Yitzhak Benhorin

President Obama’s new face?

White House may be realizing rift with Israel not a wise move

A secret meeting took place in the White House last week between Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and 20 Jewish rabbis. A short while later, Obama’s senior advisor David Axelrod appeared before Democratic Jewish organization NJDC. He said that as one who has known the president for nearly 20 years and who works with him every day, he knows that the president’s commitment to Israel is rock solid.


Meanwhile, also last week, at the last moment, National Security Advisor Jim Jones confirmed his attendance at a lecture marking the 25th anniversary of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The very same day, organizers of the annual American Jewish Committee event, to be held this Thursday in Washington, were informed that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will make an appearance.


All of this is no coincidence. Something happened there, at the White House, with all these senior officials being sent with a similar message about the unshakeable relationship between the US and Israel. Something prompted President Obama himself to send a letter last week to the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and declare that a Mideast peace treaty cannot be imposed from the outside, stressing that “"We have a special relationship with Israel and that will not change.”


Obama and his senior aides have embarked on an intensive public relations campaign aimed at quickly rectifying the impression of a US-Israel rift. We must keep in mind that when it comes to the White House, nothing is coincidental. Someone did some thinking over there and reached the conclusion that the top US brass must quickly put out the political fire that is threatening to spread here.


The US Administration is indeed determined to advance peace between Israel and the Palestinians, yet suddenly the Jerusalem issue no longer makes headlines, and suddenly, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict no longer risks the lives of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, Obama himself stressed that “Our alliance with Israel serves our national security interests.”


Now, we hear General Jim Jones declaring that Israel assists the US in training, innovation, intelligence, and whatnot. We also heard about the strategic alliance between the US and Israel, which are fighting the same enemies. Later, he told us, Israeli reporters, that the US has no demands of Israel in respect to Jerusalem and tried to convince us that Hillary Clinton is not waiting for answers from Netanyahu, but rather, this is just part of the routine dialogue.


Declining Jewish support

So what happened? Was it the phone call from senior Democratic Senator Charles Schumer to Rahm Emanuel, where the former warned of his intention to publicly come out against the Administration? Or is it the fact that the New York Times was working on a large story on the ties between US Jews to Israel and to the Obama Administration? Is it about Jewish leaders who passed on a message to the White House, letting it now that there’s a problem with their voters?


If two months ago Obama still maintained the support of the Jews, even when he pressed Israel to freeze settlement construction and compromise to enable the two-state solution’s advancement, the US pressure on Jerusalem was apparently the breaking point for quite a few Jews among his supporters. The White House apparently received reports warning that Obama is losing the support of Jews who voted for him.


A Quinnipiac University survey released recently indicated that Obama made a mistake on the Israel issue, and not only among Jews. Overall, the US public supports the president’s foreign policy, mostly in Afghanistan (56%) and in handling terror (61%), yet Americans are dissatisfied with Obama on one issue – his attitude to the Israeli-Palestinian problem.


This trend is especially noticeable among Jews. While they support Obama on any other issue, when it comes to Israel 67% of them object to the president’s policy, while only 28% support him. Among the overall population, a majority of 57% support Israel while only 13% back the Palestinians. According to the survey, 66% of Americans are telling Obama that they expect him to support Israel.


Just before the weekend, AIPAC made sure to provide the American media with analysis via email regarding the president confirming the significant of the Israel-US alliance. AIPAC, which had been working against the Administration’s moves behind the scene, went out of its way to praise Obama as well as top government and military officials.


The Obama Administration’s PR campaign among Jews should not lead to the conclusion that the White House changed its policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Peace and the two-state solution are still among the most urgent challenges on the American president’s agenda. The pressure on Israel and the Palestinians will continue in order to quickly facilitate direct talks on the core issues.


However, it appears that the Americans will be making every effort to avoid public confrontations vis-à-vis the Israeli government in the future.


פרסום ראשון: 04.26.10, 18:55
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