These two articles were meant for Vanity Fair, but appeared in Jewish World review instead, because they drew the "wrong" conclusions. Both articles are published here.
I do not know if they are right or wrong. It is striking that American Jewish loyalty to President Roosevelt continued even after it was certain he would do nothing to stop the Holocaust or take in refugees. He was also opposed to the creation of Israel.
However, American Jewish loyalty to the Democratic party did not begin with Roosevelt. It began before then, and was probably cemented by the association of Woodrow Wilson and Louis Brandeis. Jewish leadership in the American labor movement, the civil rights struggle and other progressive causes, as well as the concentration of Jews in the urban strongholds of the Democratic party created a natural association between Jews and the Democratic party long before Roosevelt.
Obama probably understands very well that for most Americans, including Jews, domestic issues are always going to be more important than foreign policy issues. American Jews may quarrel with the Democratic part about Israel policy, but it will always be a family fight. Few Jews will ever vote for Republicans, and the ones that do will not vote Republican because of Israel, but because they support Republican positions.
Secretary of State James Baker III (a Republican) was speaking the truth both about Republican attitudes and Jewish voting when he said, "F the Jews, they didn't vote for us." But it would be naive to believe American foreign policy is based on sentiment. Nixon was both a Republican and an anti-Semite, but he helped Israel because he understood that supporting Israel is in America's best interest. American Jews and Israeli officials have failed to convince President Obama that supporting Israel is good for America. Never mind what is "good for the Jews."
AMERICAN JEWS AND PRESIDENT OBAMA, Part II
By Edward Klein with Richard Z. Chesnoff
An in-depth look at what went wrong. More importantly, how it happened
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | "Maybe Jews and blacks were once the closest of allies in Chicago," said Joseph Aaron, the liberal editor of The Chicago Jewish News, Chicago's largest Jewish newspaper, "but in the years that Obama was being shaped, a lot of young blacks, especially in the South Side neighborhood where Obama lived, harbored animosity toward Jews and Israel.
"Two central issues divided blacks and Jews in those years," Aaron continued. "Blacks saw affirmative action as a way to overcome prejudice, while many Jews saw it as a quota system designed to keep them out. It was also a time when Israel, snubbed by many nations, especially in black Africa, chose to forge close ties with the apartheid regime in South Africa. That included selling Israeli arms to South Africa. We never realized the degree to which those links to South Africa hurt black sensitivities.
"Add it all up and you don't come up with an anti-Semitic Obama. That is not who Obama is. What you do come up with is someone who doesn't really understand our attachment to Israel or Israel's importance to Jews as a people, a president who doesn't have a gut love for Israel like some of his predecessors, but someone who understands the Palestinian position better than any president we've had, someone with no natural affinity for Jews or Israel, and someone who approaches the Middle East, as he does most everything else, dispassionately and with a burning desire to fix the problem."
As The New York Times wrote about Obama in the months leading up to the 2008 Democratic National Convention: "The secret of his transformation, [from a newcomer] to the brink of claiming the Democratic presidential nomination, can be described as the politics of maximum unity. [Obama] moved from his leftist
base to more centrist circles; he forged early alliances with the good-government reform crowd only to be embraced later by the city's all-powerful Democratic bosses; he railed against pork-barrel politics but engaged in it when needed; and he empathized with the views of his Palestinian friends before adroitly courting the city's politically potent Jewish community."
That courtship brought Obama the support of some of the wealthiest and most powerful Jews in Chicago, including Penny Pritzker, of the Hyatt hotel-chain family; Betty Lu Saltzman, daughter of the late real-estate baron Philip Klutznik; former congressman Abner Mikva; Lester Crown, a billionaire benefactor of Jewish charities; and Lee Rosenberg, a media-and-entertain mogul, who traveled with Obama during his 2005 senatorial-election campaign visit to Israel, where Obama placed a handwritten prayer for peace in a crack in Jerusalem's Western Wall. Only one of those Jewish sponsors has publicly criticized the president for his tough line on Israel, but Lee Rosenberg, the recently installed president of the powerful pro-Israel lobby AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), has expressed his distress in private conversations with Obama.
Some critics blame Obama's advisers, including former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, whose Israeli father was a member of the Irgun underground during Israel's struggle for statehood; David Axelrod, the president's chief political adviser; and Valerie Jarrett, a close friend of the Obamas', who attends practically all of the president's meetings and is often the last person to leave the Oval Office.
"The problem is naivete in the Obama administration," Robert Lieber, professor of government and international affairs at Georgetown University, told a reporter from The Jewish Week. "The president came into office with the assumption that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is by far the most central urgent problem in the regionwhich it is notand that it is the key that unlocks everything else in the region. And they believe the [Israeli-Palestinian] situation was ripe for progress, which it absolutely isn't."
