The annual AIPAC conference is over, and the major speeches have been presented. Hillary Clinton, despite receiving a most courteous reception by the audience — who all stood — upon taking the podium, found, as Dana Milbank wrote in The Washington Post, that her reception had “little of their past enthusiasm.” One has to recall the context of her speech. A scant week earlier, Secretary Clinton held a forty-five minute telephone scolding of Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu after learning of the announcement that Israel was preparing 1600 new housing units in East Jerusalem. As most everyone knows by now — or should know — the announcement was made without Netanyahu’s knowledge, and the Prime Minister quickly apologized to Vice-President Biden for the bad timing of the announcement and for any embarrassment it may have caused him.
Even more important, as Mortimer Zuckerman has pointed out, “After all, the housing contemplated is to be in a section of Jerusalem occupied almost exclusively by the Jewish community, about five blocks from the pre-1967 border. It’s in an area where Israel’s eventual sovereignty has been taken for granted in round after round of two-state negotiations, including President Clinton’s ‘parameters,’ in which Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem would remain under Israeli sovereignty and Arab neighborhoods would be under Palestinian sovereignty. Every peace negotiation has contemplated the formal inclusion of this area under Israeli control, much as Arab enclaves within Jerusalem have been envisioned remaining under Palestinian control. And the 1,600 units in question are urgently required to house a growing local population that has nowhere to go. An overwhelming number of Israelis support accommodation for the normal growth of the Jewish population in their sacred city.”
To put it as bluntly as possible, these 1600 units were never a point of contention, and it was the Obama administration that made them so, and both Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton were ordered by the President to read the riot act to Netanyahu. So when Secretary Clinton told AIPAC that “the Obama administration has worked to promote Israel’s security and long-term success,” as Milbank reported, “there was only silence in the room.”
The audience’s silence was most telling. And quite deserved. When the delegates to AIPAC cheered, it was when its Executive Director, Howard Kohr, told the audience that when Clinton had called Israel’s attitude towards Biden “insulting,” it reflected poorly on one who should have, as Israel’s friend, resolved differences privately, “as is befitting close allies.” And as for those 1600 units, he added, “Jerusalem is not a settlement.” At that point, the over 7000 delegates attending all jumped up and applauded.
In another part of her speech, Clinton’s would-be tough words about Iran received applause. One has to ask, however, just how meaningful they really are. Clinton told AIPAC:
And for Israel, there is no greater strategic threat than the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. Elements in Iran’s government have become a menace, both to their own people and in the region. Iran’s president foments anti-Semitism, denies the Holocaust, threatens to destroy Israel, even denies that 9/11 was an attack. The Iranian leadership funds and arms terrorists who have murdered Americans, Israelis, and other innocent people alike. And it has waged a campaign of intimidation and persecution against the Iranian people.
The question is what the Obama administration will do about Iran. To that question, the Secretary said the following:
In addition to threatening Israel, a nuclear-armed Iran would embolden its terrorist clientele and would spark an arms race that could destabilize the region. This is unacceptable. It is unacceptable to the United States. It is unacceptable to Israel. It is unacceptable to the region and the international community. So let me be very clear: The United States is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons
To which, one must ask, how? Certainly not via the new strategy Obama mentioned, that of “reengaging with Iran” and telling them to uphold “international obligations.” Noting that Iran has now by its actions proved that it has been “stripped of their usual excuses,” the Secretary then asserted:
With its secret nuclear facilities, increasing violations of its obligations under the nonproliferation regime, and an unjustified expansion of its enrichment activities, more and more nations are finally expressing deep concerns about Iran’s intentions. And there is a growing international consensus on taking steps to pressure Iran’s leaders to change course. Europe is in agreement. Russia, where I just returned from, has moved definitely in this direction. And although there is still work to be done, China has said it supports the dual-track approach of applying pressure if engagement does not produce results.
The above revealed the complete hollowness of her words. Observers all realize that the truth is that both Russia and China have done next to nothing to curb Iran, and to the contrary, are making it quite clear that Iran has little to worry about from their corner. Indeed, the Russians announced new efforts to help develop Iran’s new nuclear reactors, and China too has not followed any words with real action. And as for sanctions that she promises “will bite,” to be achieved via going to the United Nations, she argues they will “take time.” Of course, since the entire past year, the Obama administration has promised and threatened to apply new sanctions that Iran will have to take into account — yet somehow, they never are put in place.
The reality is that the administration seems ready to proceed to accept the very inevitability of a nuclear Iran that it disdains in its words, and to then make the case that just as the West lived with a nuclear Soviet sphere, it too can manage to live with a nuclear Iran. As Mort Zuckerman commented, “How is Israel to interpret the fact that in the Biden affair, the United States spoke more harshly to a longtime ally, Israel, than it did to the government of Iran recently when that oppressive regime reacted to a democratic uprising? Nor does it help that Israel was being held to account while the Palestinians escaped any rebuke for an incitement to terrorism. While the world was lambasting Israel, nobody was saying anything about — or even reporting — what happened in the West Bank. Fatah organized a ceremony renaming a public square near Ramallah in honor of a 19-year-old terrorist named Dalal Mughrabi. ‘We are all Mughrabi now’ was the chant for a coldblooded terrorist who precipitated the hijacking of a bus and the resulting murder of 38 Israelis, 13 of them children as young as 2.”
In Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to AIPAC, he showed that he would not back down on the Obama administration’s demand that the 1600 housing units not be built. As he so powerfully told the delegates, “The connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem cannot be denied. The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It’s our capital.” (my emphasis.) And the construction the Obama administration made a bone of contention, he noted, is “ an integral and inextricable part of modern Jerusalem. Everyone knows…that these neighborhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement and therefore, building in them no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution.”
So his words directly contravene Secretary Clinton’s claim in her speech that the new construction “undermines that mutual trust” between Palestinians and Israelis and hence interferes with the “peace process.” It is no wonder that the scheduled meeting today between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu took place not in the White House with the press present before and after, but in a private meeting held in Netanyahu’s hotel room. Clearly, a gap still exists between the position of the Obama administration and that of the Israeli government.
It is also revealing that at the AIPAC meeting, the words that most stirred the crowd (aside from those of Netanyahu) were those of a leading Republican, Senator Lindsey Graham, who reiterated the argument that “no government in the United States should ever look at Jerusalem as a settlement.” As Milbank reported, “the place went wild.”
One must ask the obvious question. In an audience largely composed of those very Jewish liberals who many consider to have been part of Hillary Clinton’s “core constituency,” a major conservative Republican Senator received the kind of response once reserved for the likes of Hillary Clinton. Could this then be an omen that finally, more American Jews will begin to reconsider their automatic allegiance to the Democratic Party?
Back in the 1940s, the leading militant Zionist, Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, was widely thought of to be a Republican, although he saw his role as one of not tying his constituents to any one of the major parties, so that their influence could be equal with both of them. It should be apparent that Silver’s approach has much to recommend. After all, as Norman Podhoretz put it in his most recent book, Why Are Jews Liberals?, to many contemporary Jews, liberalism is both “the very essence of being a Jew” as well as a “religion in its own right.” And that liberalism transforms itself into automatically registering and voting Democratic as the political embodiment of that ideology.
Perhaps, as a result of the Obama administration’s most recent pronouncements and clear anti-Israeli mode, some more American Jews will make that great leap out of the automatic ranks of the Democratic Party.