U.S.-Israel Tensions Boost Conservatives Ahead of Midterm Elections

With his support in opinion polls low, Obama's criticism of Israel has provided Republicans with ammunition.

WASHINGTON - In light of the wide range of issues that have been injected into public debate in the United States in advance of the November Congressional elections, from the economy to illegal immigration, Israel seems to be the last thing that would be worrying the voters. The rift between the Israeli government and the U.S. administration, however, has barely been bridged, and it's too good an opportunity for conservatives to pass up in their campaign against Barack Obama and Democratic candidates.

"Obviously we welcome the administration's better treatment of Israel in public, but one good meeting doesn't define a relationship," said Noah Pollak, executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, a new Washington-based conservative organization.

U.S. President Barack Obama

Pollak added: "You have to look beyond the atmospherics to the substance, and there are big concerns about the administration when it comes to Iran, the commitment to Israel in the international arena, where America has helped discourage the obsessive and one-sided treatment of Israel and in so doing strengthened the international system."

During Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's last visit, he said, "we saw an effort to improve the image of the relationship, but there is a big question about what happens after the mid-term elections. It wasn't long ago that the administration was openly questioning the very fundamentals of the US-Israel alliance. Is Obama going to tack back to that stance? And we see that the Palestinians once again are failing to negotiate in good faith with Israel. How is Obama going to handle that?"

In describing his organization, Pollak said: "This is not a Jewish group, it's a pro-Israel group - and all faiths are welcome. We are independent of other organizations, and felt that the strategy we wanted to pursue wasn't being undertaken by existing groups".

The Emergency Committee's first act was to intervene in the U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania, when in a television ad, it accused the Democratic candidate for the seat, Congressman Joe Sestak, of not supporting Israel when he called for the end of the Israeli blockade on Gaza. The left-leaning American Jewish lobby J Street quickly responded with its own commercial in support of Sestak.

"We welcome the debate over Joe Sestak's record and Obama administration policy toward Israel," said Pollak. "The Sestak campaign obviously is not so enthusiastic about this, because they've been trying to get our ad pulled off the air with legal threats."

Although this is not the first organizational effort of its kind, Obama's support in opinion polls is low at the moment and the U.S. president's criticism of Israel over the past year and a half has provided the conservatives with ammunition.

In explaining his group's aims, Pollak said: "The idea of the committee is to try to address the threats to the US-Israel relationship, to the US position in the Middle East, and to Israel. Those threats are first and foremost the Iranian nuclear program, Iran's sponsorship of terrorist organizations, the delegitimization campaign against Israel and the poor treatment of Israel by the Obama administration."