By the end of March, most of the organized Jewish community was in full cry against the Obama administration's treatment of Israel. However, the voice of Chuck Schumer, the most influential elected Jewish official in Washington, was conspicuously silent. That gave Ed Koch, an incurable gadfly, the opportunity to taunt his frenemy Schumer in his blog.
"Chuck Schumer resented my blog," Koch told us. "He called me and said, 'How can you say this? I'm a protector of Israel.' And I said, 'Chuck, you're not speaking out!' And he said, 'I'm doing it behind the scenes.' He was upset because there was a piece quoting me as saying, 'It's obvious Chuck wants to be the majority leader in the Senate if Harry Reid leaves, and Chuck doesn't want to criticize the president and diminish his chances.'"
Throughout April, the pressure on Schumer continued to mount. Finally, late that month, Schumer could no longer hold his tongue. "[State Department spokesman P. J.] Crowley said something I have never heard before, which is, the relationship of Israel and the United States depends on the pace of the negotiations," Schumer said. "That is terrible. That is a dagger, and that's because the relationship is much deeper than the disagreements on negotiations, and most AmericansDemocrat, Republican, Jew, non-Jewwould feel that. So I called up Rahm Emanuel and I called up the White House and I said, 'If you don't retract this statement, you are going to hear me publicly just blast you on this.'
"You have to show Israel that it's not going to be forced to do things it doesn't want to do and can't do," Schumer continued. "At the same time, you have to show the Palestinians that they are not going to get their way by just sitting back and not giving in, and not recognizing that there is a state of Israel. And right now there is a battle going on within the administration. One side agrees with us, one side doesn't, and we're pushing hard to make sure the right side wins, and if not, we'll have to take it to the next step."
After Schumer's j'accuse, it became clear that Obama had overplayed his hand. In part, it appeared that the president had allowed himself to be influenced by the growing volume of anti-Israel anger coming from the left wing of the Democratic Party, notably from students and faculty on campuses, where calls for the "delegitimization" of the Jewish state have become quite acceptable. In part, too, the president probably placed too much weight on recent sociological studies that indicate a shift in American Jewish attitudes on Israel.
"The majority of today's American Jews don't see themselves as outsiders or victims anymore," says Binyamin Jolkovsky, the publisher and editor-in-chief of the Internet magazine Jewish World Review. "That's positive. But that feeling of equality has also produced a communal negative. The fear that came with being an outsider also gave most Jews, even non-religious ones, a cohesive sense of responsibility regarding their Jewish identity in general and Israel in particular.
"That's changed," Jolkovsky continues. "I'm no senior citizen, but today's generation didn't witness the Holocaust; they don't understand what was entailed in the birth of Israel; they don't even remember the real threats of the 1967 Six-Day War; they probably never read the novel Exodus. The majority of young American Jews think that somehow Israel will always be there. They don't understand that when your enemies say they want to destroy you they mean it."
In the end, what Obama didn't count on was that, for all the changes taking place among young "progressive" Jews, Jerusalem remains a third rail in American politics. The person who seemed to understand that better than anyone else was Elie Wiesel, the Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor, who took out full-page ads on April 16 in major American newspapers to express his views regarding Jerusalem.
"For me, the Jew that I am, Jerusalem is above politics," Wiesel wrote. "It is mentioned more than six hundred times in Scriptureand not a single time in the Koran. Its presence in Jewish history is overwhelming. There is no more moving prayer in Jewish history than the one expressing our yearning to return to Jerusalem. To many theologians, it IS Jewish history, to many poets, a source of inspiration. It belongs to the Jewish people and is much more than a city, it is what binds one Jew to another in a way that remains hard to explain. When a Jew visits Jerusalem for the first time, it is not the first time; it is a homecoming."
Klein interviewed Wiesel following a private lunch he had in early May with President Obama at the White House. "The invitation came before my public statements on Jerusalem," Wiesel told us. "The president gave it to me in February while presenting me with the National Humanities Medal. It was a very interesting lunch, as one can imagine. He is a good listener. We were alone. No small talk. Only substance. Jewish history, moral philosophy. Naturally, the Middle East situation came up. Israel, the Palestinians and especially Iran. I had the feeling the president was sensitive to my insistence to leave Jerusalem to the end of the negotiations. In general, he understood better the Israeli position. When I left him, I told the press outside that the tensions were gone. Had I been asked to elaborate, I would have added: But the problems remained."
By this summer, with the fall midterm elections looming ever larger in the calculations of the White House, the Obama administration had softened some of its more controversial Mideast policy positions. For instance, on Jerusalem, the White House conceded that the question of the city's status should now come at the end of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, as Elie Wiesel desired, rather than at the beginning, as the president originally wanted.
Along with this apparent U-turn in substance, the White House launched a P.R. campaign to win back the allegiance of the Jewish community. The president set the tone. He sent a warm message of greeting on the occasion of Israel's 62nd independence day. Two days later he also sent a personal letter to Alan Solow, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, in which he re-asserted his support for Israel's security.
