Sitting at the Purim Spiel (an annual Jewish fundraiser where Broadway stars perform to raise money for the Birthright Israel Foundation) and waiting for the stage lights to dim, I began chatting with a friend about how exciting it is to see a resurgence of young Jewish conservatives in New York.
An elderly Jewish couple sitting directly behind me overheard our conversation and just as the lights began to fade the wife learned forward in her chair, tapped me on the shoulder and informed me, “There is no such thing as a Jewish Republican.”
As I sat back in my seat—listening to the shtick of Israeli comedian Modi Rosenfeld—I began to think to myself, it’s this type of attitude that explains why so many Jews voted for President Barack Obama in the first place. Because despite his staunchly pro-Israel stance, it was under the direction of George W. Bush that the hegemonic power of the United States fundamentally waned. And a lessening of power in the U.S. has an equally adverse affect upon the ability of Israel to project the necessary power to sustain it own existence.
Although Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had a much clearer vision for Israel during the election (and a far more impressive resume in regards to the Jewish state), many American Jewish voters saw Obama as a departure from the Republican Party rather then a candidate in and of himself. And regardless of his vague stance on the Israel, many American Jews believed that Obama would continue the basic policies prescriptions of his predecessors towards the Jewish state, but without the negative connotations a new Republican President might have impressed upon the international community. A majority of Jewish voters feared McCain would pursue a continuation of hard power politics, as defined by the Bush doctrine, that might in the long term prove more detrimental to Israeli affairs then a kinder or more passive Obama might.
But the red flags were waving hard and high from the get-go. Obama’s friendships with the anti-Semitic, firebrand Reverend Jeremiah Wright and Palestinian apologist Rashid Khalidi, not to mention his financial ties to anti-Israel moneyman George Soros were just a start. His intimate relationship with senior advisors David Axelrod and Rahm Emmanuel, rumored to have been called “self-loathing Jews” by Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu, should have been the cincher. (Regardless of whether or not the words were actually uttered, the label remains a truism among many Jews).
Even Hamas figured Obama would be better for the Palestinian cause then the American Jewry could fathom and they eagerly endorsed him in 2008. (Ironically, but not surprisingly, the Arab world is now complaining that Obama is being too soft on Israel).
Upon reaching the Oval Office, Obama continued his estrangement of the Jewish state with some early affronts which included embarking on a global apology tour, giving his first interview to an Arab language news channel, bowing to the Saudi monarch at the G-20 summit and delivering a widely “heralded” speech to the Muslim world in Egypt. But as the editor of the Israeli newspaper Haartez commented in the New York Times, “The Arabs got the Cairo speech, we got silence.”
So like with any purchase that proves to cost more then it is worth, America’s Jewish voters are feeling the sting of buyers’ remorse. And they are not the only ones; after just a year in office, Obama’s approval ratings in Israel dropped to as low as four percent.
Barack Obama seems to be increasingly out of step with the priorities of the American Jewry. This is not say that every Jew in the United States has a rigidly pro-Israel stance, but none can say they want to see the destruction of the Jewish state either. And the way Obama has been handling the affairs of the Middle East leaves some believing that the Israeli people are facing a much greater existential threat then at anytime in the past 60 years.
The Wilsonian naiveté of Barack Obama, with his sweeping platitudes and flowery rhetoric, presents America as part and parcel of a much greater egalitarian internationalism in which our exceptional role as a steward of freedom and democracy is essentially less important then our ability to appease the interests of all. And as any Jew can tell you, “appeasement” is not a notion taken lightly within our community.
John Bolton wrote in his riveting piece featured in the January issue of Commentary magazine that, “Obama is the first President since Dec. 7, 1941, to espouse a determinedly unassertive global role for the United States, one ironically verging on an essentially neo-isolationist view of America.” He goes on to note that international affairs, and especially the Middle East, has never been within the realm of interest for the young and inexperienced president—whose fundamental restructuring of American society has always been the first and most pressing priority.
