Obama - AFP - 8.6.11
U.S. President Barack Obama Photo by AFP
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WASHINGTON - Is President Barack Obama's relationship with the American Jewish community in crisis? It depends on whom you ask.

For Jewish Democrats, the presence of some 80 Jewish business people at a fund-raising event that Obama held this week in Washington's Mandarin Oriental Hotel - at a cost of between $25,000 and $35,000 a ticket - indicates that Republican propaganda against the president on this issue has failed.

Many have cited Israeli-American media mogul Haim Saban's announcement that he would not contribute to Obama because of his stance on Israel as a sign of shifting winds. But most U.S. Jews don't see Obama as an anti-Israel president, said one of the event's organizers, National Jewish Democratic Council chairman Marc Stanley.

"I couldn't understand why Haim Saban is news," he said. "Saban did not give to Obama's campaign in 2008. But that does not mean Haim Saban has an issue with the president on Israel. In fact, he went on the record to The Washington Post to say that President Obama wasn't anti-Israel and that using Israel as a wedge issue is wrong."

All the same, in Republican eyes, the fact that Obama needed to convince his Jewish voters that he does indeed support Israel is enough to show that he is in trouble, even if this particular event was sold out.

Obama's critics noted the statement put out this week by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which came out against the administration's decision not to allow Jonathan Pollard out of jail to attend his father's funeral. Pollard was arrested in 1985 and is serving a life sentence in the U.S. for spying on Israel's behalf.

"We believe that this humanitarian gesture was warranted," wrote the organization's chairman, Richard Stone, and its executive vice chairman, Malcolm Hoenlein. "It underscores the need for prompt action to release Jonathan Pollard after 25 years of imprisonment."

At the fund-raising evening, held for a group of Democratic donors called Americans in Support of a Strong U.S.-Israel Relationship, Obama spoke about the economic challenges facing the U.S. and about the situation in Afghanistan. But most of his comments focused on the Middle East and its recent pro-democracy revolutions, which he compared to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Obama said his most important message was that the United States and Israel "will always be stalwart allies and friends." He said the bond between the countries is unbreakable, and that Israel's security will always be a key consideration in American foreign policy, because that is the right thing to do. Israel, he added, is America's most loyal ally and friend.

Yet the president also warned that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict needs a fresh approach, since otherwise, the results will be no different than before. "There may be tactical disagreements" about how to resolve this conflict, he said, but everyone shares the goal of achieving peace and making sure children can go to bed at night without worrying about being hit by missiles.

"But it's going to require some hard work," Obama said. "And it's going to require that not only this administration employs all of its creative powers to try to bring about peace in the region, but it's also going to require all of you as engaged citizens of the United States who are friends of Israel making sure that you are giving us suggestions, you are in an honest dialogue with us, that you're helping to shape how both Americans and Israelis think about the opportunities and challenges."

Representatives of the Quartet (comprising the U.S., European Union, UN and Russia ) will meet in Brussels on Friday to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The only way to move forward is by returning to the negotiating table in a bid to reach a two-state solution, a senior U.S. State Department official told reporters yesterday.