Why Obama is struggling with Jewish voters

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Lanny Davis
Former Special Counsel to President Clinton
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      Lanny Davis

      Lanny J. Davis counsels individuals, corporations and government contractors, and those under congressional scrutiny, on crisis management and legal issues by developing legal, media and legislative strategies that are designed to best produce a successful result for the client. He has experience in securities fraud and SEC investigations as well, and has found that utilizing such an integrated legal/media/lobbying approach can lead to quicker and less expensive settlements or even successfully litigated outcomes. Senior officials of public companies have also hired Lanny and his crisis group to defend themselves successfully against "short and distort" attacks and other market manipulations. For 25 years prior to 1996, before his tenure as special counsel to President Clinton, Lanny was a commercial, antitrust, government contracts and False Claims Act litigator (both in defense as well as plaintiff). He has argued numerous appellate cases in the U.S. courts of appeals.

      In June 2005, President Bush appointed Lanny to serve on the five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, created by the U.S. Congress as part of the 2005 Intelligence Reform Act. In that capacity, he received the highest level security clearances so that he could be fully briefed and "read in" to the various anti-terrorist surveillance and financial tracking programs at the highest classified level. From 1996 to 1998, Lanny served as special counsel to the president in the White House and was a spokesperson for the president and the White House on matters concerning campaign finance investigations and other legal issues. Lanny has participated in national, state and local politics for almost 30 years. He has served three terms (1980 to 1992) on the Democratic National Committee representing the state of Maryland, and during that period he served on the DNC Executive Committee and as chairman of the Eastern Region Caucus. In Montgomery County, Maryland, he served as chairman of the Washington Suburban Transit Commission.

      Lanny has authored several books and lectured throughout the United States and Europe on various political issues. Between 1990 and 1996, Lanny was a bimonthly commentator on Maryland politics for WAMU-88.5/FM, a Washington, D.C. local affiliate of National Public Radio. He has been a regular television commentator and has been a political and legal analyst for MSNBC, CNN, Fox Cable, CNBC and network TV news programs. He has published numerous op-ed/analysis pieces in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, he Washington Post and other national publications.

      Lanny graduated from Yale Law School, where he won the prestigious Thurman Arnold Moot Court prize and served on the Yale Law Journal. A graduate of Yale University, Lanny served as chairman of the Yale Daily News.

      Lanny is admitted to practice in the District of Columbia and Connecticut and before the Supreme Court of the United States and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

It is a mystery: Why do so many Jewish Americans wherever I go express grave concerns about President Obama’s commitment to the Jewish state of Israel?

The shocking loss of the Democratic congressional candidate last week in New York’s 9th district — the first time a Republican has won that seat since the presidency of Warren Harding — was in large part a result of the defection of substantial numbers of Jewish voters. (Former Mayor Ed Koch’s endorsement of the Republican was a reflection of his concerns about Obama’s support of Israel.)

Yet, just days before, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Obama for his personal intervention that saved lives of Cairo Israel Embassy officials under attack by Muslim extremists. And Obama has courageously stood up for Israel in announcing that the U.S. will veto a Security Council resolution supporting recognition of a Palestinian state.

I hope the White House and Democratic officials didn’t really believe it when they discounted the significance of the loss in New York’s 9th as the result of the alienation of a small segment of “conservative Orthodox Jews.” It is far more serious than that, in my experience.

My theory is Obama’s problem is more about his insensitivity in his choice of words and phrases than his policies towards Israel or where his heart truly is.

Some may say Jews are overly sensitive to words. Jews would say back: If that is so, then oversensitivity has been an important survival device, enabling Jews to survive thousands of years of persecution.

Here are three examples of times that Obama’s insensitive words have set off alarms in Jewish communities — left, right and center:

In Obama’s Cairo speech in the first few months of his administration, he said that the state of Israel was born as a result of the Holocaust. He seemed to be giving credence to the historical lie that offends Jews all over the world, part of a campaign to delegitimize Israel by those who refuse to accept Israel as a sovereign Jewish state — i.e., that Israel was founded by alien Europeans after World War II, foisted on native Palestinian Arabs. This lie denies the historical fact of Jewish ties to the land of Israel going back more than 3,000 years. Obama also seemed oblivious to the trauma of the “Diaspora,” the forced expulsion of Jews from the holy land of Israel beginning with the destruction of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of the Jewish people more than 2,600 years ago.

In March 2010, Obama approved of the use of the word “condemned” to describe Israel’s decision, during a visit by Vice President Biden, to announce the building of several hundred apartments in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem that dates back over 100 years. The last times the U.S. used the word “condemn” about a foreign country was to describe the North Korean nuclear detonation and the murder of an innocent Iranian woman during its period of civilian protests.

Then, just this past spring, Obama chose to use the expression that Israel should negotiate peace based on a “return to the ’67 borders with land swaps.” Obama seemed to forget that it was the Arab nations that, prior to 1967, barred all Jews from the holiest of holy places, King Solomon’s Western Wall in East Jerusalem, and then invaded Israel without warning, not to honor those ’67 borders but rather to extinguish Israel as an independent Jewish state.