Let me give it to you straight. I believe that President Obama exhibited great hostility to the state of Israel and to its Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu. So I said, what we should do is frame the issue; those people who are upset with Obama’s position on Israel…should vote against the Democrats.”—Former New York City mayor and lifetime Democrat, Ed Koch, explaining his endorsement of Republican candidate Bob Turner, who this week won a special election over David Weprin (D) in the heavily Jewish and Democratic 9th New York Congressional District.


Shlomo Slonim
Jerusalem Post, September 13, 2011

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is reported to have charged Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with being an ingrate for failing to accept President Barack Obama’s terms for a settlement with the Palestinians. In this, Gates is echoing earlier presidential “spokesmen” such as former ambassador Martin Indyk and New York Times correspondent Thomas Friedman.

Apparently, it is expected that a country benefiting from American largesse will agree to surrender territory, rights and history in return.

In order to understand what the president was asking of Israel, and therefore why Netanyahu had to refuse, it is necessary to analyze just what his pronouncement calling for talks to start on the basis of the June 1967 lines entails.

For one thing, no previous American president had premised the Israeli-Palestinian talks on such a basis. American pronouncements repeatedly emphasized that the negotiations, and indeed any forthcoming agreement, was a matter for the parties to agree upon. No outside party was entitled to intervene and dictate the terms of the discussions.

The closest that any administration came to making such suggestions was the ill-fated Rogers Plan of 1969 which, while calling for Jerusalem to remain united, also endorsed a settlement with only minor territorial changes. Israel vigorously rejected the Rogers Plan, with prime minister Golda Meir declaring that a government accepting that plan as a starting point would be guilty of undermining Israeli security. The Nixon administration beat a hasty retreat, and with the substitution of Henry Kissinger as secretary of state in place of William P. Rogers, nothing more was heard of the plan.

That episode also highlights another unusual feature of the Obama pronouncements.

Presidents generally float new ideas by means of a subordinate, a state department official or even a secretary of state. Such a procedure ensures that the president’s prestige is not directly involved. It allows the president to backtrack, if need be, or qualify the subordinate’s statement without loss of face and without the embarrassment of a major confrontation and crisis with an injured party. In relation to the Middle East, however, Obama is acting very much as his own secretary of state, issuing orders or statements directly from the White House. This leaves very little room for revision of policy. It becomes this or nothing.

On the subject of Jerusalem, such an approach is fraught with danger.

When Jordan unleashed its barrage on Jerusalem, against Israeli suburbs, during the Six Day War, the Israeli response was immediate and overwhelming. Within two days Israel had expelled the Jordanians and united Jerusalem under Israeli control.

The international legal implications of this development were spelled out by Stephen Schwebel, subsequently America’s judge on the International Court of Justice, in an article entitled, “What Weight to Conquest,” that appeared in the American Journal of International Law in 1970. He wrote: “Having regard to the consideration that…Israel…[acted] defensively in 1948 and 1967…and her Arab neighbors…[acted] aggressively in 1948 and 1967…Israel has better title in the territory of what was Palestine, including the whole of Jerusalem, than do Jordan or Egypt.”

It should be remembered that neither President Johnson’s Five Points nor Security Council Resolution 242 mentioned Palestinians.… Israel contends that nothing has occurred in the interval to disturb Israel’s sovereign right in all of Jerusalem. This status was confirmed in 1980 by the Knesset when it adopted a law declaring: “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel.”

Nor did the 1993 Oslo Accords modify matters, even with Jerusalem being designated as the first item listed for the final status talks. Prime minister Yitzhak Rabin declared in 1995: “Undivided Jerusalem is the heart of the Jewish people and the capital of the state of Israel. Undivided Jerusalem is ours.” Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, in a 1994 interview, said: “We have told the Palestinians this—we are very adamant about our position. Jerusalem will not be redivided.…”

It is this status of Jerusalem that President Obama apparently seeks to modify. He cannot challenge Israel’s title directly. By confirming the ‘67 line he seeks to posit that Israel lacks title in east Jerusalem. However, both the facts and the law regarding Israel’s claim are clear and decisive. Prime Minister Netanyahu was therefore fully justified, and even compelled, to adhere to the pattern of his predecessors in declaring categorically that the ‘67 lines are not the starting point for any negotiations. Those lines were armistice lines, and no more.…

(Shlomo Slonim is a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.)


