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Is Obama Vulnerable on the Israel Issue?

New ad campaign, pegged to special N.Y. election, suggests he is

Marc Tracy
September 02, 2011
President Obama earlier this week.(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
President Obama earlier this week.(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

If Rep. Anthony Weiner’s Democratic-leaning seat goes to Republican Bob Turner rather than Democrat David Weprin on September 13, as a new poll shows it may, the lesson won’t actually be that Jewish Democrats are turning on President Obama. After all, Weprin himself has gone out of his way to criticize Obama’s Israel policies. And Weprin is a poor enough politician—earlier this week, he skipped a debate with Turner—that his own incompetence would be the obvious culprit in his loss.

However, what the Weprin-Turner race is demonstrating is the wider resonance of the Obama administration’s political vulnerability on the Mideast issue, which could see non-Jews turn on the president in 2012 for being too hard on Israel. A case in point is this new video from the Emergency Committee for Israel, the Republican Jewish group that is happy to cast the yarmulke-clad Democrat Weprin (frozen, below) as a friend to Israel because it makes Obama seem that much more out-of-touch:

The video, reports Ben Smith, is part of a six-figure campaign in New York. But don’t let that fool you: newspaper ads in the Hamptons, a YouTube, and the like aren’t designed primarily to get a few Jews in various corners of Queens and Brooklyn to vote for Bob Turner; they’re designed to affect Jewish money and organizational talent, as well as to start a conversation in the country’s media capital about how Obama is not even in line with his own party when it comes to Israel. As I’ve written, this is where the eventual Republican nominee—whether it’s Perry, who talks Israel non-stop (and can back up that talk); Bachmann, who touts her time on a kibbutz; or Romney, who just happened to stop by an AIPAC confab in Florida last night—will gain traction on Obama, and where they will be able to accuse Obama of not standing up for America’s friends or against its enemies: the same story that every national Republican candidate in the past four decades has tried to tell about his or her opponent.

Oh, and as for the line, “Obama: a uniter not a divider—except of Jerusalem”? In his controversial May speech in which he cited the “1967 borders,” Obama specifically emphasized that those territorial negotiations would leave “the future of Jerusalem” unresolved; as Tablet Magazine contributing editor David Samuels wrote at the time, “Essentially, what Obama is proposing is an arrangement in which Israelis and Palestinians negotiate a map from which Jerusalem is excluded.” I’m not saying you couldn’t argue that Obama’s policies now aren’t endangering the future status of Jerusalem; but the guy has left himself some plausible deniability when it comes to whether he’ll be the one to divide it. As for whether Obama is “not pro-Israel”—that will be up to the voters. All voters.

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