Jewish World Review July 31, 2009 / 10 Menachem- Av 5769
Large and growing chasm separates leftist US Jews from leftist Israelis
By Caroline B. Glick
Israel's leftists are lonely these days. This was the central thrust of an opinion column in Tuesday's New York Times authored Aluf Benn, editor-at-large of the left-wing Ha'aretz newspaper.
Benn's article, "Why won't Obama Talk to Israel?" was a plaintive call
for US President Barack Obama to woo the Israeli public. As Benn put
it, "Next time you're in the neighborhood, Mr. President, speak to us
Benn's article has been touted by Obama supporters and detractors
alike as evidence that the President has a credibility problem with
Israelis. Jewish Obama supporters sought to soften the impact of
Benn's article on their fellow Jewish leftists by claiming that Obama
is listening to the likes of Benn. For instance, the Atlantic's
Jeffrey Goldberg reported without irony that administration officials
defend Obama's silence towards Israel by arguing that his June 4
speech to the Muslim world in Cairo was also geared towards Israelis.
The June 4 address of course was the one where Obama compared Israel's
treatment of the Palestinians to the Nazi Holocaust of European Jewry
and to black slavery in the antebellum American South. It was also the
speech where he embraced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's claim
that Israel owes its existence to the Holocaust and not to the Jewish
people's legitimate right to self-determination in our homeland.
Benn's piece is an interesting read, but not for the reasons that have
been widely cited. It is interesting for what it says about the
Israeli Left on the one hand, and what it says about Obama and his
American Jewish supporters on the other.
Although Benn gives a long bill of particulars on why Israelis
mistrust Obama, the general thrust of the article is supportive of the
administration. Far from an attack on Obama, it is a cry for help.
Benn and his fellow Israeli leftists want the administration to help
them by changing the tenor of its policies, not the policies themselves.
Whereas the American Left was triumphant in the 2008 elections, the
Israeli Left was decimated in Israel's general elections in February.
Its two standard bearers -- Meretz and Labor -- were effectively wiped
out. Its new flagship Kadima failed to win the support of any other
party in its bid to form a governing coalition. Worse still,
consistent polling shows that the general public rejects every one of
the Israeli Left's central policies. From the swift establishment of a
Palestinian state, to the mass expulsion of Jews from Judea and
Samaria and Jerusalem, to unilateral land giveaways to the
Palestinians, the Israeli Left today speaks for a but a small minority
Benn cited last month's Jerusalem Post poll which showed that a mere
six percent of Israeli Jews view Obama as pro-Israel while some fifty
percent of Israeli Jews perceive the President as more pro-Palestinian
than pro-Israel. As he sees it, Obama's failure to win the trust of
the Israeli public will make it impossible for him to coerce the
Netanyahu government into freezing Jewish construction in Judea,
Samaria and Jerusalem. This is a disaster for Benn and his colleagues.
For unless the US can force the government's hand, there is no chance
that they will be able to see their radical policies implemented.
It is in his attempt to convince Obama to help the Israeli Left that
Benn makes his most consequential critique of the US leader. As he
puts it, Obama "seems to have confused American Jews with Israelis."
Benn points out that Obama's repeated attacks on Holocaust denial
resonate more strongly with US Jews than with Israelis and that the
two Jewish populations have "different historical narratives."
Benn is onto something when he notes the differences between Israeli
and American Jews. But he fails to grasp the real significance of what
Obama is doing and what is actually happening in relations between the
It isn't that Obama is confusing the two groups. Through both his
rhetoric and his actions, Obama is demonstrating his priorities and
Obama cares about securing the support of American Jews. He does not
care about gaining the support of Israeli Jews. Moreover, Obama feels
comfortable wooing the former while alienating the latter because he
recognizes something that Benn has apparently missed: Today a large
and growing chasm separates leftist US Jews from leftist Israeli Jews.
During his recent meeting at the White House with hand-picked American
Jewish leftist activists and centrist American Jewish leaders, Obama
explained that he welcomes open disputes with Israel. As he put it,
during the Bush presidency, there was "no daylight [between the US and
Israel] and no progress."
Whereas Obama's goal of openly distancing the US from Israel is a
source of anxiety and frustration for Israeli leftists who believe
that US pressure should be a means to the end of compelling Israel to
give away land to the Palestinians, it is a positive development for
American Jewish Leftists. Led by the new anti-Israel Jewish lobby J
Street, and supported by groups like Americans for Peace Now, the
Union for Reform Judaism, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and
the National Jewish Democratic Council, the American Jewish Left
supports the White House's hostile positions on Israel as an ends unto
J Street ? a creation of Democratic fundraiser and anti-Israel
activist George Soros ? was established ahead of the 2008 elections in
order to lobby the White House and Congress to foment breaches in the
US-Israel strategic relationship.
