Monday, April 20, 2015

Honey, I Shrunk The Jews: Obama Deflates American Jewish Community

Honey, I Shrunk the Jews! - Lee Smith

Almost as soon as the White House reached the nuclear framework agreement with Iran, it began sending out senior administration officials to brief domestic allies and rivals in order to sell the deal. The president himself called Speaker of the House John Boehner, while National Security Adviser Susan Rice and U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power got other legislators on the phone. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz made the administration’s case for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Agreement over the weekend on the Sunday talk shows. Guess who didn’t get briefed.

Well, not exactly. Key Jewish community leaders did get a briefing—not from the president or the secretary of state or the national security adviser, but from Joe Biden’s National Security Adviser Colin Kahl.

[T]he fact that Obama sent the vice president’s aide to brief Jewish leaders on an issue of vital concern to them suggests how little the commander in chief now respects or fears the power of a community he once courted so assiduously. For instance, there was the famous 2009 conference call during which he told a gathering of community leaders that it was in the best interests of Israel as well as the United States to put some “daylight” between the White House and Jerusalem. Having been warned nearly six years ago, in person, it should hardly come as a surprise to those same American Jewish leaders that it’s now daytime.

The vanishing political import of the American Jewish community appears to have taken least some of its leaders—used to Oval Office sit-downs and plenty of concerned hand-holding—by surprise. But you can bet it didn’t take Obama six years to comprehend the political import of James Baker’s famous observation about the Jewish community’s voting patterns. If, as the former secretary of state once said, “F— the Jews; they don’t vote for us anyway,” Obama saw the flip-side of Baker’s crude insight: The president could stick it to the Jews, since they’d vote for Democrats no matter what.

Obama was able to hammer away at AIPAC and the pro-Israel lobby largely because the liberal segments of the Jewish community found it convenient to believe that Obama’s target was just Benjamin Netanyahu, the stubborn and arrogant right-wing prime minister who drove decent people crazy. If he stopped being such a jerk, then good American Jewish liberals like themselves would all be eating latkes in the White House again.

What these community leaders seemed not to have fully understood is that American Jewish political power is linked not just to the financial power of Jewish donors or the influence of Jewish voters in a few key cities but more fundamentally to the strategic importance of the American-Israel relationship. What they certainly did not see is that tension with Bibi served Obama very nicely in a much bigger strategic move, which was the main aim of Obama’s Middle East policy since 2009: namely, to downgrade the U.S. alliance with Israel in order to make room for America’s new can-do regional partner, Iran.

The hardly coincidental byproduct of Obama’s dramatic and far-reaching Middle East realignment is that the American Jewish community is getting a down-grade. The irony of course is that the more distance the American Jewish community puts between themselves and the Jewish national homeland, the less they matter to anybody on either side of the American political divide or in Israel.


Inside Obama’s Meeting With Jewish Leaders - Lee Smith

Of course, if you’re a leader in the American Jewish community, you can’t help but hear Iran’s exterminationist rhetoric in a different frame. So maybe the legacy of Rabbi Stephen Wise was on the mind of American Jewish leaders when President Barack Obama called them to a meeting at the White House. It being Holocaust Remembrance Week, who wants to be remembered as the contemporary version of Wise, who chose to protect his relationship with Roosevelt rather than criticize a president who did nothing to save European Jews from extermination?

“It was one of the tensest meetings I can ever remember,” said one participant who has been invited to many White House sit-downs over the years and requested anonymity. “The president spoke for 25 minutes, without notes,” he told me. He didn’t dismiss what the Iranians say, he just didn’t really address it.”

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal center, who also attended the meeting, was willing to speak on the record to Tablet. “Speaking for myself,” said Hier, “I was not satisfied.”

Roosevelt never lifted a finger to save European Jews, but he did defeat the Nazis. Obama writes letters to the man who threatens to exterminate Jews and promises him peace. American Jewish leaders have plenty to worry about. The cost to American political life of legitimizing exterminationist anti-Semitism may turn out to be one of the worst parts of a bad deal.

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