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

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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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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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

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.… Read more »

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… Read more »