A piece by Allison Hoffman in the online magazine Tablet, titled “United Jewish Appeal,” is so crammed with ludicrous assumptions, half-truths and self-delusion, it is hard to know where to start a critique. At first I suspected it might be a parody, but Tablet doesn’t parody the left. I’ll focus on three of the best/worst assertions, conceding that there is plenty more to criticize. (As a journalistic matter, no effort was apparently made to contact the principal conservative organization that is the target of her piece. Doing so might have kept Hoffman from looking quite as foolish.)
I’ll start with her assertion that a small group of right-wing Jews has the power to cloud the minds of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions. Hoffman writes:
Ask anyone in Obamaland about what is now commonly referred to as the president’s Jewish problem, and the same answer will inevitably follow: “It’s not us, it’s you.” Or, more typically, “it’s them” — the vocal cadres of the Emergency Committee for Israel, the Republican Jewish Coalition, and similarly hawkish groups that, in the administration’s view, have turned Israel into an emotional wedge issue for Jewish voters, in much the same way right-wing groups used abortion to pull Catholics and evangelical Christians away from the Democratic Party in the 1980s. “To the extent we have a problem,” [Rep. Debbie] Wasserman Schultz told me last week, “it’s being created by individuals who know that Republicans can’t appeal to Jews on their domestic issues and are attempting to mischaracterize, distort, and lie about the president’s record to create enough distrust in the community to shave off a little bit of support here and there.”
My word, you can’t buy PR that good. Is it true? Do ECI co-founders Bill Kristol, Rachel Abrams and Gary Bauer have the ability to hypnotize the masses? I guess all those voters in the NY-9 special election must be pretty stupid, huh? This is akin to blaming Politico for Herman Cain’s problem with women.
It was not ECI, of course, that “condemned” settlement building in Jerusalem. It wasn’t ECI that refused to embrace the Bush-Sharon exchange of letters, which was ratified by overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress. Nor did ECI shelter Ambassador Howard Gutman after his widely denounced comments on Israel. You get the idea. Hoffman, Wasserman Schultz and the rest of the Obama spin squad either honestly believe (or think voters are silly enough to believe) that there is no basis for the widespread antipathy toward Obama’s stance on Israel. (That Wasserman Schultz does not actually list any examples to back up her allegation that the ECI folks “mischaracterize, distort, and lie” is sort of a tip-off.)
The assertion, by the way, is quickly contradicted in Hoffman’s piece by the admission that there is, after all,“the seemingly endless series of diplomatic and rhetorical faux pas that has reinforced an anxiety among many Jewish voters—including lifelong Democrats—that Obama is somehow not on their side.” But it’s all lies from ECI, anyway, you see. (No, the whole thing really doesn’t hang together.)
The next noteworthy doozy is this: “The truth is that aside from Clinton and Rabin, no recent president has had that kind of chemistry with a leader of Israel.” Umm. No. There was this one president who gave Israel such stalwart support that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pulled out of Gaza and took down security barriers. The guy even went to the Knesset and gave a much-lauded speech. This was the president who had the two sides talking to one another. Face-to-face and everything. Chemistry or no, the president with the closest and most successful relationship (from the U.S. point of view) with Israel in recent years was George W. Bush.
Then there is this:
As a national candidate in 2008, Obama may have come in second to only Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman in knowing the folkways of American Jewish culture. At countless lunches at Axelrod’s favorite lunch spot in Hyde Park, Manny’s Deli, Obama had learned to order pastrami with mustard on rye. His tradition of hosting Passover Seders — in 2009 he held the first-ever in the White House — started on the campaign trail, when Obama joined staffers in Harrisburg, Penn., for an ad hoc meal facilitated by a Seder kit from the University of Pennsylvania’s Hillel.
This is so outrageously insulting (to pro-Israel and Jewish-friendly Democrats and Republicans alike) that one wonders if Hoffman actually thinks that Obama’s pastrami with mustard sandwiches equates with “getting” Jews. (Her slobbering over David Axelrod suggests that the milieu of highly secularized, Israel-alienated Jews is what she, and Obama, take as representative of “American Jewish culture.”)
Indeed, the fixation on the trivial and the blindness to the monumental are what characterizes the piece. She gets a tingle up the leg because Obama’s White House kashered the kitchen for Jewish events (Bush did too; so what?) but ignores discussion of the substance of Obama’s ill-conceived and very deliberate attempt to put “daylight” between the United States and Israel.
Now, I will give Hoffman her due. There are a great number of liberal Jews who will never abandon Obama so long as he’s pro-choice, anti-global warming and pro-soaking the rich. That says very little about the conduct of Obama’s foreign policy and very much about the state of a significant segment of American Jews. That is why it is safe to bet that a majority of Jewish voters will still cast presidential ballots for him. But it’s also true that this president has had a uniquely rocky relationship with the Jewish state and, for a Democrat, is devoting a disproportionate amount of time trying to keep them in the fold.
I’m sure Kristol, Abrams and Bauer would be thrilled to be responsible for mesmerizing many pro-Israel Jews and non-Jews. But the lion’s share of credit for any downturn in Obama’s Jewish support (78 percent in 2008) in 2012 will go to him. ECI could never have done as well without him.