Ron Radosh

Will American Jews Accept the Obama Administration's "Charm" Offensive?

I suspect there may be something wrong with many of the leading lights of the American Jewish community, who are succumbing to the phony charm offensive of the Obama administration.  Maybe it’s a case of denial.  As a two-week-old report by Laura Rozen of Politico put so well, “The White House is engaged in an aggressive effort to reassure Jewish leaders that the tense relationship between the Obama administration and the Israeli government that has played out in public in the past few months does not signify any fundamental change in U.S. policy.”  The problem is precisely that they are just reassurances which do not in any way indicate a fundamental shift in Obama’s new anti-Israeli policy.

One White House spokesman told Rozen that the administration has always “been consistent in our rhetoric.” Rhetoric is one thing; reality, however, is another. Sending administration spokesmen to say kind words is so transparent a PR maneuver that it is rather amazing that anyone thinks it will work. But the reasons for it are quite clear. As a congressional staffer put it, they are all concerned “that the White House is losing the Jewish community,” and that concern might well translate into  Republican votes in the near future. The effect of the ads I discussed earlier by Elie Wiesel, Ronald Lauder and David A. Harris could simply not be ignored.

Yet liberal Jewish groups, grasping at straws in the hope that Obama will stand with Israel and the special relationship between the U.S. and the Jewish state, have quickly sought to reassure their members that all is well, despite evidence to the contrary. All it took for Hadassah to inform  its members that all is well were some carefully chosen words from David Axelrod. On April 29th, a backgrounder alert sent to its members informed them that “the Obama administration has responded to concerns from the Jewish community with a letter to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and speeches by prominent administration officials to Jewish organizations, affirming the administration’s support for Israel and the need for peace.”

Last Friday, I attended the evening plenary session at the American Jewish Committee national conference in Washington, D.C., where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received a standing ovation and a very warm reception. Her speech was a perfect example of reassuring spin meant to wow the crowd. “We know,” Clinton told the audience, “that Israel faces unique challenges. A nation forced to defend itself at every turn, living under existential threat for decades. We Americans may never fully understand the implications of this history on the daily lives of Israelis – the worry that a mother feels watching a child board a school bus or a child watching a parent go off to work. But we know deep in our souls that we have an unshakable bond and we will always stand not just with the Government of Israel but with the people of Israel.”

Instead of addressing the specifics and the reasons Lauder, Ed Koch and others have pointed to, Secretary Clinton merely asserted “that there has been some of what he called ‘noise and distortion’ about this Administration’s approach in the Middle East. Over the past month, we have attempted to remove any ambiguity. The President and this Administration have repeatedly reaffirmed our commitment to Israel’s security in word and in deed.” On Iran, for example, she said, “We are now working with our partners at the United Nations to craft tough new sanctions. The United States is committed to pursuing this diplomatic path. But we will not compromise our commitment to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.”

That morning, however, the newspapers had headlines noting that the administration was asking for a softening of proposed sanctions so that Russia and China, two nations that do not want to jeopardize their trade deals with Iran, could sign on.

Clinton stressed the importance of the so-called “proximity talks,” although shrewd observers have all noted that they are likely to lead nowhere. Both Richard Haas and Aaron David Miller recently wrote powerful essays about what Miller calls “the false religion of Mideast peace,” something that Clinton continually invoked, without addressing their concerns. Both men, formerly “realists” and believers in the peace process, now realize its chimerical value.  Instead, she offered her audience what Marty Peretz correctly called big clichés “that are the mark of Obama’s foreign policy.”

At Commentary’s “Contentions” blog, Jennifer Rubin points out that at the recent White House Correspondents’ dinner, WH advisor Denis McDonough sat at  Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo table with Brent Scowcroft and Zbig Brzezinski, who are feverishly trying to get Obama to accept their own peace plan with Israel. As Rubin puts it so well:  “One of the administration’s key foreign-policy hands goes to the most highly publicized event in town to hob-nob with the advisor who Obama had sworn during the campaign not to be an advisor, who has suggested that we shoot down Israeli planes if they cross Iraqi air space on the way to Iran, and who wants to impose a peace deal on Israel. And, for good measure, he sits with the purveyors of a website infamous for puff pieces on terrorists and committed to a hard-left anti-Israel line.”

Rubin asks whether a few “carefully worded speeches” by Obama administration officials will in fact bamboozle the leadership of the American Jewish community. Or will they fall over themselves “to make up with the administration”? My answer: unfortunately, the latter  seems to be the case.