Israel as a partisan issue

It may be noteworthy that for many liberal and moderate Jews, the safety and security of Israel is not as important as a single issue in this campaign, accusations that Obama has neglected Israel to the contrary.

“Overwhelmingly, today we will say the economy is the priority,” said Smason of Nusach Hari B’nai Zion. “Israel will not be in the top three.”

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However, some observers, like Nancy Lisker, regional director of AJC’s St. Louis office, bemoan the fact that Israel has become a divisive wedge issue — a political football — in this particular presidential election.

She, like many, believes Israel deserves and has long had bipartisan support generally from Democrats and Republicans, as well as independents.

Differences may arise over specific policies, such as expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, but in previous campaigns these have been muted in favor of an overall two-party support for the existence and protection of the state.

This year clearly is different, with Republicans and conservatives — some of them Jewish — strongly, repeatedly and loudly attacking the Obama administration for not being fully supportive of the Likud government of Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu.

For example, Morton Klein, president of the 115-year-old Zionist Organization of America, with 30,000 members nationally, called Obama “the least supportive of Israel of any president.”

He ticked off a list of issues he said proves his point: Obama’s frosty relations with Netanyahu; Obama’s comments during a White House meeting with Jewish leaders that characterized Israeli leaders as less willing to make peace than the Palestinians; Obama’s restraint of Netanyahu regarding attacks on Iran as it continues its quest to develop nuclear weapons, and Obama’s weakening of international sanctions against Iran.

Non-partisan press accounts, by the way, do not confirm Klein’s view that the Obama White House has been less supportive of Israel than any other since President Harry S Truman recognized the state in 1948.

These accounts generally say that U.S. support of Israel, in terms of military weapons, strategic consultations and intelligence sharing, is more intense than ever. It is far, far better than in 1967, for instance, when the Johnson administration told the Israelis that if Israel struck the Arab states first in what became known as the Six-Day War – arguably Israel’s greatest existential threat since independence—they were on their own.

J Street, the non-partisan and avowedly left-of-center pro-Israel organization in Washington, clearly has a different assessment of the Obama administration’s record vis-à-vis Israel and its security needs.

“Obama has been very strong on Israel and in favor of a two-state solution,” said Jessica Rosenblum, spokesperson for J Street. “He has met nine times with Netanyahu.” She added that, like others interviewed for this story, she is “concerned about how Israel has been turned into a partisan issue.”

“We are deeply concerned about that,” Rosenblum said. “Israel has had long-standing bipartisan support.”

She said J Street, which was founded several years to be a liberal alternative to such influential groups as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), also supports the Obama administration’s policy regarding sanctions on Iran.

“We favor the go-slow approach,” Rosenblum said. “Sanctions need time to work, and they are.”

But Klein, of ZOA, argued that calling for a “two-state solution” is a loaded term that implies that Israel is not yet a state and will not be one until the state of Palestine is created alongside it.

Furthermore, Klein said, “now Jews have become aware that Palestinians do not want peace with Israel.”

“I speak to Jewish groups all over [the United States],” Klein said. “People used to be shocked when I talked against the creation of a Palestinian state. Then I remind them that the Palestinians have turned down two offers from Israel to have a Palestinian state: once when Ehud Barak was prime minister and again when Ehud Olmert was prime minister.”