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Post-Loss, Pre-Holidays, Admin. Sells Itself

VP playing major role in effort to shore up Jewish Democrats

Marc Tracy
September 15, 2011
Biden has his boss’s back.(Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Biden has his boss’s back.(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Tuesday’s special election defeat is being chalked up in part to President Obama’s weakened popularity among Jewish voters, due to his perceived shakiness on Israel. The loser, David Weprin, admitted as much. Writing today in Tablet Magazine, Ben Jacobs found as much on the ground. The New York Times cites Rep. Eliot Engel, Democrat of New York, who argues that Obama too frequently blames Israel and the Palestinians equally. And perhaps the best indication that the administration has an Israel problem with the Jews is that it thinks it does, as indicated by several efforts to solve it.

Even last week, the National Jewish Democratic Council had started an outreach effort to Jewish-American supporters to spread the good word. Activists and the like met with Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, as well as Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman and a Jew. (Wasserman Schultz was part of a post-election spin call with reporters yesterday, along with Sen. Chuck Schumer.) The administration’s main pitchman is actually turning out to be Joe Biden, which, Ron Kampeas notes, “underscored the president’s problem: The vice president has the better reputation on Israel.” The NJDC also touted Prime Minister Netanyahu’s praise for Obama’s important intervention in the embassy riot last weekend.

The time is ripe for this pushback because of the upcoming activity at the United Nations—where, among other things, the administration has expended real international political capital to pledge a veto of a Palestinian resolution in the Security Council. It’s also a crucial moment because the High Holidays, when Jews around the land gather in synagogues to listen to their rabbis lecture them about Israel, are right around the corner.

Also, the adminstration’s support for Israel is featured prominently on AttackWatch, a new campaign Website designed to rebut Republican talking points. It contains some complimentary words from Defense Minister Barak and President Peres. Conspicuously absent, however, is any praise from Netanyahu, and the quote from former Defense Secretary Robert Gates rings slightly hollow in light of contributing editor Jeff Goldberg’s scoop that Gates considered Israel an “ungrateful” ally. Still, Obama’s speech to AIPAC, linked to on the site, contains some useful boilerplate: “The bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable and the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel is ironclad.” Expect the administration to play up its military cooperation with the Jewish state, which by many accounts has been unprecedently robust.

Want a rebuttal to the rebuttal? Dan Senor, a former Bush administration adviser, argues that Obama’s problem is political because it is also substantial: he has explicitly sought to put daylight between his country and Israel, Senor argues, and has condemned settlements with unjustified harshness. Yet many of his charges seem strained. Obama’s Arab Spring speech “focused on a demand that Israel return to its indefensible pre-1967 borders with land swaps”? That wasn’t the speech’s focus; it wasn’t a demand; and the land swaps are what are supposed to make the borders defensible. Ah, I’ll save the argument for after the sermon.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.