In an overtly self-deprecating comment last week during a meeting with Jewish congressmen, U.S. President Barack Obama said he had stepped on a few mines as he took his first steps in the Middle East. The delegation left the White House assuaged, feeling perhaps that a president who has been hurt by mines would be wary of much bigger bombs. It appears that the Obama administration has realized that it will not succeed where its predecessors have failed. If no peace with the Arabs emerges from the president's initiative, why should he fight with the Jews? When Republicans are threatening to take over the House of Representatives in six months, it's not so bad if the Israeli occupation continues for another 43 years.
Obama's efforts to woo Jewish politicians are like our secular politicians who make a pilgrimage to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. The meeting with the congressmen was preceded by one with Elie Wiesel - his dinner with the president after the Nobel peace laureate called on the administration to remove Jerusalem from the negotiations. Also, two senior members of the National Security Council at the White House were sent to calm the leadership of the Anti-Defamation League. And White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel held private talks with a group of concerned rabbis. All went home pleased; they were promised that Obama would not pressure Benjamin Netanyahu's government to give back land. In simpler words: They don't want peace; there is no need for it.
It's possible that Obama's withdrawal from his vision of peace ("when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims .... It is time for these settlements to stop .... T he continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security," Cairo address, June 4, 2009 ) will open the purses of a handful of Jewish donors to his party. However, it's not at all certain that a business-as-usual approach toward a right-wing government in Israel will improve Obama's lot among Jewish voters . The vast majority of them are not interested in the ethnic origin of their congressmen. Very few know the names of the Jewish congressmen who are being presented to them by Obama and his aides.
In his flight out of the Middle Eastern minefield, the U.S. president stepped on a homemade mine. He failed to address the steady weakening of the link between the Jewish community in the United States and the Jewish community in Israel. The vast majority (78 percent ) of Jewish voters voted for Obama and Democratic candidates for Congress. Peter Beinart, who comes from an Orthodox Jewish family, describes in the New York Review of Books the growing alienation of American Jews from the Zionist idea. These are mostly the young ones.
Beinart, an associate professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York, writes that particularly "in the younger generations, fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals are Zionists; fewer and fewer American Jewish Zionists are liberal." Beinart notes that in 2008 the student senate at Brandeis University (where half the students and most donors are Jewish ) rejected the idea of commemorating the 60th anniversary of Israel's independence.
Obama's Jewish camp is not buying the message of the poor weakling that the right wing is selling with some success in the local market. A Jewish student at Princeton feels greater affinity to his Muslim classmates than to Effi Eitam, Netanyahu's public-relations messenger to U.S. university campuses who is calling for the eviction of Arab MKs from the Knesset. A Jewish lawyer in Los Angeles doesn't see which justice serves as the basis for throwing a Palestinian family, refugees from the Jerusalem neighborhood of Katamon, out of their home in Sheikh Jarrah, only to put in their place settlers from the extreme right. The Jewish lecturer in Boston finds it hard to explain to his children why Israelis prevented his colleague, Prof. Noam Chomsky, from speaking at Bir Zeit University.
Unfortunately, Obama's mine is our bomb; over the years, U.S. Jewry has become one of the Zionist movement's most strategic assets.
This influential community's link to the historic homeland and its influence on centers of power in the United States is one of the cornerstones of Israel's deterrence. The damage caused by the Netanyahu government to this core support of American Jews is no better than the threat of a nuclear Iran.
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