President Barack Obama is carefully trying to reconcile his public support for the removal of Arab dictatorships with his outreach to his influential Jewish supporters who fear those revolutions will threaten Israel’s safety and Arabs’ freedoms.
“What’s happening in the Middle East and North Africa right now is as profound, as transformative as what happened when the Berlin Wall fell, and the jury is still out in terms of the direction that it will go,” he told attendees at a New York fundraiser March 1.
“We will, where we can… stand up for human rights, we will stand up for free speech, we will stand up for women’s rights,” Obama told the attendees, which included several of his high-profile Jewish supporters, such as Victor Kovner, who has helped fund J Street.
J Street is an D.C.-based advocacy group that argues Arabs are willing to accept Israel’s existence.
Obama also used an interview in The Atlantic magazine to boost his outreach to Jewish Americans. “Why is it that despite me never failing to support Israel on every single problem that they’ve had over the last three years, that there are still questions about that” support, Obama asked in an interview published Mar. 2.
In the interview, Obama blamed political agitators for his declining poll ratings in the Jewish community. “You have a set of political actors who want to see if they can drive a wedge… between Barack Obama and a Jewish American vote that has historically been very supportive of his candidacy,” he said.
But, he added, “we’ve got Israel’s back… that’s something that I constantly try to reinforce and remind people of.”
The issue will be highlighted next week when Obama and his GOP rivals speak at the annual meeting in D.C. of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. On Monday, Obama will meet with Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in the White House, and is expected to ask him to not strike Iran’s nuclear-weapons development program.
A strike on the nuclear program might prompt an Iranian counterattack, drive up gas prices and endanger Obama’s election campaign. Israel opposes Iran’s program because Iran’s Muslim theocracy has repeatedly threatened to destroy Israel.
Republicans, including Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, say Obama’s ratings have fallen in the Jewish community because he has undermined Israel’s defense by pushing it to make risky diplomatic concessions to hostile Arab militias before the Arab public accepts Israel’s right to exist. Obama, the critics say, has also endangered Israel by not doing enough to curb the growing power of Islamists in Egypt and Libya.
His critics also say he’s not doing enough to weaken Iran’s government and nuclear weapons program. In 2009, for example, Obama failed to aid the street protesters in Iran, allowing the theocratic government their to shoot or jail many of the demonstrators.