly expanding amount of daylight between the positions of Washington and Jerusalem has been shrinking.

Ever since November 2008, leftists have been trying to assert that the Jewish vote for Obama was proof that J Street and not AIPAC or other mainstream pro-Israel groups truly represented Jewish opinion. But if that were so, why would Obama be trying so hard to convince everyone that his administration was as reliable a supporter of Israel as any of its predecessors? Perhaps the answer is that Obama and his advisers know that many, if not most, of the Jewish votes he received came from people who were convinced by his 2008 campaign statements that attempted to show that he was an AIPAC-style friend of Israel rather than a J Street critic. And with the Democrats heading for a midterm disaster this November and putting their Congressional majorities in jeopardy, it’s no wonder that their caucus is producing memos drawing attention to the common ground between the administration and Israel rather than harping on settlement policy and the need for more concessions to the Palestinians, as J Street preaches.

It is true that most Jews are not single-issue voters who care only about Israel. But as shown by the administration’s recent behavior as well as by the House Democrats’ memo, liberals know that a candidate, party, or president who is seen as a critic rather than a friend of Israel will lose Jewish votes and campaign contributions. It is deeply ironic that it turns out that the most cogent skewering of J Street’s basic premise about public opinion has come from their idol in the White House and the political party they support, not their Jewish critics.

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