Dan Senor

Wall Street Journal, September 14, 2011

New York’s special congressional election on Tuesday was the first electoral outcome directly affected by President Obama’s Israel policy. Democrats were forced to expend enormous resources in a losing effort to defend this safe Democratic district, covering Queens and Brooklyn, that Anthony Weiner won last year by a comfortable margin.

A Public Policy Poll taken days before the election found a plurality of voters saying that Israel was “very important” in determining their votes. Among those voters, Republican candidate Robert Turner was winning by a 71-22 margin. Only 22% of Jewish voters approved of President Obama’s handling of Israel. Ed Koch, the Democrat and former New York mayor, endorsed Mr. Turner because he said he wanted to send a message to the president about his anti-Israel policies.

This is a preview of what President Obama might face in his re-election campaign with a demographic group that voted overwhelmingly for him in 2008. And it could affect the electoral map, given the battleground states—such as Florida and Pennsylvania—with significant Jewish populations. In another ominous barometer for the Obama campaign, its Jewish fund-raising has deeply eroded: One poll by McLaughlin & Associates found that of Jewish donors who donated to Mr. Obama in 2008, only 64% have already donated or plan to donate to his re-election campaign.

The Obama campaign has launched a counteroffensive, including hiring a high-level Jewish outreach director and sending former White House aide David Axelrod and Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz to reassure Jewish donors. The Obama team told the Washington Post that its Israel problem is a messaging problem, and that with enough explanation of its record the Jewish community will return to the fold in 2012. Here is an inventory of what Mr. Obama’s aides will have to address:

• February 2008: When running for president, then-Sen. Obama told an audience in Cleveland: “There is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you’re anti-Israel.” Likud had been out of power for two years when Mr. Obama made this statement. At the time the country was being led by the…Kadima government of Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni and Shimon Peres, and Prime Minister Olmert had been pursuing an unprecedented territorial compromise. As for Likud governments, it was under Likud that Israel made its largest territorial compromises—withdrawals from Sinai and Gaza.

• July 2009: Mr. Obama hosted American Jewish leaders at the White House, reportedly telling them that he sought to put “daylight” between America and Israel. “For eight years”—during the Bush administration—“there was no light between the United States and Israel, and nothing got accomplished,” he declared.

Nothing? Prime Minister Ariel Sharon uprooted thousands of settlers from their homes in Gaza and the northern West Bank and deployed the Israeli army to forcibly relocate their fellow citizens. Mr. Sharon then resigned from the Likud Party to build a majority party based on a two-state consensus.

In the same meeting with Jewish leaders, Mr. Obama told the group that Israel would need “to engage in serious self-reflection.” This statement stunned the Americans in attendance: Israeli society is many things, but lacking in self-reflection isn’t one of them. It’s impossible to envision the president delivering a similar lecture to Muslim leaders.

• September 2009: In his first address to the U.N. General Assembly, President Obama devoted five paragraphs to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, during which he declared (to loud applause) that “America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.” He went on to draw a connection between rocket attacks on Israeli civilians with living conditions in Gaza. There was not a single unconditional criticism of Palestinian terrorism.

• March 2010: During Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel, a Jerusalem municipal office announced plans for new construction in a part of Jerusalem. The president launched an unprecedented weeks-long offensive against Israel. Mr. Biden very publicly departed Israel.…  Ten days later, Mr. Netanyahu traveled to Washington to mend fences but was snubbed at a White House meeting with President Obama—no photo op, no joint statement, and he was sent out through a side door.

• April 2010: Mr. Netanyahu pulled out of the Obama-sponsored Washington summit on nuclear proliferation after it became clear that Turkey and Egypt intended to use the occasion to condemn the Israeli nuclear program, and Mr. Obama would not intervene.

• March 2011: Mr. Obama returned to his habit of urging Israelis to engage in self-reflection, inviting Jewish community leaders to the White House and instructing them to “search your souls” about Israel’s dedication to peace.

