OBAMA, ISRAEL, & AMERICAN JEWS: THE CHALLENGE
By Dr. Daniel Pipes
The open conflict between the Obama administration and the government of Benjamin Netanyahu has created tensions between the United States and Israel of a kind not seen since the days of the administration of the first President Bush. And those tensions are placing unique pressure on American Jews, who voted for Barack Obama by a margin of nearly 4-to-1 in 2008, after being assured by Obama himself and by his supporters in the Jewish community that he was a friend and an ally of the State of Israel, despite his long association with, among others, the unabashedly anti-Israel and anti-Semitic Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
We argue that American Jews are facing an unprecedented political challenge, and at a crucial moment, with the need to address the existential threat to Israel — and by extension to the future of the Jewish people as a whole — from a potentially nuclear Iran. How will American Jews handle this challenge? Can Obama's Jewish supporters act in a way that will change the unmistakable direction of current American policy emanating from the White House? Will American Jews accept Barack Obama's view that the State of Israel bears some responsibility for the loss of American "blood and treasure" in the Middle East? Will they continue to extend their support to the Obama administration and to Barack Obama's political party?
My answer follows below:
The U.S. leadership came down hard on Netanyahu.
The geniuses in the Obama administration have now twice provoked and twice lost the same gratuitous fight with the Netanyahu government. Unfortunately, these defeats don't deter them from persisting with their misconceived goals.
The first fight began in May, 2009, when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanded an ending to Israeli building activity on the West Bank and in Jerusalem. Four months later, after figuring out that this policy obstructed the Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy they fervently sought, the geniuses backtracked and returned to Democratic Party policies-as-usual, meaning good relations with Jerusalem.
In March, 2010, Vice President Joe Biden, Clinton, and Obama then picked the same fight with Israel all over again, now over Jerusalem specifically. This time, the administration needed only six weeks to retreat from its foolishness, as signaled by James Jones' speech at the Washington Institute and Elie Wiesel's lunch at the White House.
Notwithstanding these tactical retreats, the policy of "linkage," belief that the well-being of the Middle East depends primarily on an Israeli-Palestinian accord, remains very much in place and will bedevil U.S.-Israel relations at least through the next 2½ years of Obama's Presidency.
At this difficult time, three facts console me. First, Israelis take more "risks for peace" and offer more "painful concessions" – i.e., they make more irreversible mistakes – when U.S.-Israel ties are warm and strong. In contrast, tense U.S.-Israel ties render such bad decisions less likely. This is one silver lining of Obama's missteps.
Another silver lining lies in the apparently permanent damage these fights have inflicted on Obama, who, in the eyes of many American Zionists, is seen as insufficiently supportive of Israel.
Third, Obama's fights with Israel occur at a moment of particularly strong American popular support for Israel; one recent poll, for instance, shows a 10-to-1 preference for Israel over the Palestinians. Add to this the deep fabric of U.S.-Israeli religious, family, commercial, and cultural ties — as symbolized by the just-signed bilateral open skies agreement — and it appears that a president, especially one who has cascaded in the polls and must be deeply concerned about the forthcoming midterm elections, can only go so far to antagonize the very large body of pro-Israel American voters.
Thus, I am worried, but not acutely so.
The title and questions in this symposium focus on American Jews. But the Arab-Israeli debate in the United States has changed to the point that "Jews" no longer adequately defines the actively pro-Israel camp. As Jewish defamers of Israel grow more prominent and organize themselves (think J Street), so do ardently pro-Israel non-Jews (think Christians United for Israel). I therefore suggest rephrasing the discussion, substituting "Zionists" for "Jews."
© Daniel Pipes 2010
Originally Published in Commentary, June, 2010
Republished with the Permission of Daniel Pipes
Reprinted from the Daniel Pipes Mailing List, June 1, 2010
Article URL: http://www.danielpipes.org/8448/obama-israel-american-jews
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Author or co-author of eighteen books, Dr. Pipes is a regular columnist for National Review Online, Front Page Magazine, the New York Sun, and the Jerusalem Post. His analyses of world trends and of forces and developments in the Middle East have appeared in numerous North American newspapers, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. He frequently appears on American network television, as well as at universities and think tanks, to discuss the Middle East, Islam, and the Islamist threat to the U.S.A. and the West. He also has appeared on BBC and Al Jazeera, and has lectured in approximately twenty-five countries.
Dr. Pipes is a Polish-American Jew whose parents fled Poland in 1939, immigrated to the U.S.A., and assimilated well into
American society and culture. His father is Richard Pipes, an American historian specializing in Russian and Soviet history
and serving as Professor of History at Harvard University from 1950 until his retirement in 1996. During the Cold War, the
worldview of Richard Pipes was strongly anti-Soviet and anti-Communist.
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