The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

On American Jews and Obama

I posted in yesterday's links a long, five-part series on Jews and Obama by Edward Klein and Richard Chesnoff. I had only read the first part when I did so, and, having now read four of the five (the last one still isn't up), I feel it's worth making a few comments on it, especially as it has gotten some considerable attention in some circles.

The first is that it is a quite biased and tendencious piece. As commenter David notes:

The series so far spend inordinate column-inches on Marty Peretz and Abe Foxman. The series doesn't really address the complex reality of American Jewry grappling with the same rightward turn as the rest of the country. Instead, it merely showcases the usual voices who claim to speak for us.

I couldn't agree more. The piece speaks about exclusively to fairly conservative, establishment voices in the US Jewish community and appears to endorse the spin, notably put out by Abraham Foxman of the ADL, that Obama is somehow betraying Israel. I am not necessarily denying that, as the writers claim, a recent poll shows most American Jews would now prefer another president, although I think it has little meaning when the alternative isn't known. But they also appear to want to reinforce the stranglehold that a few Jewish community leaders have in shaping the opinion of Jews and the broader American public, whereas the novelty of recent years has been a surge in critical approaches to this elite community of self-appointed defenders of Israel by many American Jews — whether it's by mainstream organizations like J-Street (and more radical groups) or individual writers and activists such as MJ Rosenberg, Philip Weiss or Max Blumenthal.  

Others have a different take on the article. One is highlighting that the likes of Foxman have a problem in Obama's adoption of linkage — which the hard pro-Israel lobby has opposed for a number of years, with Dennis Ross even writing a book against it shortly before being made part of the Obama team. But to me that is besides the point. Even of Obama and others have adopted the rhetoric of linkage, they haven't pushed through its logical conclusion of harder pressure on Israel — at least unless you buy the idea that Obama would like to be tougher on Israel but can't because of Congress and the lobby.

The other thing about this piece (written, incidentally, by big-name journalists with a reputation for being very pro-Israel — they even wrote, a long time ago, what can only be described as a piece of propaganda justifying the 1967 war). I think they also probably exaggerate the tone of relations between the White House and Israeli officials — or at least, the perception of Israeli officials, who apparently all believe the US White House should always be 100% supportive of Israel's actions. That also seems to be the perspective of the authors, who weave this dramatic tail of betrayal by a president they almost imply is an anti-Semite. Here's one passage that's telling (part 3):

A perception began to spread throughout the Jewish community that the Obama administration was not only outwardly hostile to Israel, but perhaps, without even knowing it, hostile to Jews as well. This thesis was forcefully argued by Jonathan Kellerman, the best-selling suspense novelist and a professor clinical pediatric and psychology at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine:

My personal opinion... is that the bifurcation of Israel and Judaism is structurally fallacious. The Land of Israel is an essential ingredient of Judaism practiced fully. Thus, it is impossible to be anti-Israel and not be anti-Jewish. And in fact, the war being waged against Israel by the Muslim world is, at the core, a religious dispute. Radical Islamists no longer talk about Zionists; they come right out and broadcast their goal of eradicating worldwide Jewry.

When that kind of statement is used in support without commentary, you have to get suspicious. There's an interesting story to write about how American Jews feel about Israel today (a more important question than how they feel about Obama), but that wasn't it.