In the shetlsphere today we’ll be discussing John Heilemann’s New York cover story on President Obama, Israel, and the Jews. It is a nice summation of where we are on the eve of the United Nations action, with some nice scenic overlooks involving new reporting, including about potential problems Team Obama will have with Jewish donors. Toward the end, Heilemann discusses the Jewish vote, and how it could prove important in states like Florida and Pennsylvania. Then he quotes one writer to the effect that Israel may prove the battleground the Republican presidential candidate chooses on which to mount his or her attack of Obama’s foreign policy record, and … hey … that’s me being quoted!
Heilemann cites my case that Gov. Rick Perry and other Republicans fervently and frequently proclaims his support for and love of Israel because Israel (and Iran) are where Obama is most vulnerable, national security-wise—among not only Jews but everyone. He calls this “perfect bullshit,” and just in case it’s not clear enough, I’m pretty sure—I hope!—he is referring to the Republican argument that Obama’s Israel policy reveals him to be a blame-America-first ultra-dove, and not, er, my argument that the Republicans will try to use Israel to pin that label on Obama. (Here is the post Heilemann quoted from. I also made it clear here that I consider Obama’s policies to be pro-Israel. And I interviewed Tevi Troy and Matt Duss about it.)
Heilemann’s piece surely went to press before Perry published his op-ed chastising Obama on Israel; and before Perry announced a $2500-a-head kosher fundraiser in New York; and before (yikes) Perry announced he would be holding a press conference Tuesday in New York with MK Danny Danon, the politician most closely associated with the plan to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank; and before (yikes!) Netanyahu’s people mentioned the prime minister might make a side trip to New York’s ninth congressional district, site of last week’s Israel-heavy special election. Stuff like that vindicates people like him and me, and I’d like to submit a corollary: Israel’s relevance in the United States is going to embolden the right on both sides; they are feeding off of each other at this point, and the thing is going to take on a momentum all its own.
That rumor about Netanyahu is a good segue back to the article, which contains plenty of evidence that Bibi’s chief concern is and has always been Bibi, at the expense, certainly of the U.S.-Israel special relationship and, arguably, at the expense of Israel itself. You should read the whole thing. What follows are a few things that especially caught my attention:
• Heilemann defends Obama: “His role here is not that of the callous assailant but of the caring and sober brother slapping his drunken sibling: The point is not to hurt the guy but to get him to sober up.” Americans can know what’s better for Israel than the Israeli government: this is exactly the J Street line. J Street is not mentioned in the piece. To me, that is a sign that J Street has not succeeded in making itself prominent enough to be an effective “blocking back” for Obama.
• A man named Barack Hussein Obama received four percent more of the Jewish vote than John Kerry did. That tells you that the 78 percent Jewish-vote figure was unusually inflated, likely by both the general decisiveness of Obama’s victory and the presence of Sarah Palin on the other ticket. It would be insane to expect Obama to get 78 percent again, eve if he hadn’t pissed off the Jews.
• Obama has pissed off the Jews. “The perception of Obama as harboring antipathy to Israel, they argue, makes 2012 a ripe opportunity for the right Republican to swipe a larger than usual share of Jewish votes and/or pick the Obama campaign’s pocket,” Heilemann argues. “Skeptical? I would be, too, except for one thing: the sight of the Obamans scrambling to make sure it doesn’t happen.” Hiring Ira Forman as the new director of Jewish outreach, he adds, “is a tacit acknowledgment that the White House has badly handled the continual care and feeding required to keep major donors sweet.” Heilemann is especially worth listening to here: he wrote the seminal early story about how Obama was outraising Hillary Clinton.
• “Within the Republican donor class, Romney is the strong favorite.” Makes sense.
• “Regarding the call for a settlement freeze, the Obamans defend the decision without a trace of apology.” That is disturbing. The settlements are illegal and an obstacle to peace; they also weren’t the prime problem, and from a pragmatic perspective, were exactly the wrong thing to bring up.
• A crucial line from former chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel, one of the few former Obama officials to go on the record (which tells you he also helped shape the story): “We had an obligation—and this is where we deserve a yellow card—to explain what we were doing with the Palestinians or Arabs, to put more air in the tires on that side. Not tone down what we said on settlements, but work harder so there was more recognition of the parity that existed with the Arab violations.” It’s a great point, except I believe he means that they deserved a ten-yard penalty, because we do not make soccer metaphors in this country.
• Obama should have gone to Israel when he was in Cairo. “‘We made a mistake,’ admits one senior administration foreign-policy adviser. ‘Nobody thought of it as a big deal at the time, but, I mean, you’re in the neighborhood, you’re right down the street, and you don’t stop by for coffee?’” We already knew this, of course. But now the Obama people know it. It may, however, be too late for them.