Civil Fights: Listen to the Left

Jul. 22, 2009

Too many articles lambasting the continued Jewish support for US President 
Barack Obama have overlooked a crucial point: Many American Jews agree with his 
positions on Israel. Like him, they think Israel should completely freeze the 
settlements, withdraw to the 1967 lines and divide Jerusalem, and that peace 
would break out if only it did so. None of these views are shared by a majority 
of Israelis. But as long as American Jews hold them, expecting them to echo 
mainstream Israeli concerns over these policies is delusional. 

What is genuinely puzzling, however, is why Obama supporters appear equally 
deaf to the anguished cries of Israel's left, which has long advocated 
precisely these policies. When the editorial staff of Haaretz, a bastion of 
Israel's hard left, pens three opinion pieces criticizing Obama in the space of 
10 days, it ought to be clear even to left-of-center American Jews that Obama 
has an Israel problem. 

THE FIRST, by veteran diplomatic correspondent and columnist Aluf Benn, 
appeared on July 10. Titled "The left went to the beach," it sought to explain 
why Israeli leftists, who vocally supported previous American demands for a 
settlement freeze, have not rallied behind Obama's. Not only have there been no 
demonstrations, but at a Knesset debate in early July, he noted, not a single 
MK urged compliance with Obama's demand. 

One reason, Benn posited, is that Obama never tried "to communicate with the 
Israeli public." He "spoke to Arabs and Muslims, but not Israelis. His neglect 
increased Israelis' fears that we do not have a friend in the White House." 

This impression was bolstered by "the administration's pathetic attempt to deny 
the existence of understandings on settlement construction" between Obama's 
predecessor and Israel: "It was possible to accuse Israel of violating its 
promises, or to say that the policy had changed and explain why, but not to 

Additionally, "Obama obtained nothing from the Palestinians and the Arab states 
in exchange, and his insistence on a settlement freeze only encouraged 
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in his refusal to negotiate with 
[Binyamin] Netanyahu. Under these circumstances, it is hard for the Israeli 
left to blame the government for ruining the chances for peace." 

Finally, "the more time passes, the more it appears that the demand to freeze 
settlement construction was meant to demonstrate a distancing from Israel." 
Obama has turned a settlement freeze "into a matter of honor," and "when the 
argument is about who is stronger instead of the real issue, anyone who urges 
Netanyahu to give in to Obama will be accused of being unpatriotic. And the 
Israeli left does not want to be backed into that corner." 

Thus after six months in office, Obama has made even Israeli leftists, who 
enthusiastically supported his election, doubt his friendship with Israel, 
rendering them unable to support his policies without appearing unpatriotic. 

And, equally grave, he has actually undermined the peace process by encouraging 
Abbas's refusal to negotiate. 

A week later, Haaretz devoted its editorial to the Obama problem. Titled "Speak 
to us, too," it began by slamming Netanyahu for "entering into an unnecessary 
and harmful conflict" with Obama's administration and "rejecting Obama's 
essential desire" to bring peace. Obama's presidency, it asserted, has created 
"a unique opportunity" for peacemaking that "it would be a shame to miss." 

But then came the punch line: "Now, the US administration must convince the 
Israeli public that it has a friend in the White House, and that the 
administration's positions correspond with Israel's national interests. After 
talking to the Arabs, Muslims and Iranians, in speeches and on television, it 
is only right that Obama also address the Israeli public." 

Again, the message was clear: Even Israel's left wants convincing that Obama 
will not sacrifice Israel's interests. 

THEN, LAST Friday, star columnist Yoel Marcus chimed in. For all Obama's 
goodwill, he wrote, "there is something naive, not to say infuriating, about 
his policy of dialogue and about the whistle stops he has chosen in his travels 
regarding our issue. He spoke in Turkey, he spoke in Egypt, he appeared before 
students in Saudi Arabia, Paris, England, Ghana and Australia. 

Even there the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was mentioned... The only place he 
hasn't been is Israel. He has spoken about us, but not to us." 

Moreover, Obama "is behaving as though everything starts and ends with the 
question of whether Israel will or will not freeze construction in the 
settlements," completely ignoring such crucial details as that the Oslo Accords 
resulted in waves of suicide bombers and the Gaza pullout in daily rocket 
attacks. His "obscuring of the fact that the Palestinians have not managed to 
overcome their passions and be worthy partners for a peace agreement" is 

Finally, while "Obama assumed he did a great thing when he spoke in Cairo about 
the Jewish people's suffering in the Holocaust," the "implied distortion: that 
we deserve a state because of the Holocaust" is "infuriating." 

"As a leader who aspires to solve the problems of the world through dialogue," 
Marcus concluded, "we expect him to come to Israel and declare here 
courageously, before the entire world, that our connection to this land began 
long before the Israeli-Arab conflict and the Holocaust, and that 4,000 years 
ago, Jews already stood on the ground where he now stands." 

In short, Obama is placing the onus entirely on Israel, thus absolving the 
Palestinians of any need to amend their behavior. 

Moreover, by basing Israel's claim to statehood on the Holocaust rather than 
the Jews' historic connection to this land, he has fed the Arab fantasy that 
Jews are colonialist interlopers with no right to be here, and that the 
Palestinians are being sacrificed to atone for European misdeeds - thereby 
fostering Arab intransigence and unwillingness to end the conflict. 

When even the hard-core leftists of Haaretz's editorial board feel that a) 
Obama seems hostile to Israel and b) his policies actually undermine the peace 
process, his American Jewish supporters ought to take note. 

Because no matter how sincerely Obama wants peace, a president who has lost 
even Israel's hard left has no chance of delivering it. 

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