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The Obama administration and the Jews: Does Hillary's Reception at AIPAC Indicate a Possible Disillusion with the Democrats?

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