Obama had a liberal Jewish base, and didn’t work it

Israel/Palestine
on 28 Comments

The other day I got an email from Jim Klutznick, chairman of Americans for Peace Now, affirming his love of Israel and saying a two-state solution is the only hope: 

Israel is an important part of my Jewish identity and I feel the efforts of Americans for Peace Now offer hope for its survival… We also know it is imperative to win this “fight,” no matter how long it takes to do so.

Klutznick has clout. His businessman father was a Secretary of Commerce under Carter. His sister is the well-connected Bettylu Saltzman– in whose Chicago home Obama held a fundraiser last month at which he called Saltzman and two other philanthropists there, Joan Harris and Judy Gaynor, his “cabal.” All three women and Klutznick are on the board of J Street. And all four were early supporters of Obama. And their liberal Zionist groups, Peace Now and J Street, called for opposing the settlement project and making a deal along the 67 lines.

My question is: If Obama had had the courage of his convictions, couldn’t he have said to himself, A lot of rich Jews support me and oppose the settlements; I will build a policy based on their support and to hell with the rightwingers? After all, George W. Bush also had a splinter group’s support inside the Jewish community. They were neocons. And he took their policy recommendations from the West Bank to Baghdad and beyond.

In June 2009 I was sitting in the hall in Cairo as Obama told us the settlements must end! I wanted to believe him. As MJ Rosenberg wrote one month later:

At the president’s meeting with Jewish leaders at the White House on July 13, Obama heard virtually no criticism of his policy on settlements. Even the more conservative Jewish groups held their tongues.

Within a year and a half, Obama folded. The larger Jewish community came down on him for taking Israel on, and Obama voted for settlements at the United Nations.

And now the two-state solution is all but a delusion, in spite of Klutznick’s hopes. Israelis are all over the West Bank and East Jerusalem and are never leaving.

Isn’t this a failure on Obama’s part, in nerve and political organizing? It’s one thing to blame Jewish politics: I believe that the lobby is powerful, and monolithic and reactionary; that Bill Kristol saw the liberals turning the tide, and stopped them; and that J Street and Peace Now also failed by giving in to the rightwing in the Jewish community out of feelings of Jewish solidarity. But couldn’t Obama have done a better job by using his Chicago base to split the lobby?

I asked two friends who follow Obama and the Jewish community. MJ Rosenberg wrote:

I think it’s just who he is. Even where he seems brave, like on GLBT, he still is intimidated. For instance, he still doesn’t issue an executive order ending discrimination by government contractors. And that is something he can just do without Congress.
He told me to “speak louder” if we want to be “heard” by him. I think he meant to speak so loud ($$$) that our side drowns out the deafening noise of the billionaires Rahm Emanuel taught him are the only folks who matter. Well, our side can’t.
As I always say, Dems only are brave where it won’t cost them a dime: guns, gays, etc. But taking on the occupation would cost.
So…the only way anything changes will be when something huge happens on the ground (in the region).
 
Ilene Cohen wrote to me:
 
Personally, I have experienced deep disappointment about Obama and things Israel/Palestine. Perhaps he could have done it better. Why couldn’t he ever explain in 2009 why the settlements mattered, for example? Today, four years later, the settlements as problem are part of the public discourse. His approach to the settlements, though terribly executed, has actually been vindicated by so many. I think he thought that appointing George Mitchell would help. I took it as an important sign at the time; after the fact, it turned out that Mitchell, who knew what was what in 2000–2001, was too far removed from it all in 2009 and certainly didn’t have the courage to buck the madmen who’d been skewering Obama and get himself labeled an anti-Semite.

Chas Freeman… Chuck Hagel… the vicious attacks during both presidential campaigns… the founding of the Emergency Committee for Israel [started by Kristol to turn the tide]… the Democrats cheerleading Netanyahu in Congress… the Republican anti-Obama agenda more generally, etc.

