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How Much Israel-Bashing Will Liberal Jews Put Up With? Obama Wants to Find Out

Hindsight is 20/20, especially for an eventuality that was widely predicted in advance. As such, it’s pretty easy even for pro-Obama partisans to look back and see numerous red flags that should have told them the president’s “Bulworth” moment, in which he’d be fully honest about his feelings toward Israel, was going to precipitate a crisis in U.S.-Israel relations. Nevertheless, there’s always been one red flag that, perhaps unfairly, stuck out in my mind from the 2008 election. And I’m reminded of it again as we read polls showing Obama’s approval rating among the Jewish community dropping during the somber week in which we mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Leading up to the 2008 presidential election, both Barack Obama and John McCain sat for (separate) interviews with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, and the subject of their appreciation of Jewish thought and culture came up. Here was the relevant comment from Obama:

BO: I always joke that my intellectual formation was through Jewish scholars and writers, even though I didn’t know it at the time. Whether it was theologians or Philip Roth who helped shape my sensibility, or some of the more popular writers like Leon Uris.

And here’s the exchange from Goldberg’s interview with McCain:

JG: Not a big Philip Roth fan?

JM: No, I’m not. Leon Uris I enjoyed. Victor Frankl, that’s important. I read it before my captivity. It made me feel a lot less sorry for myself, my friend. A fundamental difference between my experience and the Holocaust was that the Vietnamese didn’t want us to die. They viewed us as a very valuable asset at the bargaining table. It was the opposite in the Holocaust, because they wanted to exterminate you. Sometimes when I felt sorry for myself, which was very frequently, I thought, “This is nothing compared to what Victor Frankl experienced.”

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying Roth’s work, of course. But Obama’s answer smacked of check-the-box pop blandness. When it came to discussions of philosophy and literature, Obama always seemed to be reading from Wikipedia summaries. McCain’s answer, on the other hand, demonstrated deep and true engagement with the subject matter, and it showed why his respect and affinity for the Jewish people came through so strongly.

Put simply, when it came to Jewish thought and history, McCain simply got it. Obama was lost at sea.

Which is why Obama’s flagging approval rating among Jews isn’t too surprising, whereas a major change in the presidential vote share would have been more surprising.

It makes sense for American Jews to register disapproval of Obama at this point in his presidency, for a few reasons. First, he’s earned it. Obama has never been able to fake a connection with the Jewish people that just wasn’t there, the way it was with Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. He never passed the “kishkes” test, so to speak, and never even really came close to passing it.

So he was always dependent on his policies speaking for him. Some of the president’s defenders try to point out that Obama has just pushed for a peace agreement along the lines of his predecessors, and that he is unfairly maligned for it. This is false: the differences may appear subtle to outsiders and rookies, but they are monumentally important.

Additionally, he has less of a margin for “error,” as it were, with his policies because he couldn’t make anyone believe that he truly loved the Jewish state and merely wanted what was best for it. Therefore, the trust in him was always going to be less when it came to throwing tantrums over Jewish residents of Jerusalem and the like.

The second reason it makes sense for Jews to make their voices heard now is that Obama has already been reelected, and so there won’t be any concern by left-leaning Jews that they may drive voters to (gasp!) vote Republican, or take other such action that would have actual consequences. This is a safe protest. It lets the president know his juvenile hounding of Israel and his overall incompetence are areas of genuine concern for a demographic group that has consistently been among his most reliable supporters.

And the third reason is that, as far as electoral coalitions are concerned, the Obama era is over. Not only are we past his reelection, but we’re also beyond the second-term congressional midterms. This, then, is a message to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party leadership for 2016.

In the end, it probably won’t matter much, especially because Hillary will no doubt say the right things over and over before Election Day 2016. That is, perhaps American Jews still haven’t reached their limit yet. But they can be sure that Obama, through trial and error, would like to discover precisely what that limit is.

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16 Responses to “How Much Israel-Bashing Will Liberal Jews Put Up With? Obama Wants to Find Out”

  1. LAURA FINSTEN says:

    It’s a safe protest, and an absolutely futile one. Obama doesn’t need the Jews any more, or at least not any Jews other than the J-Streeters who will give him cover for serving Israel up at the UN.

  2. CLAIRE GEBER says:

    Hillary will say the “right things” over and over? Of course. “The US/Israel relationship is unbreakable” – meaning the US is the kindly uncle who knows what is best for Israel, and who will not balk at showing tough love (no veto in UN). “The US and Israel share the same values” – meaning that racism is immoral, and Israel, like Ferguson, is institutionally racist. J-Street will supply the script, and the Emperor’s new fig leaves. If liberal Jews buy “racial justice” ideology as Americans for America, they will also buy it as Jews for Israel.