When Soros first raised the prospect of a Jewish anti-Israel lobby in
October 2006, he argued that there was a need to institutionalize what
had until then been ad-hoc anti-Israel lobbying efforts by American
Jewish groups in order to scuttle Congressional support for Israel and
undermine mainstream American Jewish organizations.
True to their mandates, today J Street and its fellow leftist Jewish
groups Americans for Peace Now, and Brit Tzedek v'Shalom lobby
Congress to adopt positions that place the US in direct confrontation
with Israel. The three groups are presently lobbying Congress to
oppose an AIPAC initiative calling on Obama to pressure Arab
governments to normalize relations with Israel. In their view, the
move is objectionable because it doesn't contain a demand that Israel
stop building homes for Jews in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem. J Street
similarly opposed Operation Cast Lead claiming that Israel's actions
to defend its citizens from rocket and mortar attacks from
Hamas-controlled Gaza were contrary to the interests of peace.
Although attacking Israel on the Palestinian issue is the central
pillar of these groups' missions, they are also involved in defending
Iran's nuclear weapons program and championing Syria in Washington. In
late May, J Street lobbied Congress not to place new sanctions on Iran
claiming, "On Iran, the president is promoting tough, direct
diplomacy?but the chances of [his] success won't be helped by Congress
imposing tight timelines or a new round of sanctions."
The group has similarly supported ending sanctions against Syria and
pressuring Israel to relinquish the Golan Heights to Syrian control.
In short, through their full throated support for all of the Obama
administration's anti-Israel policies, the organized American Jewish
Left has made clear that today it does not share a common goal with
the Israeli Left. It does not view US pressure on Israel as a means to
achieve peace and normalization between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
Rather, like Obama, it views pressure on Israel as a means to weaken
US ties to Israel in the interest of pursuing closer ties with the
The current split between the Israeli and American Jewish Left, as
well as the Obama administration's disparate treatment of both groups
have policy implications for the Netanyahu government in its dealings
with all three.
According to a number of American Jewish leaders, Obama's decision to
meet with a hand-picked audience American Jews at the White House on
July 13 was a direct response to the Jerusalem Post poll. Obama's
senior advisors feared that the massive Israeli mistrust of Obama the
poll exposed was liable to spill over into the American Jewish
To date, in contending with the White House, Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu has been careful to minimize the significance of the White
House initiated crisis in relations. Fearing a domestic backlash,
Netanyahu and his advisors have even gone so far as to leak reports of
imminent agreements between the Obama administration and Israel on the
issue of home construction for Jews in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.
What the White House's distress over the Post's poll shows however, is
that today - with a domestic consensus now backing Netanyahu against
Obama - Netanyahu has less call to minimize the breach than Obama
does. Indeed, doing only advances Obama's fortunes among American Jews
and so strengthens the position of anti-Israel Jewish organizations
that support him. Rather than leak stories about an impending deal,
Netanyahu's advisors should leak stories about American intransigence
Moreover, given the administration's overarching desire to put
"daylight" between the US and Israel, reaching an agreement with
Washington will bring no relief. Since it is the administration's goal
to weaken US ties to the Jewish state, clearly any deal that Israel
could obtain would either be antithetical to Israel's national
interests or breached by the administration.
Perhaps in response to J Street's ever-expanding media presence,
Ambassador Michael Oren intimated last month that he intends to reach
out to far Left American Jewish groups. To the extent that this is a
serious initiative, it should be dropped immediately.
Through their actions, J Street and its allies have made clear that
their institutional interests are served by weakening Israel. Their
mission is to harm Israel's standing in Washington and weaken the
influence the mainstream American Jewish community that supports Israel.
Rather than empower these anti-Israel groups by legitimizing them, the
government should take a page out of Obama's playbook. Obama gave the
perception of hosting a big tent for American Jews by inviting both
friendly far Left groups, and friendly centrist groups to meet with
him on July 13. He legitimized his friends at J Street and Americans
for Peace Now by treating them as equals of the Conference of
Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
By the same token, Israel's embassy should act as a big tent by
reaching out to Israel's supporters on both the political Right and
the center. All groups that support Israel should be welcome.
As to the Israeli Left, to date, Netanyahu has successfully built a
strong, stable center-right coalition by going over its head and
forming a national consensus around support for defensible borders, a
united Jerusalem and rejecting unreciprocated concessions of any kind.
While Netanyahu arguably made an unnecessary and potentially
disastrous mistake in announcing his support for a demilitarized
Palestinian state, by and large, he has successfully marginalized the
Benn's anguished plea for help from the Obama administration shows
that Netanyahu's policies are having the desired effect. His political
opponents are descending into the depths of political irrelevance.
Netanyahu should leave them to their richly deserved fate.