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The disproportionately high
profile of American Jews in the Presidential election contest and the
efforts invested by both candidates portraying themselves as supportive
of the Jewish State has assumed surrealistic levels.
Overall, Israel's standing in
the US today is at an all-time high. Yet, the Democratic Convention
spotlighted the emergence of a hostile anti-Israeli component of the
party which threatens to undermine the long-standing bi-partisan support
of Israel exemplified by the standing ovations Netanyahu received
during his May 2011 address to Congress.
Economic issues will invariably
be the dominant factor influencing voters and most American Jews will
base their political choice on a multi-dimensional basket of issues. But
the majority would like to be assured of the wellbeing of the Jewish
state and expect their President to behave towards Israel as an ally and
be sensitive to its security requirements.
Although most Jews continue to
support Obama, growing numbers, especially the orthodox, have concluded
that on the basis of his tortuous Cairo speech and his earlier
diplomatic battering of Israel, he is more committed to the Palestinian
than the Israeli narrative and will vote against him.
With the impending elections,
Obama launched a concerted charm offensive to avoid further defections
from his Jewish constituency. He repeated that he will “always have
Israel’s back”, emphasized his exemplary record in strengthening
Israel’s defense capabilities and reiterated that he had delivered the
most pro-Israeli speech at the UN, unprecedented by any US President.
Initially, it seemed he was
succeeding. But subsequently, Jewish angst was revived by numerous
aspects of Obama’s behavior. There are intensified doubts regarding his
genuine intention to resort to the military option if needed to prevent
Iran from becoming a nuclear power. These anxieties were reinforced by
Obama’s failure to repudiate the intimidating rhetoric from
Administration spokesmen conveying veiled threats against Israel acting
independently, especially the offensive remark by Joint Chief of Staff,
General Martin Dempsey, who did not wish “to be complicit” if Israel
acted against Iran’s nuclear project.
Another cause for concern was
the cozy US relationship with Turkey in which the US surrendered to
their demands to exclude Israel from joint military exercises or even
participate in a conference on global terrorism. There was also Obama’s
failure to adequately condemn the Non Aligned Summit which endorsed
Iran’s nuclear policy, appointed a Holocaust denier as its new head and
whose representatives from 120 countries listened politely to the
genocidal ravings of their Iranian hosts.
But the most chilling message
was the elimination of pro-Israel components from the current Democratic
National Platform. In particular, the deletion of all reference to
recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel - which conformed to
the policy of the Administration. After a huge outcry and following
three calls for approval from delegates, it was clumsily reinserted,
provoking a flood of audible boos from many delegates.
But other key clauses relating
to Israel were not restored. These included reference to “Israel, our
most reliable Middle East ally”, condemning Hamas, rejecting a return to
the indefensible 1949 armistice lines and calling for Palestinian
refugees and their descendants to be resettled in a Palestinian state
rather than in Israel. Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin
described this platform as “the most radically unsupportive statement of
policy on Israel by any major party since the founding of the state of
Subsequently, Obama and
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s harsh dismissal of Israel’s plea to
draw red lines in relation to moving beyond sanctions combined with the
president’s refusal to meet Netanyahu during his visit to NY, served to
heighten tensions with Israel even before the elections. It also
provided a chilling projection of what to expect from a second Obama
Why don’t Jews abandon a party that is, at best, ambivalent towards the Jewish state?
The reality for most American
Jews is that since the era of President Franklyn Roosevelt, their bond
with the Democratic Party is embedded as a political DNA and even
considered a quasi-religion.
Yet it is likely that President
Obama would have acted even more harshly against Israel were Jews not
such an important component of the Democratic party. There is therefore a
positive aspect to ongoing Jewish involvement to retain existing
Democratic Congressional bipartisan support – in the absence of which
Israel’s defense infrastructure would erode and the international
community would undoubtedly throw us to the wolves.
So when influential pro-Israeli
Democratic Congressmen or prominent Jewish Democrats like Stuart
Eizenstat or Dennis Ross retain their party affiliation, even those
disagreeing with them should be relieved that within this prevailing
dangerous Democratic political terrain there remain influential Jews
willing to combat those seeking to distance the US from its traditional
alliance with Israel.
Alan Dershowitz exemplifies
this. He is a devoted champion of Israel who recently reaffirmed his
support of Obama despite having previously condemned his policies, even
comparing him to Chamberlain.
To his credit, Dershowitz condemned the Democratic party platform and even after the amendments told the Algemeiner
that he was bitter “not only with regard to Jerusalem”, but also with
the other crucial issues which were not reinstated. He accused “rogue
elements” within the Democratic party, from Arab-Americans to
anti-Israeli Jews, of seeking to undermine “the bi-partisan support for
Israel which characterized American politics since 1948” and destroy the
US- Israel alliance. He vowed to convey this to the President who he
hoped would “make statements prior to the elections reaffirming the
contents of his 2008 platform”.
Thus, even those who would
aspire to see more Jews demonstrating displeasure with Obama at the
polls should realize that it is a disservice to Israel to demonize
Democratic supporters like Dershowitz if they speak up and protest
against anti-Israeli policies.
This is not an endorsement of
those who argue that Jews should avoid regarding Israel as a wedge issue
in the elections. It is precisely during the election season that
American Jews should maximize their democratic right to influence policy
by responsibly criticizing and objecting to policies they consider to
be flawed or immoral.
Indeed, to ensure that
politicians take greater account of Jewish sensitivities, one would
expect mainstream American Jewish leaders, whilst remaining apolitical,
to speak out far more aggressively against any party which adopts
anti-Israeli positions, whether Democrat or Republican.
This applies especially now,
despite that if re-elected, Obama is capable - as he was following the
last elections - of reneging on his undertakings. Indeed Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton recently unblushingly told an international
journalist that like all politicians, President Obama’s remarks about
Israel prior to elections should not be taken too seriously.
Indicators suggest that the
majority of Jews will continue to vote for Obama but despite conflicting
polls, an increasing minority, especially the most committed, is likely
to oppose him and may well provide the lowest level of support for a
Democrat president since Carter.
In addition, many Jews,
unwilling to sever their umbilical cord with the Democratic party, may
well continue supporting their Democratic Congressional representative
yet oppose Obama at the Presidential poll – which would actually serve
to reinforce bipartisanship towards Israel, currently under siege.