• May 2011: The State Department issued a press release declaring that the department’s No. 2 official, James Steinberg, would be visiting “Israel, Jerusalem, and the West Bank.” In other words, Jerusalem is not part of Israel. Later in the month, only hours before Mr. Netanyahu departed from Israel to Washington, Mr. Obama delivered his Arab Spring speech, which focused on a demand that Israel return to its indefensible pre-1967 borders with land swaps.

Mr. Obama has…built the most consistently one-sided diplomatic record against Israel of any American president in generations. His problem with Jewish voters is one of substance, not messaging.

(Dan Senor is co-author with Saul Singer of “Start-up Nation:
The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle” [Twelve, 2011].)


Herb Keinon
Jerusalem Post, September 14, 2011

Up until Tuesday night’s surprise victory of Republican Bob Turner over Democratic David Weprin in the heavily Jewish and Democratic 9th New York Congressional District, news of US President Barack Obama’s waning support among American Jews was largely anecdotal.

Every once in a while stories of traditionally-Democratic Jews articulating deep concern for Obama’s treatment of Israel would appear in the general media or US political websites. There was also the occasional story about Jews who donate large amounts to the Democratic Party saying that as a result of their disenchantment with the White House’s Middle East policies, in the next election cycle they would think twice.

[Furthermore], number-crunchers looked at the exit polls from the 2008 Presidential election that showed that Obama took 78 percent of the Jewish vote, [and] compared that with polls that showed the Democrats took “just” 66% of the Jewish vote in the midterm 2010 election. [They also] noted that the president’s approval rating [this] summer among Jews was “only” 60%, and concluded that Obama was losing the Jews. Not all the Jews—not even a majority of the Jews—but enough to make a difference in the 2012 presidential election.

Turner’s victory over Weprin Tuesday showed that this thesis no longer exists only in the anecdotal or extrapolatory realm.

Turner’s victory was the most serious sign of erosion to date in American-Jewish support for Obama; the most serious shot from the Jewish community across the White House’s bow; the most serious message from Jewish voters of concern about the president’s stand on Israel. And while it is undeniable that Israel was not the only issue in the campaign, it is equally undeniable that it was among the top issues. The other major issue was the economy.

History has shown that as one specific factor, Israel is not enough to drive Jews to vote against a Democratic candidate. But put Israel together with a faltering economy that is also impacting negatively on America’s Jews, and more Jews than usual may currently be ready to bolt the Democrats than in the past.

New York’s election shows Obama is in trouble with significant swaths of US Jews. To give an indication of how much dissatisfaction there is, keep in mind that New York’s 9th District has not voted for a Republican congressman since 1920, and that Weprin is an Orthodox Jew who is a strong supporter of Israel.

Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary under George W. Bush, said at a panel discussion at the AIPAC conference in May that if Obama wins over the Jews 4:1, as he did last time, he wins the next election; but that if he only takes the Jews 3:1, he’s in trouble. A shift of a few percentage votes among Jews in 2012 in key battleground states with large Jewish populations such as Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, could have a huge impact in a close presidential race.…

None of this, obviously, is lost on the Obama administration, which, by appointing an empathetic and sympathetic ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, earlier this year, and hiring veteran Jewish political insider Ira Forman in August as its Jewish liaison, is taking what it has described as its “messaging” problem to the Jewish community very seriously, and trying to correct it.

An indication of how serious the problem is being taken came earlier this week, when the National Jewish Democratic Coalition sent out an e-mail blast highlighting Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s warm expression of gratitude to Obama Saturday for what he did to free the six Israeli security guards holed up in the ransacked Israeli embassy in Cairo.

It is safe to say that this email blast—obviously intended to show American Jews how much Obama does care about Israel—made its way into the inbox of thousands of Jewish voters who went to the poll in New York’s special election on Tuesday. Apparently, however, it didn’t make much of a dent.

The lesson is clear: It will take much more from Washington, and many more heartfelt expressions of gratitude from Netanyahu to Obama, to convince a significant part of the American Jewish community that former New York mayor Ed Koch was wrong when, while campaigning for Turner in New York’s 9th District, said Obama “is willing to toss it [Israel] under the bus.”


Bret Stephens

Wall Street Journal, September 13, 2011

What is Israel’s predicament? It is this: It is surrounded on nearly all sides by enemies who are aggressively committed to its destruction. And too many people who call themselves its friends are only ambivalently committed to its security.

