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Right Turn
Posted at 10:00 AM ET, 05/19/2011

Obama’s Israel rhetoric changes, but what happens in a second term?

By all accounts President Obama in his speech today and at AIPAC on Sunday will have positive things to say about the U.S.-Israeli relationship, reiterate the importance of the alliance and refrain from language likely to alarm pro-Israel voters. But there is good reason for voters to be suspicious.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Jewish donors and fund-raisers are warning the Obama re-election campaign that the president is at risk of losing financial support because of concerns about his handling of Israel.

The complaints began early in President Barack Obama’s term, centered on a perception that Mr. Obama has been too tough on Israel.

Some Jewish donors say Mr. Obama has pushed Israeli leaders too hard to halt construction of housing settlements in disputed territory, a longstanding element of U.S. policy. Some also worry that Mr. Obama is putting more pressure on the Israelis than the Palestinians to enter peace negotiations, and say they are disappointed Mr. Obama has not visited Israel yet.

Let’s stipulate that it would take more than a crowbar to separate the majority of Jewish voters from Obama and the Democratic Party. But the issue is not just votes. The level of enthusiasm matters, too:

Malcolm I. Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said he saw potential for the discontent to affect Mr. Obama’s fund raising.

“It’s that people hold back, people don’t have the enthusiasm and are not rushing forward at fund-raisers to be supportive,’’ he said. “Much more what you’ll see is holding back now.”

There is, after all, a track record. Obama came to the 2007 and 2008 AIPAC conferences assuring the assembled that he was a Zionist. He sounded (to those anxious to vote for the Democrat with a clear conscience about Israel) like he’d be within the mainstream of American foreign policy when it came to the Jewish state. He then proceeded to launch an approach to Israel that was, by design, intended to create distance between the two countries. The evidence mounted (e.g., “condemning” building in Israel’s capital, joining in a U.N. Security Council statement favoring an international tribunal to investigate the flotilla incident, harping on settlements; reneging on a promise to avoid mentioning Israel in the context of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; snubbing the prime minister) that Obama had a very different outlook on Israel than that of his predecessors.

But that didn’t work politically or on the ground in the Middle East. In fact, the “peace process” has been set back further under this president than any previous one. The president’s approval in Israel remains at an historic low. So the rhetoric cooled, George Mitchell was dumped, the focus on settlements receded. And now Obama is back, about 18 months before the next election, assuring us he is, yes, a devoted Zionist and, in fact, the best friend the Jewish state has ever had.

You could see how enthusiasm might be diminished among Jewish voters and donors. Obama can give a nice speech or two, but he gave nice speeches before. And in a second term there would be no re-election concern to check Obama’s natural instincts. So what could help this situation?

Maybe get it in writing. No, seriously. The administration doesn’t have a trust-based relationship with the Israeli government, and Jewish voters here in the United States are going to need more than a gauzy speech. So how about a nice letter? There is certainly one that is a model, easily updated. Obama said such nice things about Warren Christopher when he passed away, so maybe he would prefer to use Christopher’s 1997 letter to Prime Minister Begin. This would seem like a win-win. The Israelis get some greater assurance (not that Obama wouldn’t break any agreement, but it would be harder) and Obama would get more brownie points with Jewish donors and pro-Israel voters.

I can get the letters started with a few ideas: Hamas is a terrorist organization that, under U.S. law, disqualifies any “unity” government from receiving aid; the United States affirms that the Quartet conditions (recognition of Israel, renunciation of terror and willingness to abide by past agreements) are U.S. policy as well; and the United States stands by U.N. Res. 242, Res. 338, the Oslo Accords, Oslo II and all other agreements that rule out a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood. You get the idea. I mean, if Obama really is a friend of the Jewish state and really does share the mainstream, bipartisan stance toward Israel, this should be no problem, right?

By  |  10:00 AM ET, 05/19/2011

Categories:  2012 campaign, 2012 campaign, Israel, President Obama

 
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