There is nothing like a bipartisan ad to set the partisans’ teeth on edge inside the Beltway. I contacted David A. Harris, President and chief executive of the National Jewish Democratic Council about the ad run by the Emergency Committee for Israel and the comment by one of its three board members and founders, Bill Kristol. (“We’re the Emergency Committee for Israel. So it’s appropriate for us to thank friends of Israel for stepping up for the Jewish state at this time of testing — even when a president of their own party is unfortunately stepping away.”) Through a spokesman I received this response:
“The Emergency Committee for Israel is playing a dangerous game by continuing to politicize support for Israel at this critical time -- including their new ad that ludicrously suggests ‘President Obama sided with the Palestinians,’ which ECI’s own Executive Director Noah Pollak disagreed with as he tweeted that the President’s language was identical to President Bush’s. ECI’s language emboldens Israel’s enemies by creating false hope that America’s leadership is divided on Israel when this is a flat-out lie. Bill Kristol knows better and he should be ashamed of himself for exploiting any confusion for short term political gain.”
I asked Kristol about the reference to Pollak’s tweets (sent under Pollak’s personal Twitter account). Kristol seemed amused. “Even the best tweeters can be wrong in their first impressions. In any case, it’s pathetic when the left won’t defend President Obama, and has to attack a few of Noah’s tweets!” (Kristol graciously avoided pointing out that while Pollak has the executive director title, the group is firmly under the control of Kristol and his two co-founders.)
At any rate, the Republican Jewish Coalition’s executive director (who actually does run that group) responded to my request for reaction:
I’m quite surprised the NJDC could object to an ad highlighting the strong bipartisan comments of support for Israel. As an organization that professes to want to have the strongest support for Israel possible across the aisle, I would hope they would join us in embracing this message of support and thanks for our friends. Clearly the NJDC only pays lip service to the notion of bipartisan support for Israel because they would rather engage in partisan attacks against groups like ECI and the Republican Jewish Coalition than to join us in thanking Israel’s strong friends in both parties in Congress.
So what is going on here? A few things. First, Democrats remain on edge that Obama’s speeches and conduct toward Israel will be a liability in 2012. The excuses so far include “No evidence Jews are turning against him!” (well, so far no one has voted and few big donors have been solicited for the 2012 campaign) and “No big deal!” (although Obama’s ill-advised speech on the Arab Spring necessitated a “redo” at AIPAC and a full-court press to minimize the impact).
Second, Republicans have no quarrel with Democratic lawmakers on Israel policy. In fact, the statements by Democrats and Republicans are nearly identical on the Hamas-Fatah unity government and the potential for a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. Pro-Israel Democrats and Republicans alike reject the notion that the United States should dictate terms in public (or otherwise) to our ally. Given that, the Republicans are more than happy to point out — with some real justification — that it is Obama who is out of step with very strong bipartisan support for Israel.
Third, Democrats can’t acknowledge that Obama has an Israel problem, so they accuse Republicans of being “partisan” or “misunderstanding” Obama’s position. Republicans are not being “partisan,”strictly speaking; they are being aggressively anti-Obama on an issue on which he has floundered.
In the end, two things matter. First, how will Israel ride out the next year and a half? And second, will the Jewish community reassess or reduce its commitment to Obama (perhaps choosing to focus on Senate and House races)? What we do know for sure it that the Israel-U.S. relationship will remain rocky so long as Obama is in the White House. It has never been otherwise and it’s not reasonable to assume that will change.