Posts Tagged ‘Settlements’

Poll: Jewish Dems Strongly Support Obama on Israel

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

The results are in.

After all the gnashing of teeth by Obama’s critics that his policies on Israel are costing him the support of his Jewish base, a new poll — by a right-wing organization, no less — shows that 92 percent of Jewish Democrats approve of President Barack Obama’s job performance.

The poll also found that 58 percent believe President Obama “is doing a good job of promoting peace in the Middle East.” (Only 16 percent disagreed with this statement.) Moreover, when asked: “Do you think President Obama is being too tough on Israel?”, 55 percent answered “No.” (Only 18 percent said yes.)

The poll was conducted at the end of July by the Traditional Values Coalition, a conservative lobbying group that represents 43,000 churches.  A quick perusal of the coalition’s Web site gives a clear sense of the values it seeks to promote. The home page offers a click through for “Causes and Cures of Homosexuality.” It opposes abortion but supports the death penalty, citing Biblical imperatives. Its chairman and founder, Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, is a strong defender of Israel.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, then, that Sheldon and TVC seemed almost let down by their own polling results. The coalition takes great pains to emphasize the negative results of the poll, issuing a release headlined: “TVC Poll Finds Americans Conflicted Over Israel and Obama.” They cite as evidence the fact that 52 percent of respondents said “the Arabs will never live in peace with Israel” — as if that’s somehow definitive.

“In other words,” Sheldon is quoted as saying in the TVC release, “the President’s support among Jewish Americans is a mile wide but when specific issues about Israel’s defense are raised it is about halved and looks ‘an inch deep.’ ”

Wow. What a stretch. I guess there’s spin, and then there’s flat-out desperation.

Here’s more: When asked if Israel should bomb Iran to stop it from obtaining nuclear weapons, only 15 percent of Jewish Democrats answered “yes.” A whopping 62 percent said, “no.”

You can nearly hear Sheldon contorting to make this statement: “Support for President Obama is high among Jewish Americans but half express concerns and disagreements with specific policies, particularly where Iran is involved.”

His conclusion is apparently based on the fact that 45 percent said they were “not sure” what Obama would do if Israel attacked Iran. TVC flat out ignores the fact that when answering the same question, 40 percent said they thought Obama would support Israel, while only 15 percent said he would not.

Ignoring the central findings of the poll, Dick Morris and Eileen McGann penned a missive in the New York Post headlined “Where BAM Breaks With Jewish Dems,” which begins:

JEWISH Democrats strongly agree with the Israeli position and disagree with President Obama’s on issues such as a Palestinian state, settlement construction and trading land for peace. Does the president realize he’s at risk of a break with an important part of his base?

Cherry-picking through the poll with an eye to anything at all that might convey discord, Morris and McGann downplay all the poll results they don’t like. True, they shrug, half of Jewish Democrats flat out reject the notion that Obama is biased against Israel, but “a significantly large number” — 35 percent — are still undecided on the question!

Is this what happens when the rhetoric of Obama’s detractors fails to square with the reality of his wide and strong support among Jewish Democrats?

For a fair and balanced analysis of the poll results, see this Jewish Telegraphic Agency article: “It’s almost unanimous: Jewish Dems on board with Obama.” The JTA writes:

The survey suggests that despite the Obama administration’s repeated calls for an Israeli settlement freeze, support for the president among American Jews remains high.

It’s a good article. Morris and McGann should read it.

Oh, Jerusalem

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

President Obama is taking a bit of a beating these days for allegedly taking a hard line on Israel. See, for example, this opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, which takes Obama to task for demanding “that Israel freeze construction in East Jerusalem.”

Never mind that, according to all I’ve read, Obama himself has done no such thing.  Rather, according to the NY Times, a State Department official “raised concerns” over the East Jerusalem project with Israel’s new ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren.

