President Obama’s speech to the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) on Friday was remarkably cynical.
A good two-thirds of the address was devoted to liberal nostrums, reflecting his confidence that no matter how badly he treats the Jewish state, liberal Democratic Jews will stick by him. (One could say he knew his audience at the URJ, many of whom fancy global warming sermons and Obamacare cheerleading on the High Holy Days.) So he delivered a series of platitudes (“When we began this journey, we knew we would have to take on powerful special interests”) and straw men (“Is this a place where everyone is left to fend for themselves? The most powerful can play by their own rules?”). His first item in his scant list of accomplishments reflected how little he thinks it takes to please this constituency: “Change is the very first bill I signed, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which says in this country an equal day’s work gets an equal day’s pay. That’s change.” Sigh.
Eventually, he got around to Israel. He never tires of vague affirmations: “So America’s commitment — America’s commitment and my commitment to Israel and Israel’s security is unshakable. It is unshakable.”
But aside from platitudes, it was slim pickings. No apology was offered for Ambassador Howard Gutman. No rebuke was made of Leon Panetta’s recent exhortation. Instead he served up a vague slam offered at his conservative critics: “And the special bonds between our nations are ones that all Americans hold dear because they’re bonds forged by common interests and shared values. They’re bonds that transcend partisan politics — or at least they should.” He made no mention of the word “anti-Semitism.” (He did, however, note the administration’s opposition to the climate-change conference in Durban, South Africa. You’ll recall he gave a Medal of Freedom to the Irish leader who presided over the original Durban conference.)
It was an arrogant speech, seemingly oblivious to the criticisms that have swirled around him. He declared,“Now, I know that many of you share my frustration sometimes, in terms of the state of the peace process.” Not a wise turn of phrase in light of his off-mic comments to the French president. He continued his brash assertions, letting it be known that anyone who find fault with the administration is making stuff up. (“I am proud to say that no U.S. administration has done more in support of Israel’s security than ours. None. Don’t let anybody else tell you otherwise. It is a fact.”)
The only redeeming aspect of the speech was his more robust statements on Iran. “We are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. And that’s why we’ve worked painstakingly from the moment I took office with allies and partners, and we have imposed the most comprehensive, the hardest-hitting sanctions that the Iranian regime has ever faced. We haven’t just talked about it, we have done it. And we’re going to keep up the pressure. And that’s why, rest assured, we will take no options off the table. We have been clear.” Too bad he reserves such rhetoric for an all-Jewish audience.
The Emergency Committee for Israel, which had run a blistering ad taking Obama to task for his treatment of Israel, issued this response:
President Obama protests too much. It is not a fact that his administration has been strong in support of Israel. It is a fact that in the past month alone, Obama administration officials have blamed Israel for the failure of the peace process, blamed Israel for fraying relations with the increasingly Islamist governments in Egypt and Turkey, compared Israel to Iran, and blamed Israel for Muslim anti-Semitism in Europe. The president hasn’t clarified or repudiated any of these remarks. Israel’s security doesn’t come from campaign-season platitudes delivered to Jewish audiences. Israel’s security depends on an American president who stands with Israel all the time, in public and private, before audiences foreign and domestic — and whose administration’s first instinct isn’t to blame Israel first. The president’s wishes to the contrary notwithstanding, the Emergency Committee for Israel will continue to tell it like it is.
A senior GOP aide on Capitol Hill also dismissed the president’s rhetoric. “Clearly the President’s reelection strategy is to make all sorts of false claims about his record over and over again until people set aside reality and adopt his version of history.” He is convinced that “no matter how often he denies being the most hostile president toward Israel in the last 20 years” he’ll suffer at the polls with an electorate that is overwhelmingly pro-Israel.
In fact, the president’s shabby record on Israel is well known. As the Los Angeles Times reported:
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney fielded a question about the [ECI] ad in his briefing on Friday.
Carney said, “I would simply reiterate that this president’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakable. And that’s this administration’s policy, and it has been demonstrated I think amply by the steps that we’ve taken in the last nearly three years in regard to Israel’s security.”
Judging from the reaction at the gathering of the liberal (politically and religiously) URJ, many American Jews are so wedded to the Democratic Party that they’re willing to buy that. But unless the GOP goes off the deep end and nominates Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) or another non-credible candidate, it is likely a healthy chunk of the Jewish electorate will vote against Obama in 2012.
You see, for many pro-Israel Americans (Jewish and otherwise), Lilly Ledbetter really doesn’t make up for undercutting Israel’s bargaining position on borders, condemning the Jewish state for building in its capital, trying to strong-arm Israel both in private and public, insulting its prime minister to another world leader and making it a policy objective to show distance between the United States and Israel. They rather like presidents who visit Israel, recognize that its existence is not a function of Holocaust guilt, recognize that mistreatment of women in the region is not an Israeli problem but an Arab one and banish those from his administration who make excuses for anti-Semitism or scold Israel for not getting to the “damn” negotiating table.