All things considered, then, I probably would say that, yes, it was simply too much. Let’s face it, the groups that supported him and ostensibly opposed settlements never really had the courage of their “convictions” on settlements. So what may appear to be support for something different was always less than meets the eye. And even now, those who are coming around are mostly concerned for their precious Israel. Very few of them are willing to talk about  the crimes committed against Palestinians by Israel and its Jewish supporter or care about justice for Palestinians.

I think Obama is leaving a paper trail, however. I include in that his Jerusalem speech (not the pandering first and last parts, but the middle). And watching the Europeans slowly take on Israel. They are proxies. See also Harriet Sherwood’s terrific piece on McDonald’s in the Guardian; way beyond the two or three paragraphs in the New York Times. The triumphalists over there profess not to be worried in the least, but a lot of them are getting very nervious. Moreover, Obama staved off Netanyahu on Iran last fall: no red lines.

The Israelis have done this to themselves with their greed, hubris, and stupidity; they could have had their state and made it better, but they chose colonialism in the postcolonial era. As I’ve picked up at your comment section: 1S1P1V.

I have my big issues with Obama—the drone war, the surveillance, Israel—but I try not to go crazy in my rhetoric. Because there’s no doubt for me that better Obama than McCain, Romney, or any other Republican.

He’s certainly working hard on his legacy. Paul Krugman was thrilled by the speech the other day on the environment…. The Obama legacy will be complex but it’s still being written, I think.

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28 Responses

  1. W.Jones
    June 30, 2013, 1:32 pm

    Phil,

    You had good discussions

    One good answer was by Rosenberg:

    He told me to “speak louder” if we want to be “heard” by him. I think he meant to speak so loud ($$$) that our side drowns out the deafening noise of the billionaires Rahm Emanuel taught him are the only folks who matter. Well, our side can’t.

    It’s not just $$$, but that’s a big way of “speaking loudly”.

    Your main question is why did he work not the State’s liberal supporters, if they supported him on issues.

    You suggest an answer yourself here:
    Within a year and a half, Obama folded. The larger Jewish community came down on him for taking Israel on, and Obama voted for settlements at the United Nations.
    Obama did not really “take on” Israel so hard, as you say. He made some pro-peace statements with standard US “two-state” “divide Jerusalem” ideas mixed in as well. And yet as you said, the larger community came down on him.

    In other words, did you consider that the base you would have him work with is not as liberal as you are thinking?

    This Haaretz piece last week actually helps answer your question too:
    http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/american-jews-are-part-of-the-israeli-palestinian-problem-1.531936

    Don’t you find some of the statistics remarkable, like how a majority of the community in the U.S. actually does not want Palestinians to have a State?
    (Or did I misread something?)

    • Philip Weiss
      June 30, 2013, 1:36 pm

      I agree with you here: I think a large majority of the American Jewish community support the settlement project vocally or quietly. I’ve always said so.
      But as a minority supported the Iraq war, and the neocons drew from that rightwing base, it says to me that Obama could have worked the minority in his favor, and organized with that base and a wider non-Jewish base of support against settlements, so evident at the Dem convention last summer.

      • seafoid
        June 30, 2013, 3:46 pm

        Coulda shoulda woulda. Look at who funds Obama. The 1% of the 1%. It is the same on climate change. Obama is just a PR facade. There are still people who think a Dem in DC is going to sort out the mess. Khalaas yani.

      • seafoid
        June 30, 2013, 4:38 pm

        http://harpers.org/archive/2013/05/harpers-index-350/

        “Percentage change in the incomes of the top 1 percent of earners during the economic recovery : +11.2

        Of the bottom 99 percent : –0.4

        Chance that an American has been laid off at least once since the start of the recession : 1 in 4

        Portion of Americans who believe that they are “living the American dream” : 1/4”

      • W.Jones
        July 1, 2013, 1:23 am

        Phil,

        Your factual observations are incisive and insightful. You just said something new to me (on support for settlements)!