Consider the month that Israel has just had:

• On Aug. 18, eight Israelis were killed in a sophisticated cross-border ambush near the frontier with Egypt.

• From Aug. 18-24, some 200 large-caliber, factory-made rockets and mortars were fired at Israel from Gaza.

• On Sept. 1, the head of Iran’s atomic energy agency announced that it was moving the bulk of its enrichment facilities to a heavily fortified site near the city of Qom.

• On Sept. 2, the United Nations released a report on the May 2010 Turkish flotilla incident, which defended Israel’s right to enforce a naval blockade on Gaza and noted that Israeli commandos faced “organized and violent resistance.” The Turkish government responded by yanking its ambassador from Tel Aviv and expelling Israel’s from Ankara.

• On Sept. 4, the U.S. made a final appeal to the Palestinian Authority to drop its bid to seek statehood recognition at the U.N., a bid that sends to the rubbish bin decades of international agreements that a Palestinian state can be established only on the basis of negotiations. The PA rebuffed the American entreaties.

• On Sept. 8, Turkey’s prime minister announced that Turkish warships would escort future Gaza-bound flotillas.

• On Sept. 9, thousands of hooligans stormed and nearly sacked the Israeli embassy in Cairo. Israel evacuated nearly its entire diplomatic mission from Egypt the following morning.

One other item: On Sept. 5, an organization called NGO Monitor reported that an associate director of the New Israel Fund, cited in a February 2011 State Department cable released by Wikileaks, said that “the disappearance of a Jewish state would not be the tragedy that Israelis fear since it would become more democratic.” The NIF describes itself as a group “dedicated to a vision of Israel as both the Jewish homeland and a shared society at peace with itself and its neighbors.”

Maybe the case of the (now former) NIF official is a relatively rare one. Or maybe it’s just rare to have such off-the-record candor find its way into the public domain.

Not rare, however, is the idea that Israel’s legitimacy is a function of its moral performance, and that judgment of its performance lies in the hands of its foreign critics and their designated Israeli scolds. Should the legitimacy of Pakistan or Zimbabwe be called into doubt on account of the wretched mess they have made of their existence as self-governing states? Nobody says this. Nor do many people say that the Palestinian Authority—half of which is ruled by a terrorist group and the other half by a president whose elected term in office expired more than two years ago—hasn’t quite earned the moral right to statehood.

Only Israel is on perpetual trial. Only Israel, by way of this or that policy, is routinely held to moral account for the terrorist outrages committed against it. Only the Jews, as Eric Hoffer put it in 1968, are expected to be “the only real Christians in the world.”

But then the argument is made that Israel is occupying somebody else’s country. And risking its own future as a Jewish democracy, on account of well-known demographic trends. And all of this is corrosive, so it is often said, to Israel’s soul.

Yet the purported concern for Israel’s soul would be more convincing if it were joined by some decent respect for Israel’s mind. Israel today labors under the invidious stereotype that it is too clever to blunder militarily or politically—and therefore that any such blunders are, in fact, acts of malice aforethought. But Israel also labors under the stereotype that it is too stupid or shortsighted to recognize its own strategic interest in coming to terms with a Palestinian state.

Will it some day dawn on Israel’s so-called friends that 18 years of abortive efforts to come to terms with the Palestinians—the spurned statehood offers in 2000 and 2008, the withdrawal of the settlers from Gaza in 2005, the experience of what a “liberated” Gaza soon became—has soured Israelis on the idea of a Palestinian state? Or that the long-term demographic threat is worth risking in the face of the immediate threats of a near-nuclear Iran, a newly hostile Egypt, and a still-irredentist Palestinian leadership? Or that a professed commitment to Israeli democracy means, among other things, some regard to the conclusions Israelis have drawn about the prospects of peace by way of their electoral choices?

No democracy in the world today lies under a darker shadow of existential dread than Israel. And the events of the past month ought to demonstrate that Israel’s dread is not of shadows only. Israel’s efforts to allay the enmity of its enemies or mollify the scorn of its critics have failed. But is it too much to ask its friends for support—this time, for once, without cavil or reservation?