The following month, pro-Obama rabbis from communities all over America were invited to the White House for schmooze-fests with Rahm Emanuel, Daniel Shapiro, the national-security official who deals, with the Middle East, and Dennis Ross, the administration's top Iran-policy official.
"The three men told the Democratic rabbis that the administration has three priorities in the Middle East," Caroline Glick reported in The Jerusalem Post. "First, Obama seeks to isolate Iran. Second, he seeks to significantly reduce the US military presence in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq. And third, he seeks to resolve the Palestinian conflict with Israel."
As part of its P.R. campaign, the White House had David Axelrod do a mea culpa. "With some of the leadership of the Jewish community, there were some bumps in the road over our first year in office," Axelrod admitted in a phone conversation. "Some of those bumps resulted purely from a lack of communication. But we've had a sustained and vigorous round of communications since, and I think that's been helpful."
In July, when Netanyahu returned to Washington, he was given the red-carpet treatment. He was honored with a working lunch in the Cabinet Room and a joint press conference, in which Obama said something no other president had said about Israel's security. After declaring Israel's strategic value to the U.S., Obama said, "We strongly believe that given its size, its history, the region that it's in, and the threats leveled against
it, that Israel has unique security requirements
. And the U.S. will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine its security interests."
The crowning moment in Washington's charm offensive came in early September when Obama hosted a White House meeting with Netanyahu and Abbas to inaugurate direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Few Mideast experts were sanguine about the prospects for these talks, and in fact Abbas threatened to scuttle the whole program if Israel failed to extend its moratorium on West Bank settlement construction.
But many Jews still wondered whether these were tactical rather than substantive changes. Indeed, the essential ingredients of the Obama administration's Mideast policy seemed not to have changed at all. The goal was still the sameto conclude successful peace talks by applying pressure on Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
"In my view, the Obama administration has not pulled back from its desire to ingratiate itself with the Arab world," says Kenneth J. Bialkin, chairman of the America-Israel Friendship League. "Yes, they've pulled back from saying that Israel's conduct endangers the lives of American soldiers in the Middle East. But most of the charm offensive was aimed at damage control in order to salvage the Jewish vote this fall."
Domestic politics surely played a role in the president's calculations vis-a-vis the American Jewish community. But in the long run, realpolitika system of international relations based on practical rather than moral considerationswill determine Obama's approach to Israel. The major foreign policy question confronting Obama is how to extricate America from the morass of two wars in the Middle East. And in pursuit of that goal, Obama expects Israel to strike a peace accord with the Palestinians and their Arab alliesno matter how real or unreal that expectation may be.
"Obama and his people believe the Palestinian leadership is genuinely ready for historic compromise," says David Horovitz, the London-born editor of The Jerusalem Post. "The unfortunate consensus in Israeland not just the hawksis that while we wish [the Arabs] were [ready], they aren't
. [T]o our great sorrowand to our great costwe are not convinced that even the relative moderates like Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad have internalized the idea that Jews have historic rights here too."
Indeed, in the days just before the new peace talks began, Palestinian leaders went out of their way to declare that while they might be prepared to negotiate with Israel, they would never recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state in the Middle Eastnamely, Israel's very raison d'etre. In other words, nothing fundamental has changed in the Arab approach to Israel's right to exist since the creation of the State of Israel 62 years ago. Thus, whether the Israelis, the American Jews and the other supporters of the Jewish state like it or not, the harsh truth is that during the second half of Barack Obama's first term in office, the president's refusal to face reality in the Middle East is likely to shape American policy.
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EDWARD KLEIN is a well-known writer and editor with a distinguished career in American journalism.
After serving an apprenticeship as a copy boy for the New York Daily News, he went on to earn a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, which awarded him a traveling fellowship to Japan. There, he learned to speak Japanese and traveled throughout Asia as a foreign correspondent for United Press International. Upon his return to New York, he joined Newsweek, where he became foreign editor and then assistant managing editor with jurisdiction over foreign and military affairs.
From Newsweek, he joined The New York Times. As editor in chief of The New York Times Magazine, he led this flagship publication of the Sunday Times to new heights of public interest and editorial excellence. During his editorship, The New York Times Magazine won the first Pulitzer Prize in its history.
Since leaving The Times, Edward Klein has written many articles for Vanity Fair and other national magazines. For Parade, he wrote "Walter Scott's Personality Parade," the most widely read column in the English language.
JWR contributor and veteran journalist RICHARD Z. CHESNOFF was Senior Correspondent at US News & World Report, and is now a columnist at the NY Daily News and the Huffington Post. A two-time winner of the Overseas Press Club Award and a recipient of the National Press Club Award, he was formerly executive editor of Newsweek International. The paperback edition of his critically acclaimed book, "Pack of Thieves: How Hitler & Europe Plundered the Jews & Committed the Greatest Theft in History" is now on sale. Share on Facebook