Obama’s top presidential campaign advisers are putting together a plan to go on the offensive against critics of his stance on Israel, I’m told, and are assembling a team of high profile surrogates who are well respected in the Jewish community to battle criticism in the media and ensure that it doesn’t go unanswered.
Obama’s supporters say the plan is in effect an acknowledgment that conservative attacks on Obama’s Israel stance have made defections among Jewish voters and donors a possibility they must take seriously. Obama’s advisers see a need to push back even harder on the attacks than they did in 2008, in part because Obama now has a record on the issue to defend — a record that even Obama’s supporters concede has not been adequately explained.
A group of well-known figures in the Jewish community has been in discussions with senior Obama adviser David Axelrod about how to respond to the criticism, which is expected to intensify as the campaign heats up. Among them: Alan Solow, the former head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; former Congressmen Mel Levine and Robert Wexler; and executive Penny Pritzker.
“We will have highly credible spokespeople and surrogates speak out in a general manner in support of what this administration has done, and articulate it in a way that we think will resonate with voters who care about this issue,” Solow said in an interview. “We will meet with supporters who have expressed concerns or want to be briefed on these issues on a one-on-one basis.”
“We got close to 80 percent of the vote among Jewish Americans in 2008, but we had to aggressively bat down efforts to divide the community and to inflame,” David Axelrod told me. “Plainly we have to be at least as assiduous about it this time. If we’re passive in response it would be a mistake.”
Politico reported this week that many Jewish Dems and donors are privately expressing doubts about Obama’s Mideast policies. But the piece was largely anecdotal, and a recent Pew poll found that a plurality of Americans who identify themselves as sympathetic to Israel think his Mideast policies get the balance right between Israelis and Palestinians. And pundits have been predicting that Obama is perpetually on the verge of losing Jewish support since before the 2008 election.
But the difference now, Obama’s supporters say, is that conservatives are having some success in distorting his record. Obama supporters do in fact worry about the concerns conservatives have succeeded in sowing among Jewish Democrats, and they expect conservatives to invest substantial resources in continuing that effort.
“I can’t deny that people express to me concerns about the president’s policies,” Solow said. “But when I run through the record with them, they are by and large convinced that the president’s policies are correct.”
The effort to make this point, I’m told, will also be proactive, with surrogates publishing op ed pieces that represent the White House’s point of view. And it will include a renewed effort to highlight other aspects of Obama’s record that have gone under-discussed, like increased military cooperation between Israel and the United States.
Two of the primary conservative arguments against Obama are that he called for Israel to return to 1967 lines and that he has not publicly stated with enough clarity that Israel will not be expected to negotiate with a government that includes a Hamas that has not recognized Israel’s right to exist.
The first point is false, though reasonable people can debate whether Obama was right to go public with a call for talks around 1967 lines with swaps or whether his timing was sound. Pushed on whether there’s anything to the second point, Axelrod flatly denied it.
“The president does not believe that any country can be asked to negotiate with a terrorist organization that is sworn to its destruction and unwilling to abandon that goal or embrace a peaceful settlement of the conflict,” he said. “He could not have been clearer about that.”