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May 19, 2011 9:57 am

The Battle for America’s Jews: Bibi vs. Obama

avatar by Dovid Efune

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Candidate Obama affectionately greets AIPAC President Lee Rosenberg, at the 2008 policy conference.

Currently there does not seem to be any indication that Netanyahu and Obama will cross swords during the upcoming Middle East policy fiesta in Washington D.C. beginning at the end of this week. The flurry of activity will include an Obama speech at the State Department, meetings between regional leaders and a Netanyahu address to congress and also an appearance by both leaders at the annual AIPAC conference.

As yet, White House officials have indicated that Obama’s speech on Thursday will focus on the president’s willingness to fight terror, and the American commitment to assist embryonic democracies in the Middle East.  An aggressive push towards peacemaking is unlikely at this point, as evidenced by the recent resignation of the administration’s chief regional diplomat George Mitchell. For his part Netanyahu presented to the Knesset on Monday a taste of what would be on his agenda in Washington, but, as expressed by Israeli Minister Gilad Erdan at a recent private meeting of Jewish leaders in New York, “there will be little said that hasn’t been said before.”

Initially, many saw the climate of incessant political maneuvering and storied one-upmanship as an indication that Bibi and Obama were competing to set the tone of the future Middle East agenda. Unless we are in for a surprise, it now looks likely that there will be more back slapping than gritting of teeth. So what exactly was Obama’s purpose here, why the insistence on preempting each of Bibi’s major appearances with one of his own? There are many that would have doubted not so long ago that a White House incumbent who had yet to visit Israel would become the third sitting president in history to address AIPAC.

It seems however that this is by no means a Foreign policy matter as many have assumed, but rather the issue at hand is domestic. What is unfolding before our eyes is nothing less than a battle for the allegiance and loyalty of America’s Jews. Triumphantly brandishing the Bin Laden trophy, Obama is moving to sweep Netanyahu’s thunder from right under his feet.

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The solid support of America’s Zionist Jews is a treasured feather in the hat for any politician, and Obama is fully aware of its value. Whilst initially the administration sought the assistance of JStreet in securing the Jewish audience, even bringing them to the table at its first meeting with Jewish leaders in 2009, they have quickly realized how discredited and marginal JStreet is, and that the road to the bulk of American Jewish hearts is AIPAC.

As expressed by his initial willingness to engage Iran in dialogue, the President is quite comfortable with grabbing the bull by its horns or stepping into the lion’s den. At AIPAC he will speak in swoon worthy terms of the unique relationship that he has cultivated between America and Israel. He will affectionately greet his old buddy AIPAC’s president Lee Rosenberg, will list his anti-terrorism credentials, and he may even announce plans to visit Israel within the next year. What could Bibi do or say that would top that?

Of course this war is also being waged over congressional influence, where the bulk of AIPAC’s work is focused. Netanyahu knows that he can rely on congress to hold the president to task in pivotal moments, maintain focus on Iran and fight for the cessation of illegal aid to the Hamas-Fatah partnership. Obama’s aim is to show congress that he is also engaged in mutual dialogue with the Jewish community, and to soften the inseparable bond between American Jews and their friends in congress, by positioning himself as a reliable alternative.

The Administration however, has by no means changed its tune, and we can duly expect to see the exertion of relentless pressure on the Israelis sometime in the future. As Steve Rosen director of the Middle East Forum’s Washington Project confirmed to the JTA, pressure to advance peace is likely to emerge around August, on the eve of the U.N. General Assembly.

The main and ongoing point of contention will be how proceed on Israeli affairs. While the White House may want to push for reconciliation with Hamas, and further significant Israeli concessions, Netanyahu is fully aware that the Peace Process as a viable and safe path for his country’s future is a downright fallacy.

Netanyahu’s recourse in a clear and uncompromising fashion is to continuously speak truth to power, pointing out these three essential points. 1. The disparity between the way the world dealt with Osama Bin Laden, and the way Israel is expected to deal with its terrorists. 2. As pointed out by Brett Stephens in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, the Palestinian Arabs want nothing less than the destruction of the entire state of Israel and thus any territorial concession is mortally dangerous. (Mahmoud Abbas confirmed this on Tuesday in a NYTimes editorial where he wrote that the establishment of a Palestinian State through the UN would be a starting point for negotiations with Israel.) 3. As Iranian regional influence grows along with its nuclear program, and it capitalizes on Middle East instability; Israel faces an ongoing existential struggle.

As for AIPAC leadership and the rank and file that gather in Washington, they must not be fooled by the White House bluster, and insist that the administration will be judged based on its actions and not its words. With Israel facing increased international isolation, American Jewry must work to hold the country to the path of truth and justice. They must always keep in mind, that AIPAC was established to bring Americans closer to Israel, and not the other way round.

The author is the director of the Algemeiner Journal and the GJCF and can be e-mailed at defune@gjcf.com.

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  • shmuel

    I have noticed there is a continuous objection to establishing a Palestinian state in hope for a lasting peace.

    The Israelis need to search for a method that will bring about a lasting peace for their own self interest.

    The current one state solution is definitely not viable,as Israel will never have lasting peace when half the amount of the populous are refugees with no rights. Terrorism will just increase in the struggle for self determination as seen in many other countries around the world where a certain part of the population were not awarded certain basic rights,eg. the right to vote.
    Terrorism increased until ultimately they achieved self determination.

    While not disagreeing with the Author’s concerns and stance regarding the current negotiations surrounding the 2 state solution.

    The real difficult issue that needs to be dealt with is, not ‘ what are the problems with the current negotiations’ but ‘What is the SOLUTION that will bring about peace in Israel?’

  • Flora

    I understand Israel acting in its own self interest but I object to the damage its approach causes to the US overall, both in terms of finances, reputation, and highlighting the US as a target for Islamic extremists. Israel has a perfect right to exist. I say go for it, the Almighty chose the Jews and Israel is a delightful country with wonderful people,, but I do not recall the Bible saying that America had to sponsor the whole thing. Why not use the a country that can apparently afford it: how about lobbying the Chinese, and forming CIPAC? Or the South Koreans and SKIPAC?

  • Chaim F

    rather than attempt to influence Obama and American Jewry with arguments as presented in David’s article, Bibi has to act in the interests of Israel alone. He has no obligation to cater to the demands of Obama or anyone else. His only responsiblity is to secure true peace for Jews in Israel. This can be done by repudiating Land for Peace, acknowledging that the PA/PLO is a terror organization equivalent to Hamas and allowing the military to establish and to execute its objectives without fear of political interference (which has historically and consistently been the case in Israel’s 63 year old history).

  • Marlene

    Don’t trust Obama
    Don’t trust the Palestinians

    Bibi must stand firm for his G-d, the land of Israel (Covenantal land given to the Children of Israel by the one true Living G-d of Israel) and the people of Irael.

    Have faith and trust for HE will be with ISRAEL FOREVER!

    • Chaim F

      marlene is right but the Almiighty expects and demands that we exercise our Free Choice, His great gift to us. Isreal must act and not sit passively waiting for salvation.

  • Sarah M.

    Excellent article Dave!!! Exactly what I was thinking!!

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