The American officials suggested that going ahead with the development now would cause problems in negotiations toward a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The hawks — and even some of Obama’s supporters in the Jewish community — have reacted to this by intimating that Obama has crossed another red line. It’s as if the president has personally challenged Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem, and taken a pot-shot at the Jewish world.

“If Jews were prohibited from buying property in New York, London, Paris or Rome, there would be an international outcry,” writes Mackubin Thomas Owens in the Journal.  “Why, [Israeli Prime Minister Bibi] Netanyahu wondered, should the standard be different for Jerusalem?”

Last I checked — unlike East Jerusalem — New York, London, Paris, and Rome were not home to 300,000 Palestinians, and were not candidates to be the capital of a future Palestinian state, but I digress.

Put me in Jeffrey Goldberg’s camp. In one of his most recent blogs, “In Defense of J Street,” The Atlantic reporter, whose dispatches from the Middle East are very even-handed, puts a “kosher stamp of approval on Obama’s approach to Israel.”

I’m not naïve about Arab intentions – or should I say, I’m no longer naïve about Arab intentions. I don’t automatically believe that the creation of a Palestinian state will lead to an end of claims, or an end to the conflict. But I know that Israel’s continued entanglement with the Palestinians, an entanglement deepened and exacerbated by its addiction to settlements, will eventually lead to the demise of the Jewish state. So I’m glad that “Obama’s Jews” support his demand for Israeli self-reflection (are we so wonderful that we couldn’t use a little self-examination now and again?), and I’m surprised that people are surprised by Obama’s modest demand. He said in his campaign that he would hold up a mirror to Israel, and he is. He’s also holding up a mirror to the Arab side, and that’s all for the good as well. Time is running out – if Israel doesn’t achieve permanent, internationally-recognized borders and diplomatic relations with the bulk of Muslim-majority countries soon, the campaign to delegitimize the very idea of Israel will become even more ferocious than it’s been.

To his point about the Arab side, as the Forward is reporting: “Freezing the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank was once seen as a unilateral Israeli obligation. But the Obama administration is now treating this as part of a package that will require concessions from Arab states, as well.”

“The Americans now understand that if they get anything from us on the settlement issue, it will only be in the broader context of some kind of Arab return,” said an Israeli diplomat, one of many similar comments from Israeli officials recently.  …

America’s request for signs of normalization with Israel is focusing now on symbolic steps. According to Arab and American diplomatic sources, Washington is now asking for the reopening of commercial interest offices of Oman, Qatar and Morocco in Israel and for permission for Israeli commercial airliners to fly over Gulf states, shortening by several hours flight routes from Israel to East Asia.

I’d like to also note that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today warned Iran that its pursuit of nuclear weapons is “futile,” adding: “we’re not going to let that happen.” This, just days after she raised the possibility of an American-created “defense umbrella” over the Middle East “to counter Iran’s efforts to build its power in the region by trying to develop weapons capacity.”

I admit, these facts are particularly inconvenient for the “Obama takes a hard line on Israel” crowd. Do not expect the Wall Street Journal to opine about them any time soon.

Jewish Leaders in the White House: Take Two

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

President Barack Obama spoke directly and powerfully to the concerns of the Jewish community today.

Obama invited 16 Jewish leaders from 14 organizations into the White House for a wide-ranging discussion focused on Israel, Middle East policy, and Iran. There’s no transcript, but what comes through in press reports — based on interviews with those in attendance — is President Obama’s iron-clad support for Israel as a safe, secure Jewish state.

Most fundamentally, he addressed head-on community concerns that by calling on Israel to freeze settlements, he is applying more pressure on Israel than he is on the Palestinians.

The National Jewish Democratic Council’s executive director Ira Forman, one of the 16 invitees, told Politico’s Ben Smith that Obama “said we have been very specific with the Arab world on incitement, violence, commitments on accepting the reality of Israel and conveying that to their street as well.”