        As to Obama’s ability to campaign successfully on settlements, you are dealing with an area of uncertainty. I don’t mean to dismiss you, but it’s hard to see the nuts and bolts of how Obama could take it on as a personal campaign to end the settlements and succeed, in the same way he could deal with healthcare (and in some big ways he made that worse and more corporate friendly.) The thing is, you have to look at where the media is on this, what happens when Net.speaks at a joint session of Congress, where the polls are overall, how strongly people feel, where the $ is, what is the main lobby, etc. Then consider how much ability the US really has to influence Israeli policy even if it wanted to.

        Sure, he can motivate people, but is it going to be enough to override those opposing factors? Do everyday Americans really care about this? And how are you going to get them to care? Admittedly, they certainly care about having their boys stuck in Iran, but that’s different. For Israelis and their supporters, they should basically be strongly interested in being responsible and having their country look like a nationalistic prison camp. But apparently they don’t see that as a big enough problem, or an unavoidable one.

        Arafat and Rabin reached important agreements and were on the road to peace, but where are they now and how did they get there? Carter is left, and what is he doing? Writing books and speaking about the situation? Yes, fortunately.

        I’m trying to be realistic, while hoping for the best.

        Peace.

  2. Elliot
    June 30, 2013, 2:34 pm

    I think a large majority of the American Jewish community support the settlement project vocally or quietly. I’ve always said so.

    I disagree. What’s the evidence for that? It’s only because the crazy rightwingers escalate the conversation to panic mode that the settlement issue gets lost in the emotion. Most American Jews, if asked calmly about the settlements, reject them.

    • Woody Tanaka
      June 30, 2013, 4:14 pm

      “Most American Jews, if asked calmly about the settlements, reject them.”

      But what do they do with those supposed opinions? Call on Congress to cut off aid so long as they exist? Speak out against. them loud and long? Write the President begging for sanctions against Israel?? No. They do nothing. That’s implicit support.

    • Philip Weiss
      June 30, 2013, 4:16 pm

      I remember a 54 percent figure saying that they support Jewish presence in the West Bank, that it’s Jewish land. Let me look for support and get back to you Elliot

  3. piotr
    June 30, 2013, 2:35 pm

    It is not the issue of Israel/Palestine per se, but the general mental sickness of the liberal elite. They spend 5 minutes thinking about right and wrong and years pondering what is “mainstream” and what is not. Just see what they made of health care reform.

    A mismatch assembly of disparate parts is their favorite type of policy. If they could, they would approve diplaying 5 Commandments in courts of law etc. But of course not all problems can be addressed like that. But sometimes you can try “neither war nor peace” combinations, “neither justice nor outright fascism” and so on. Or “let us make some bold plan on Global Warming, anything really as long as it cannot work”.

  4. Keith
    June 30, 2013, 2:39 pm

    PHIL- “My question is: If Obama had had the courage of his convictions….”

    Since when did you acquire mind reading ability? You continue to project attitudes, opinions and convictions onto Obama which he does not possess. Obama’s greatest accomplishment so far has been to reinvigorate an empire which George W. Bush severely weakened. Obama is a hyper-aggressive, neoliberal imperialist with a drone fetish and a disdain for the Constitution. Deal with it.

  5. NormanF
    June 30, 2013, 2:50 pm

    This has nothing to do with Israeli personalities or policies.

    The Arabs don’t want to negotiate and they don’t want peace. No – there is no point in talking about something that in all likelihood will never happen.

    Of course, the conflict can be managed. But its not possible to imagine Arabs and Jews overcoming deep differences of principle. They each have their views and while the Jews are prepared to accept a two states for two peoples solution, this is rejected by the Arabs.

    As a result, the status quo will last for a very long time to come.

    • seafoid
      June 30, 2013, 4:45 pm

      “As a result, the status quo will last for a very long time to come.”

      The system works until the day it fails. Expecting the world to buy the settler Weltanschauung is deluded.

