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Obama at AIPAC: Working for the Jewish Vote

Clearly, at the present moment, the leaders of Israel may see things quite a bit differently than the president of the United States. As Tobin and others argue, the previous attempt of those in the administration to make J Street its preferred Jewish organization is now dead on arrival. J Street and its cadre continue to argue against tough sanctions and for negotiations with Iran, and are not putting an emphasis on pressure to stop them from going nuclear. They once had high hopes that they would grow in great numbers as the Jewish allies of the Obama administration. By putting the Iranian threat on the front burner as a very real threat to be dealt with, the administration clearly has made the decision to move far from any identification with the self-proclaimed peace camp among American Jews. On that front, the attempt to depict AIPAC as right-wing and out of touch with most American Jews has been thankfully defeated.

The president may argue and emphasize all the military and technological intelligence that has been shared with Israel under his administration, but this aid and cooperation is different than the issue of a coherent foreign policy. As Tobin also points out:

The president’s Jewish admirers may believe his assertion that Russia and China have joined his coalition to isolate Iran, but the ayatollahs know that both countries are opposed to any further sanctions and that China stands ready to buy the oil the U.S. and Europe might boycott later this year.

The big question -- will the U.S. and Israel have to eventually use some kind of force to prevent the ayatollahs from getting a nuclear bomb? -- is still in effect on the back burner. Rather than pledge to use force, the president -- as did Jane Harman earlier in the day -- asked instead that the world, the U.S., and Israel all be patient and give diplomacy a chance. Critics rightfully respond that it has been given a chance, and each time the Iranians say they are ready to talk it is only to stall and play the U.S. so they can move along their chosen path of developing atomic weapons.

The president bemoaned “loose talk” about war with Iran, and seemed agitated when he said in the speech -- in a rather hostile and annoyed tone of voice -- that people don’t seem to understand what a great friend he has been to Israel. He seemed to be surprised, as if even those at AIPAC, the audience most concerned with the fate of Israel, were supposed to have forgotten all the undue pressure he put on Israel during his first two to three years as president, while not requiring anything similar from the Palestinians.

So the question remains: is Obama the best friend Israel has ever had as he would have us believe, or its worst foe?  This is not likely to be answered Monday night when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the same audience after a day of talks with President Obama. Given that Netanyahu has to assume that Obama has at least a 50/50 chance of a second term, he cannot publicly criticize him, and if strong differences occur in their private meetings, he will have to be diplomatic and make it appear that there is a unity between the two nations.

But any Israeli P.M., even one from the opposition Kadima or even Labor, has to put Israel’s fate first, and not wait for years of diplomacy until it finds that they waited too long, and Iran has a bomb.

Barack Obama’s speech was an attempt to keep the Jewish vote in the Democratic column in as high a number as possible. On that count, we suspect he will not be happy. It will be large and, yes, a majority of American Jews whose own religion is that of the Democratic Party will remain a solid bloc. But more than likely, the percent will be less than usual, and if that percent is in Florida, the president could indeed lose the election in 2012.