According to The Forward, the president said that “forceful” pressure is being applied to the Palestinians to move forward on the peace process — flatly contradicting claims by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that all Palestinians have to do is sit and wait for Israel to make concessions. The president told the group that among other things, he has sent letters to all the Arab states, urging them to join the peace process.

As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports:

One participant quoted the president as saying that “There’s not a lot of courage among the Arab states; not a lot of leadership among the Palestinians.” …

“The view was expressed among the organizations at a minimum there was concern about an imbalance in pressures placed on Israel as opposed to on the Palestinians and Arab states,” Alan Solow, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told JTA. “The president indicated he had a sensitivity to the perception of that imbalance and had to work harder to correct that perception.”

Moreover, Obama specifically said, according to the Jerusalem Post, there’s a “likelihood that Israel would retain the major settlement blocs in any final peace deal with the Palestinians, but said it was an issue that needed to be resolved between the parties.”

And yet again — and this always strikes me about Obama — he didn’t kowtow to his audience by telling them only what they wanted to hear. This, for example, is from the AP report:

Some participants in the meeting flatly told Obama that only when the United States are Israel are in lockstep support is any progress made. Obama replied that there was no distance between the U.S. and Israeli positions for the last eight years, and that no progress was made under President George W. Bush.

“Where people pushed back, the president stood firm,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of J Street, a pro-Israel and pro-peace political action committee and lobby.

“I don’t think the peace process will be advanced by hiding natural disagreements, disagreements within the family,” Obama was quoted in The Forward as saying. 

Which, ultimately, gives him infinite credibility when his White House puts out statements like this, as it did after the meeting today: “The President reiterated his unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security and reiterated his commitment to working to achieve Middle East peace.” 

“[Obama] talked about Israel as a Jewish state with no hesitancy,” Forman told ABC News.  “He also reiterated what he has said before about the fundamental bond between Israel and the United States and the fundamental commitment the U.S. has, no matter what disagreements there are, to Israel’s peace and security.”

It’s high time for the skeptics in the Jewish community to take him at his word.

The Time is Right for Obama to Visit Israel

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

Reading the Akron Beacon Journal today, I came across this headline: “Obama tries to win over skeptical Russians.”

After reaching out to the Islamic world in speeches in Turkey and Egypt, President Barack Obama sought once more to speak directly to the hearts and minds of another audience that has been hostile to the United States: the Russian public. …

Just as the president sprinkled his speeches in the Middle East with references to the Quran and partnership with the Muslim world, Obama spoke knowledgeably to Russians about issues close to their hearts.

It was vintage Obama, reaching out directly to the people, speaking honestly — “he quietly criticized Russia’s increasingly authoritarian politics and aggressive foreign policy — without lecturing or accusing the Kremlin” — and earning their trust.

Several times, Obama made references that might sound like platitudes anywhere else — but which struck a powerful chord with Russians.

It’s time that Obama went to Israel, and made the same kind of appeal to skeptical Jews.

I understand why he didn’t start with Israel. Obama has reached out first to those — in Iran, the Arab world, and Russia — who are most suspicious of the United States and its foreign policy, after eight years of tough talk and sabre-rattling by George Bush. That makes sense.

Now, though, he has an Israel problem. According to a recent Jerusalem Post Poll — much discussed and emailed in the Jewish community — only 6 percent of Jewish Israelis consider Obama pro-Israel. A whopping 50 percent believe he is pro-Palestinian — up from only 14 percent in May.

This, about a president who went to Cairo — the heart of the Muslim world — and declared that America’s bond with Israel “is unbreakable.”

Clearly, there is a growing credibility gap.

There’s an article in Haaretz today by Aluf Benn, who I’m not prone to agree with, but who makes a good point. Benn notes that while many Israelis might actually support a settlement freeze, when Obama called for exactly that, absolutely no one on the political left in Israel sided with him over Netanyahu. One reason, Benn writes, is that:

Obama did not try to communicate with the Israeli public and convince them that freezing settlements will be an important and positive step to contribute to peace and a better future. Obama addressed the Arabs and Muslims, but not the Israelis.