      It’s such a tragedy that there is no mechanism by which people like Norman can be disciplined for brining their religion into disrepute.

      To paraphrase Keynes, “Zionism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the sake of tikkun olam. “

    • Shingo
      July 1, 2013, 4:59 am

      The Arabs don’t want to negotiate and they don’t want peace.

      What are they supposed to negotiate? At least 3 coalition ministers have said there is not going to be a Palestinian state.

      No – there is no point in talking about something that in all likelihood will never happen.

      Exactly. One minute you berate the Arabs for not wanting to negotiate, the next you admit there is no point.

      Israel has ensured that it will never happen.

      As a result, the status quo will last for a very long time to come.

      No it won’t. Israel won’t last very long.

    • Citizen
      July 1, 2013, 8:16 am

      “The Arabs don’t want to negotiate and they don’t want peace.”

      This little mantra is the Big Lie most Jewish Israelis and their government have told themselves for decades, precisely so they don’t have to think about the Palestinians, let alone actually talk to them as individuals. It’s the magical incantation that makes the Palestinians disappear.

    • Woody Tanaka
      July 1, 2013, 9:42 am

      “The Arabs don’t want to negotiate and they don’t want peace.”

      Racist twaddle. The Arabs have proposed giving the Jews controlling Israel everything they’ve ever claimed to have wanted: peace, security, recognition and integration with the states in the region, in exchange for a border on the 1967 lines and a resolution to the Refugee issue that both sides agree to. Do the Jews who supposedly are dying to negotiate and who yearn for peace chomping at the bit to agree to it? No, they are further destroying the chance of peace and acting in bad faith (the antithesis of negotiation) by continuing to steal West Bank land for their colonists.

  6. Krauss
    June 30, 2013, 3:41 pm

    You’re wrong.

    The Neocons may be a small minority, but that is because on domestic politics they vote for the GOP. As people like you should know, the differences diminish considerably once you leave American shores.

    It was you, after all, who wrote a year ago or two that inside the Jewish community “we’re all Tea Partiers”. Notice how J Street has shifted sharply to the right. The Jewish-American community may grumble, but that is less because of any instrinsic moral issues and more to due to the fact that the world condemns their own little Alabama.

    Sure, you have a small moral minority, and they/we are disproportinately among the young. But even among the young indifference is far more prevalent than one of the other.

    Remember, Penny Pritzker and Lester Crown and others were also part of Obama’s base. They both act as gatekeepers towards other liberal Jewish fundraisers. If they give the tumbs down, Obama wouldn’t have swam. Do you think it’s a coincidence he essentially adopted Likudnik rhetoric during his 2008 AIPAC speech about essentially letting Israel keep all of Jerusalem(but the real reason Israel wants that is to keep it’s ethnic cleansing program going, which Obama knew of, which is why he backtracked the next day but still).

    Sorry, Phil, a lot of wishful thinking here. Oh, by the way, remember Haim Saban? The biggest single donor to the Democratic party and also a gatekeeper to other donors. Even beyond fundraisers, do you think the notorious bigot of the ADL, Abe Foxman, would have let a strong pro-justice stance on I/P stand?

    Obama remembers what happened to Bush the first. He is not a stupid man. He knows what got Clinton elected.

    Now, Obama could have challenged the lobby anyway but it would be political suicide. It would be the kind of brave stuff you and me like. But Obama’s no martyr for truth, which his embrace of the surveillance state should indicate. He’s very interested in keeping political power. Granting small tidbits on climate change or granting a pro-gay rights agenda – both of which carry very little political risk but lots of noise from the other side – is easy. Taking on the lobby is suicide for any politican, which isn’t a coincidence, this is how the lobby works.

    MJ Rosenberg keeps writing that taking on the lobby is much easier. This is delusion. Change won’t come from the top on this issue. It’ll come from the grassroots. This is how change got made on gay issues too. Obama punted and punted until even Joe Biden out of all people moved ahead of him on gay marriage.