Don’t believe it? In the January State of the Union address, Obama didn’t even mention Israel, seemingly setting the policy agenda to “non-committal mode,” a situation which left the president scrambling to pay lip service in defense of the singularly unique relationship between the two states just a day later at a town hall in Tampa.
But the global Jewry shouldn’t be surprised. Before becoming President, Obama’s record was glaringly empty on any and all Israeli affairs.
Highlighting this vast blank spot, in one story recounted to me by a close, personal friend of a large (pro-Israel) Jewish businessman being sought by Obama for a political donation, the future President was asked by the billionaire, “So what are you going to about Israel?”
Obama replied, “Well, what do you think I should do about Israel?”
Eager to discover exactly what the one-term Illinois Senator’s presidential plans were, the wealthy potential donor asked the question again. And Obama repeated his reply.
After akwardly dancing back and forth around the issue like two teenagers at a prom, Obama was summarily dismissed because he simply had no opinion on the Jewish state. Disappointed, to say the least, the donor threw his support behind McCain.
Indeed, since taking office, Israel has been the focus of scorn, ire and posturing on behalf the Obama administration and the President has upped the ante in terms of risk for Israel. The following are just a few examples of Obama’s failed policy since taking office.
- Obama’s rebuffed attempt to talk to the regime in Iran and his ignorance towards the will of the people in staging continued protests against the Mullahs have only emboldened the Islamic theocracy which continues to pursue the weaponization of their nuclear program. This has created an atmosphere, as journalist Aaron Klein writes in his new book “The Late Great State of Israel,” in which America appears as, “resigned… to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”
- Rumors that the administration continues to pressure Israel to take a first strike policy against Iran’s nuclear facilities off the table is troublesome. But as the Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said at the annual Friends of the IDF dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York last Tuesday, “no options have been taken off the table.”
- Still, despite the threat posed by the Iranian government’s nuclear ambitions, Obama continues to espouse his desire to “rid the world of nuclear weapons,” and has repeatedly proclaimed his commitment to achieving this end, putting Israel’s own arsenal—and its greatest deterrent for its numerous and perpetually encroaching enemies—at great risk.
- The State Department’s Nov. 16 decision to pursue Observer Status at the International Criminal Court (ICC), the first step towards ratification of the Rome Statute, sets a dangerous precedent. Our continued opposition to the treaty and its general prinicple of sovereign infringement bolsters the protection of Israel from the ICC’s more insidious members who salivate over the thought of bringing cases against Israel to the court.
- The broken promise to “kill” the egregious Goldstone report, which indicted Israel on human right abuses in the Gaza war, as well as the failure to get the United Nation Human Rights Council to vote against the report (which passed 25 to six) laid the groundwork for a resurgence of anti-Zionist sentiment in across the world.
- And finally, Obama’s declaration of peace without conditions in the Middle East at the United Nations last September essentially served up Israel to its enemies and critics like a hot pastrami sandwich to a pack of hungry wolves.
So in light of Obama’s outrageous treatment of the Jewish state, I was not surprised when the Israeli government announced plans to build 1,600 homes in East Jerusalem just as Vice President Joe Biden began his so-called “goodwill trip.” But “embarrassing” the gaffe prone Veep was not as awkward as Obama’s own retreat from his demand that the Israelis stop construction in the disputed territories altogether.
Obama would be wise to remember that Israel is America’s only democratic ally in the Middle East. Sources close to Prime Minister Netanyahu tell me that despite his public blustering, Obama is slowly coming around to understanding what his predecessors before him did, that there exists an an exceptional relationship between the U.S. and Israel and that this unique and complex bond must maintain primacy in the American foreign policy machine.
But as each day passes, what will be the cost to the Jewish state while the President takes his time in coming around to understanding what has been a concrete American policy formulation over the past 60 years?
One thing is for certain; as far as 2012 is concerned, I would warn all Jewish voters—the Obama buyers beware.
Melissa Jane Kronfeld was a reporter with the New York Post from 2005-2009. A graduate of New York University and George Washington University, she lives in New York City, where she writes about politics and international relations.