Saturday, July 4, 2009

Obama Angst and the Jewish Leadership Gap // James Besser

An increasing atmosphere of hysteria has been emanating from right-leaning supporters of Israel, who worry that the Obama administration is betraying them by pressing the Netanyahu government to halt illegal settlement construction in the Occupied Territories. James Besser, writing for the Jewish Week, notes that a backlash is apparently building from within American Jewish organizations against Obama's recent moves <>. (The Forward also recently reported on Obama's particularly low popularity rating among Israelis: <>.) But Besser rightfully also notes that the increasing disgruntlement with Obama is coming from the Jewish organizational leadership -- and not from most Jewish Americans, who view the new Administration's recent actions as balanced and needed. Indeed, what is surprising about the angst expressed by conservative Jewish pundits such as Jennifer Rubin in Commentary <> and Gary Rosenblatt in the Jewish Week ("Whispered Worries About Obama": <>) is that, as Philip Weiss points out <>, they attest to how insufficiently the Jewish leadership represents the views of the Jewish American mainstream.

For more than a decade, Jewish organizational leaders have stood by their claim that Jews who protest the Israeli occupation and concern themselves with protecting the human rights of Palestinians represented only a noisy fraction of the Jewish community at large. Jewish Voice for Peace and other groups advocating a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were portrayed as having little in common with the political views of most Jews. Now, however, it is increasingly evident that the entrenched Jewish American leadership opposing Israeli concessions represent merely a "sliver" of American Jewry (in Jennifer Rubin's words). Even hawkish Israel-supporters like Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who mentions but does not give credence to the claim that Obama has "turned against Israel," are urgently seeking a way to iron out the differences between Netanyahu and Obama that wouldn't seem like an outright capitulation by the current Israeli administration. Dershowitz wrote in the Wall Street Journal on July 2 <> that a compromise between Israel and the US could be achieved if the Obama administration encourages the settlements to grow "vertically" rather than "horizontally" by permitting taller apartment buildings within existing settlements. But such a tactical feint can only worsen the consequences down the road, as the Jewish settler constituency -- and therefore its voting power -- would then continue to grow among Israelis and to create even greater obstacles to resolving the conflict with Palestinians.

The remarkable defensiveness of the American Jewish leadership indicates one thing clearly: the leadership is increasingly aware that it is out of touch politically with most American Jews. American Jews don't seem to want Israel to be treated preferentially, as the coddled and bratty dependent of an overindulgent benefactor. They want it to be treated fairly, and to be accorded meaningful rights and obligations within the context of a coherent and balanced American foreign policy. American Jews have grown tired of the frequent claims of Jewish organizational leaders that Israel deserves special consideration, even when it acts badly. Such special treatment has had a corrupting influence on Israel's internal politics and has allowed it to prolong an impractical and immoral occupation.

--Lincoln Z. Shlensky

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