    The sea change was cultural and grassroots political. Politicians, especially presidents, change when the path of least resistance is the moral choice. Obama’s no exception.

  7. David Doppler
    June 30, 2013, 4:08 pm

    I’ve come to believe that it is not just Middle East peace process issues that are involved and that would have to be changed – not just matching the deep-pocket funders of AIPAC – but larger issues going to the powers of the military-industrial complex, the surveillance state, and the black ops programs of the CIA and wherever else they’re secretly lodged in our government, with which the Middle Eastern issues are in places deeply intertwined. If you look back at the 65-year history of these programs since Israel was formed and the CIA established, there are just many, many, many examples where “reality was changed” on the ground, aided, nudged, or fabricated in full by covert operations designed to be invisible, and with cover stories to obscure any independent digging to get at the truth. Bay of Pigs, Operations Northwoods, Netanyahu’s work stealing nuclear material for Israel from Pennsylvania, Kennedy assassination, Gulf of Tonkin, assassinations and coups throughout the world, USS Liberty, the October Surprise (or avoidance of it in 1980), Iran-Contra, Curveball, the Niger Uranium forgeries, the Georgia/Russia Neo-con conspiracy. We even had that famous Ron Suskind 2004 quote, now attributed to Karl Rove: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you [in the “reality-based community”], will be left to just study what we do.”

    At its heart, it is unaccountable power at the controls of the world’s only hyper-power. And it’s not just Greater Israel that is their goal, but to sustain that unaccountable power over those exclusive controls. Terrorism replaced Communism as the internal and external threat that justified “extraordinary powers” needed to keep our children safe. The need for ever larger arsenals of ever bigger nuclear weapons was replaced by the need for ever larger computers and ever-more intrusive monitoring of every keystroke, and better SW analytics to see who is even thinking about this issue or that issue. Those with that power will not easily cede it, especially not to a bunch of bleeding heart liberals who they regard as spineless and clueless about the “true realities” of how the world works.

    It’s not just the American Jewish community needing to pressure the Israeli government. It’s also the broader American community needing to pressure their elected officials to stop marching us all off to the state of Orwellian thought-control.

  8. Nevada Ned
    June 30, 2013, 11:01 pm

    The US has no stake in who rules the West Bank or Gaza, so the US can just surrender that one to the Israel Lobby. The Palestinians have their advocates (electronic intifadah) but they’re much weaker than the Israel Lobby.

    On US policy towards the rest of the middle East, the US does have a “national interest” (meaning ruling class interest), and that is to control the oil of the Persian Gulf. Control of the oil gives the US a lot of power of Japan and China, who need the oil. The great US fear is fear of Arab nationalism. The US hated Nasser, for example. It’s in the US imperial interest to keep the Arab world divided, backward, and weak.
    People like Abbas and regimes like Saudi Arabia are US allies for a reason.
    In addition, countries like Syria under Assad have been OK with the US.
    Israel for its own reasons wants the Arab world to be divided, backward and weak.
    So there is a basis for a US/Iraeli alliance, based on a shared opposition to Arab nationalism.

    Both the US and Israel must be very concerned about the Arab spring, which may be reviving in Egypt for another round of protest and struggle.

    If you think about US control of Latin America, and if you think of the middle East as some banana republics, except they have oil instead of bananas, you’ll be on your way to understand the Middle East.

  9. American
    June 30, 2013, 11:56 pm

    Obama to my mind never grew beyond the ‘community organizer and compromiser ” he started out as.
    And his ‘community’ is the Jewish supporters in Chicago who kicked stared his political career and the ‘advisers’ who now surround him.
    He’s not a ‘leader”….he will carry out whatever ‘his community’ can compromise on or come up with on most things.

