The weekend brought more news of the utter unsuitability of David Weprin, the Democrat running for Rep. Anthony Weiner’s old seat: a decades-old court filing reveals allegations of bad parenting and “dirty politics.” Clearly this will have played some role in Weprin’s (likely) loss tomorrow. But it’s undeniable: a major problem for Weprin is that, despite being a pro-Israel Orthodox Jew running against a non-Jewish Republican in a heavily Jewish and Democratic district, he is being hurt, perhaps fatally, by President Obama’s unpopularity in the district, which is in parts of Brooklyn and Queens, in part due to Israel. A new poll yesterday confirmed one from last week that showed Bob Turner, the Republican, up six points. More specifically, 37 percent of voters said Israel was “very important” to their decision, and of these, 71 percent are supporting Turner; and meanwhile only 30 percent approve of Obama’s handling of Israel—and only 22 percent of Jews. Put these numbers together and a clear picture emerges: to those who care about Israel (and particularly to Jews who care about Israel), Obama is not pro-Israel.
Which happens to be the exact message of an ad campaign launched last night with a spot on the Times Website’s homepage (it’s there as of press, on the right side, down a little) by the GOP Emergency Committee for Israel, directing viewers to this site. I’ve praised ECI’s strategy, which is to put its chips not on Turner’s victory but on using Turner and Weprin’s shared dislike of Obama’s Israel policy to take shots at the national incumbent, and this ad is very much in that tradition (you don’t put an ad on the Times Website to influence voters in Sheepshead Bay; you do it to prompt blog posts like this one). I’ve also written that Obama’s credibility problem on Israel is mainly his fault: his politics, in reaching out to Israelis and Jews in particular, have been poor. But that doesn’t excuse the ECI site’s troubling sophistry, which begins in its opening image, which casts the friendly picture between Obama and President Abbas as evidence of an unseemly relationship—belied, of course, by the picture I have posted, taken in the last days of President Bush’s presidency.
The ECI site makes a series of claims. Let’s examine them.
• “Obama tells Jews they can’t build in Jerusalem.” ECI leads with its best shot: the Obama administration did come into office demanding a settlement freeze that extended to East Jerusalem (not all of Jerusalem), and has repeatedly chastised Israel for announcing building there at inopportune moments. This was, however, in keeping with prior commitments on Israel’s part. And it’s not as though the administration brought out any sticks when Israel kept up the East Jerusalem building. ECI also claims that the whole contretemps about listing “Jerusalem, Israel” as a place of birth on U.S. passports is another blemish on the administration, failing to note that the Bush administration is the reason U.S. passports don’t do that in the first place.
• “Obama attacks Israel at the U.N.” The “attack’ cited came after the U.S. provided a crucial veto at the U.N. protecting Israel. Actions speak louder than words on this one.
• “Obama wants to divide Israel’s capital.” As I’ve written before, this isn’t true. The May speech calling for negotiations based on the 1967 borders explicitly excluded Jerusalem from that formulation. At worst, you could accuse Obama of kicking the Jerusalem issue down the road (which I would call wise). There is no actual evidence that he wants to divide Israel, and plenty that he doesn’t.
• “Obama questions Israel’s desire for peace.” He also questions the Palestinians’ desire for peace, and flat-out rejects Hamas. Now we are getting into the area of rhetorical disagreement, but it really is not difficult to look at Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government—the most right-wing in Israel’s history—and, well, question its desire for peace.
• “Obama allows U.S. aid money to flow to terrorists.” It’s the Bush administration that first ramped up aid to the P.A. You don’t really think it was being used for completely clean purposes until Obama came to power?
• “Obama joined Arab dictators on the U.N. Human Rights Council.” This is true, and it’s true the HRC is a hotbed of anti-Israel activity even by U.N. standards. Yet this was a strategic decision to engage that, in the cases of Libya and Syria—where the normally complacent council has actually taken stands—has arguably paid off. Either way, it was not done out of a lack of care for Israel.
• “Obama pressures Israel to apologize to terrorists.” This is a reference to the 2010 Gaza-bound flotilla. Secretly ECI’s most persuasive “fact”: the administration was far too eager to see Israel and Turkey resume relations for its own purposes, even if that meant an apology where one was not warranted (according to the relevant U.N. commission). Still, the Obama administration would, I’m sure, prefer Israel merely express regret and offer compensation, and have Turkey accept that; and while the flotilla was an illegal operation sympathetic and with ties to Hamas, to simply label them “terrorists” is a stretch.
But this debate is not the one being had in New York’s ninth district. And it’s because of that—and because Obama has seemingly gone out of his way not to convince those who needed convincing of his bona fides—that that solidly Democratic district is going to go Republican this week, and may go Republican in 14 months.