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Obama, Dems Tout Pro-Israel Bona Fides

No effort is made to challenge prevailing assumptions

Marc Tracy
July 27, 2010
Netanyahu and Obama in the Oval Office earlier this month.(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Netanyahu and Obama in the Oval Office earlier this month.(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

After a year-and-a-half during which the United States has enjoyed at best a bumpy relationship with Israel, will Jewish voters bestow the same love on Democrats running in November’s midterm elections as they did on President Obama in November 2008? To try to get a “yes” on that, Obama and House Democrats have leaked a series of talking points that purport to show that Democrats and Obama have been just as good for Israel as the previous administration—if not better!

Many have said that the notion of “support for Israel” should be redefined because, sometimes, the way for the United States to be Israel’s best friend is to criticize it; that, in the case of American backing of Israel, there is such a thing as loving not wisely, but too well. This is, broadly speaking, the J Street line: We are “pro-Israel,” it says, but part of that involves telling Israel that, say, continued settlement beyond the Green Line, combined with demographic trends, is actually bad for Israel.

Certainly you could find plenty of people to agree with that notion. But these Democratic talking points indicate that the alternate, tough-love definition of “pro-Israel” has not penetrated the broader domestic political consciousness. The Obama administration and national Democrats are still playing by the old “pro-Israel” rules, which almost certainly favor the other side. As far as the midterms are concerned, the government that supports Israel best supports it most.

Meanwhile, the newly formed Emergency Committee for Israel is working hard to make sure that Jews don’t again turn out in droves for the Democrats, as executive director Noah Pollak told Haaretz. Its attack on Senate candidate Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pennsylvania) is only the beginning. “We saw an effort to improve the image of the relationship,” Pollak said, referring to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s White House visit earlier this month, “but there is a big question about what happens after the midterm elections. It wasn’t long ago that the administration was openly questioning the very fundamentals of the U.S.-Israel alliance. Is Obama going to tack back to that stance?”

Shmuel Rosner has thoughts on the talking points, namely, that they show the Democrats are fine on Israel, but not necessarily as strong as the previous administration.

Ron Kampeas fisks them at length, and while he gives great credit to Obama on a couple subjects—including the administration’s funding of Israel’s “Iron Dome” rocket-defense system, which required millions of additional dollars, and taking a hard-line against Turkey’s recent official anti-Israel stance—for the most part, Kampeas notes that the administration’s touted “support” is really just stuff that any plausible administration, of whatever political stripe, would have done.

And yet, Kampeas makes this extremely valuable point: “Since some conservatives routinely accuse Obama of being ‘the worst president’ for Israel, ever, cross my heart, since before time, it’s worth yanking folks back into the reality that he is maintaining a broad pro-Israel protocol.” Truth.

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