President Obama’s Jewish Problem

— by Steve Sheffey

Move a Chicagoan to Miami and soon he’ll forget the sleet and snow and start complaining when the temperature drops below 60 degrees.

Relations between Israel and the United States are warmer under President Obama than under previous administrations. Yet we hear that the President has a “Jewish problem.” The problem is not President Obama, but us: We’ve lost historic perspective. We’re criticizing President Obama for what would have gone unnoticed in other administrations.

Gerald Ford and Henry Kissinger threatened to “reassess” America’s relationship with Israel. President Obama has declared that America’s bond with Israel is “unbreakable,” and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak credited President Obama for the strongest relationship between the two countries ever.

Ronald Reagan suspended arms shipments to Israel, supported a UN resolution criticizing Israel for bombing Iraq’s nuclear reactor, sold sophisticated arms to Saudi Arabia over AIPAC’s strong opposition, and told Israel that “the relationship between our two countries is at stake.” Reagan never visited Israel in his entire life, but he did visit a cemetery where Nazi war dead were buried, over the objections of Elie Wiesel.

George W. Bush rebuked then-prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2003 by rescinding $289.5 million in loan guarantees for Israel as punishment for what Bush considered illegal settlement activity. In 2004, the Bush administration abstained rather than veto a UN resolution condemning Israel for its actions in Gaza during a military operation aimed at stopping terrorism and weapons smuggling.

President Obama’s UN voting record is perfect, he successfully fought UN recognition of a Palestinian state, and just last week, President Obama extended loan guarantees to Israel to 2016. Israeli officials said that the extension is “important evidence” of the special economic relationship between the US and Israel and is also a considerable diplomatic expression of support.

Bush pressured Israel to allow Hamas to participate in Gaza elections, thus conferring on Hamas a legitimacy it could never have otherwise achieved. Perhaps worst of all, Bush made little progress in stopping Iran’s march toward nuclear weapons. President Obama has not negotiated with Hamas. He has mobilized the international community to impose the toughest sanctions ever against Iran and has repeatedly and unambiguously warned Iran that he will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. Period.

President Obama’s pro-Israel accomplishments compare favorably with any Republican president. Yet we keep complaining.

We say he hasn’t visited Israel as president, forgetting that Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton are the only two presidents who visited Israel during their first terms in office. George W. Bush did not visit Israel until his seventh year as president. Ronald Reagan never visited in his entire life. Obama went to Israel as recently as 2006 and 2008, when he visited Sderot and saw first-hand the damage inflicted by Hamas terrorists.

We forget that during his first term, in 2003, George W. Bush visited the Port of Aqaba in Jordan, just nine miles from Israel (closer to Israel than Cairo). But Bush didn’t visit Israel. Instead, Bush said that “we have a problem with Sharon” and was visibly irritated with the then-Prime Minister. Remember how the Democrats exploited this for political gain in the 2004 election? Me neither.

We complain that the Obama administration criticizes Israel’s settlement policy, forgetting that every administration since 1967 has criticized Israel’s settlement policy and that no administration has ever recognized Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem. But unlike previous Republican administrations,  the Obama administration has never threatened to withhold U.S. aid to Israel because of settlement activity; instead, President Obama has taken U.S. financial assistance to Israel to record levels.

We complain about imagined slights to Prime Minister Netanyahu, forgetting that when the chips were down, President Obama came through for Israel and Netanyahu. When Israel asked for help fighting the Carmel forest fires, President Obama’s response was “get Israel whatever it needs. Now.”

In September 2011, when the late-night call came from Israel to President Obama asking for help in rescuing the Israelis trapped in the Egyptian embassy, Netanyahu himself called it a “decisive and fateful moment,” recalling that Obama “said ‘I will do everything I can.’ And he did.”

The list goes on and on. Obama opposed the Goldstone Report, stood with Israel against the Gaza flotilla, boycotted Durban II and Durban III, and successfully derailed Palestinian attempts to unilaterally declare statehood at the UN. He’s done more than any president to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions. And Mitt Romney says he’d “do the opposite” when it comes to Israel.  Maybe that’s why so many of Romney’s key foreign policy advisors are hold-overs from the Bush administration.

We hear when Israel is not invited to a conference or is omitted from even the most trivial list. But take another look at an important list, perhaps the most important list of this century: George W. Bush’s list of the Coalition Members for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Bush did not include Israel. Whether we like it or not, George W. Bush and every president, Democratic and Republican, has taken Arab sensibilities into account when formulating foreign policy.

Yet despite the facts, the despite the historic perspective, it’s almost as if some of us want President Obama to be anti-Israel because that would validate our worst fears and confirm our ugliest prejudices. Attacking President Obama on Israel is like attacking John Kerry on his personal military record. The Swift Boat campaign worked because Kerry and his supporters were too slow to take it seriously and fight fiction with facts. The result was four more years of George W. Bush.

Maybe it’s our nature to complain. But President Obama’s words and deeds prove that he is not only a strong friend of Israel, but that he is willing to stand up for Israel publicly and behind the scenes. That’s what matters, and that’s why polling shows that about 70% of American Jews will again vote for President Obama in 2012. Adam Serwer was right:

If President Obama has a Jewish problem, it’s that more Americans aren’t Jewish.

And what about the 30% of American Jews who are voting Republican? My guess is that the percentage would be even less if they read this article from last week’s Forward, which explains that “Jewish Republicans may pretend that they’re pulling a lever for smaller government and more free enterprise. But that same lever advances ignorance, theocracy and religious coercion. Of course, most Jewish Republicans don’t favor the Christian Right’s positions. But that’s what a Republican vote means, and to pretend otherwise is just willful ignorance.” This article is a must-read.  

Another kind of video. This video doesn’t feature ominous music, or attractive women, or emotional images. It’s not slick. It’s for people who think. Dennis Ross, who has served in two Democratic administrations and two Republican administrations, talks about the relationship between Israel and the United States under President Obama.

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