For the Obama administration, it’s not just an issue of assuaging the Israeli public, and thus making American Jews feel better. If the Israeli public understood they had a true friend in the White House, a large segment might line up behind Obama, increasing pressure on their prime minister to compromise on settlements and other tough, intractable issues coming down the pike.

The other day, a U.S. Congressman with unassailable pro-Israel and pro-Obama credentials put it this way: “[The Israeli] public needs to be predisposed to follow” the United States’ lead on peace talks.

The best way for that to happen is for Obama to go to the Jewish homeland and speak to Israelis directly, honestly, and from the heart.

Netanyahu’s Olive Branch

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu mentioned the word “peace” 43 times in his much-anticipated speech at Bar-Ilan University today. He invoked the path of Yitzhak Rabin. This, from Israel’s leading hawk. It was a remarkable, must-read speech (here’s the text from the Prime Minister’s Office), with an unmistakable message to President Obama: We want to work with you. Our hand is unclenched.

Netanyahu is already being criticized by Palestinians and those on the political left — a drum beat that will no doubt intensify — for not going far enough. But critics miss a key point.

To understand just how big a gesture Netanyahu made today, you have to go back to Wednesday. That’s when he met with Likud Members of Knesset at his Jerusalem office. Here’s the Jerusalem Post’s take:

Every MK who spoke at the meeting pleaded with him not to utter the catchphrase “two states for two peoples” when he delivered his policy address on Sunday at Bar-Ilan University. The MKs reminded him of statements he made at a Likud central committee meeting in 2002, in which he warned against the dangers of even a demilitarized Palestinian state, and urged him, “Don’t found a Palestinian state at Bar-Ilan.”

Despite the intense pressure from his own party, today’s headline will be: Netanyahu Backs Two States. Here’s what he said:

In my vision of peace, in this small land of ours, two peoples live freely, side-by-side, in amity and mutual respect.  Each will have its own flag, its own national anthem, its own government.  Neither will threaten the security or survival of the other.

These two realities – our connection to the land of Israel, and the Palestinian population living within it – have created deep divisions in Israeli society. But the truth is that we have much more that unites us than divides us …

If we receive this guarantee regarding demilitarization and Israel’s security needs, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the State of the Jewish people, then we will be ready in a future peace agreement to reach a solution where a demilitarized Palestinian state exists alongside the Jewish state.

We have much more that unites us than divides us, Netanyahu said. That language might very well have been lifted verbatim from an Obama campaign speech.

It’s true that Netanyahu said he could not meet Obama’s call for no natural growth in Israeli settlements. But he did say: “We have no intention of building new settlements or of expropriating additional land for existing settlements.”

Again, to understand the extent of this give, the political context is necessary.  Here’s David Horovitz’s analysis, in the Post:

The prime minister’s refusal to halt natural growth at existing settlements still leaves him in direct conflict with Washington. But Netanyahu will have privately explained to the Americans that meeting that restriction would not merely counter his own outlook, but also doom his government, and his Sunday night mention of the Gaza disengagement served as a timely reminder of Israel’s demonstrable willingness to dismantle even entire settlement communities – albeit, in Netanyahu’s view, for entirely misconceived reasons.

The New York Times said the White House reaction was “positive, if limited, focusing on what it called ‘the important step forward’ of Mr. Netanyahu’s support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

That is clearly a genuine recognition that this speech was a major Israeli give, especially given Netanyahu’s political realities. This White House, more than most, understands that words matter — words make worlds — and it no doubt appreciates that Netanyahu used the word “peace” more than forty times, stating unequivocally that “the advancement of peace” is “exceedingly important.”

“I also spoke about this with President Obama,” Netanyahu said, “and I fully support the idea of a regional peace that he is leading.”