    In my limited time on this earth I will never understand how some of the Jewish people in the US could support the Democratic party.

    I maybe could understand the old Democratic policy that had some sense of respect for religion. But I cannot understand support of a party with the disrespect that FDR had for Jewish citizens, during troubling times in the WWII time frame.

    The old democrats (dixi-crats) were responsible for the “Jim Crow” era segregation and persecution of the African Americans in this country.

    The Democratic embrace of abortion “on demand” and the millions that never saw the light of day.

    The embrace of the liberal condemnation of the people of Israel,in their effort to defend themselves, is something I will never understand.

    Some questions that I have pondered as a individual who does not understand how to support a party that doesn’t support a reference to God in their party platform.

  4. HARRY BROWN says:

    “That is, perhaps American Jews still haven’t reached their limit yet. But they can be sure that Obama, through trial and error, would like to discover precisely what that limit is.”
    In my humble opinion, it appears that there is no limit.


    Good headline


    Jews and friends in the Democratic Party need to speak up now if they want to influence the near-future direction of the Party and save it from electoral defeat in 2016. We need a strong pro-American Democratic Party to counteract a Republican Party that is a tool of oligarchs and right wing sectarians and is unserious about governing.

    • BARRY MEISLIN says:


      But apparently all too typical.

      In other words, how many times would you prefer to be mugged?


      • STEPHEN LANSET says:

        Most American Jews are middle class and today face a bad choice between a Republican Party that would damage their economic security and a Democratic Party that no longer respects their cultural and political interests. I hope that clarifies my position.

  7. FRED EHRMAN says:

    Good piece. Just have a problem with calling BO’s Israeli problem “Juvenile hounding” of Israel. That’s letting him off much too easily. His motives are much more malevolent and the last 6 1/2 years are proof enough. His policies are danger to Israel’s existance and that is far from juvenile.


    When asked by a very close friend who is strongly pro Israel, and of Italian/Greek heritage, when Jews will move away from their rock-ribbed allegiance to the Democrats, I answered: “when the Italians and Greeks become fiscally prudent.”

    • ELLIOTT GREEN says:

      Paul, the situation is not so simple at all. As you know, Greece was occupied during WW2 but never received compensation for damages nor payback even for a forced loan to the Nazis by the National Bank of Greece. This was done as a part of several international accords in the late 1940s and 1950s –sponsored by the US. On the other hand, Germany received $15 billion in Marshall Plan money circa 1948 [now worth how much?] but none of this money ever came back to the US. The small fraction that was paid back to the US stayed in Germany as “counterpart funds” and was used to help Germany.
      The European single currency and its Eurozone were a bad idea whose time had come. Without going into the reasons for that, the euro mainly benefitted Germany [because their deutschemark was too highly valued] which wants to discipline and punish other Eurozone states but not help them. When Greece had its debt crisis starting in 2009, the solution dictated by Germany was loans to Greece which were to pay off previous loans but did not allow Greece to borrow at reasonable rates so Greece had to rely on the open market, and interest rates inevitably shot up, while the “bailout” plan did not provide for economic growth for Greece. Thus the very high interest rates on Greek debt are in large part the fault of the eurozone and IMF, etc.

      To make a long story short, the EU does not show brotherly or sisterly solidarity with Greece and we Jews know that we cannot expect any support from our former oppressors. We Israelis don’t need the help of the EU to solve any of our problems. The EU’s interference can only be harmful and EU “help” can only be counterproductive.

  9. URI ROOT says:

    Goos analysis of the interviews in 2008.

  10. JOHN ANDERSON says:

    Nothing will change with respect to American Jews who vote democrat and hate, and I do not use the word hate lightly in this case, hate those who are in the Republican party. You can see that in Steven Lanset’s commentary below. It has only intensified in recent years. How sad and pathetic. It gives truth to the notion that the passions that drive progressives and the democratic party are self-righteousness and hate.

  11. STANLEY YARKIN says:

    In the meantime, leaking new anti-semitic remarks is a useful tactic for the administrations’ Media domination. There are probably enough items to keep the networks too busy for real news until the election. They can even add to the mix by reliving Bill’s scandals as well as a couple of old Hillary ones. The IRS and Holder being in contempt? Benghazi anyone? The email flack? Monica going public? The Democrats have developed real skills at this.

    Where does Obama’s 50% support come from? I would guess mostly from academia and the pro labor enthusiasts. And, of course, many of the 501c3 organizations.

  12. EMILE TUBIANA says:

    Furthermore, I mentioned that Obama does not know Jewish history, which is of course very long. At the very least, he should know the history of American Jews, who financed the revolutionary war and whose inventions made America’s victory in WWII possible.

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