  10. PeaceThroughJustice
    July 1, 2013, 12:08 am

    “George W. Bush also had a splinter group’s support inside the Jewish community. They were neocons. “

    Splinter group? Like your mother, your brother, and your father?

    You’re dreaming, man.

  11. anthonybellchambers
    July 1, 2013, 5:58 am

    A lobby-controlled US Congress will authorise covert surveillance on anyone or anything that is contrary to its political agenda for political and military hegemony in the Middle East, Europe and around the world. The elected presidency in the US is tragically impotent in the face of such political machinations. America is effectively now as democratic as North Korea. In both cases, actual power is in the hands of an unelected minority.

    It will be of no surprise to anyone who is politically aware.

  12. Citizen
    July 1, 2013, 8:43 am

    Ive never seen a liberal Jewish base when it comes to Israel. Isn’t that why the acronymn PEP came into common usage in discussion regarding Israel?

  13. Kathleen
    July 1, 2013, 9:00 am

    Ilene ” I think he thought that appointing George Mitchell would help. I took it as an important sign at the time; after the fact, it turned out that Mitchell, who knew what was what in 2000–2001, was too far removed from it all in 2009 and certainly didn’t have the courage to buck the madmen who’d been skewering Obama and get himself labeled an anti-Semite.”

    Read in many places that as George Mitchell tried to negotiate everywhere he turned Dennis Ross was undermining all his efforts.

    Phil ” A lot of rich Jews support me and oppose the settlements; I will build a policy based on their support and to hell with the rightwingers?”

    Phil how would you define “a lot?”

    We all know that this movement and awareness in the American Jewish community to deal with the conflict fairly has really come to be the last 10 years. “A lot” may be over the top.

    When I met, listened to and talked with Gilad Altzmon in Boulder one thing I agree with him on is that one of the strong forces that has kept this important debate and subsequent fair policy from taking place in the conflict are the so called “liberal” Dems both Jews and non Jews in congress. This piece has been going on for decades. Still no changes in that segment of our population.

    Call your Reps. Israel must top building and expanding illegal settlements in the West Bank and illegal housing in E Jerusalem before any real negotiations can take place.

  14. pabelmont
    July 1, 2013, 5:47 pm

    Obama would have had to be aq statesman rather than a politician to work the magic many wish for. Yes we can fault him. And not only on I/P.

    How about the absent bravery of the J-street irregulars, the Peace Nowers, etc? The major political issue of our time is whether or not the unmonied can create political motion based solely on ideology.

    Pro-guns have ideology but also gun-manufacturer money. Anti-abortion (and pro-choice) both have ideology BUT anti-abortion have the riches of the large evangelical churches as well.

    Gay rights have ideology and NUMBERS, perhaps also money, as do their opponents.

    Pro I/P peace-with-justice have ideology, but the stasis-with-injustice folks have $$$ and the MSM and the pols, and that’s what counts.

    To my thinking it’s a pity the BDS supporters don’t get the bit in their teeth (especially, at first,in Europe) and directly address the end of settlements and a pan-Israel boycott/sanctions call as enforcement mechanism. No more Israel-as-good-guy, no more pro-peace-with-justice as Mr-speak-no-evil. There IS evil and it should be named and opposed.

    J-Street and JVP an Peace Now are still running (limping) scared.

  15. Rusty Pipes
    July 1, 2013, 9:07 pm

    No matter how large it is, Obama’s liberal Jewish base hasn’t been as focused, vocal or driven as the liberal hawks and hardline Zionists (aided by Republicans who stand ready to undermine him at every opportunity). The liberal or moderate appointees he was even able to get approved were worn down or picked off early in his administration. He followed JStreet’s advice and then they showed how soft their support was. And congressional Democrats signed all of the AIPAC-drafted letters backing Netanyahu’s policies and gave Netanyahu 29 standing ovations.

    I have many reasons to be disappointed in Obama’s presidency. But I do not fault him for squandering support from the liberal Jewish establishment which has only been giving lip-service to a two-state solution.

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