A Trifecta of Jewish Fears on Obama and Iran
Call it the Trifecta of American Jewish Fears.
President Obama’s campaign to pressure American Jewish leaders to go along with his Iran deal seeks to exploit Jewish fears of seeming to be war-mongers, of seeming to be against the president of the United States, and Jewish fears of seeming to oppose a black president. Is the Obama team’s psychoanalysis correct?
In the immediate aftermath of the Israeli election results, one will recall, the White House went ballistic. On the record and off the record, White House officials blasted Prime Minister Netanyahu for the sin of winning and threatened to punish Israel’s voters by abandoning Israel at the United Nations. President Obama even announced that he was “reassessing” U.S.-Israel relations. He didn’t say what that meant, but he meant it to sound ominous.
Then, after a week of sputter and bluster, the Obama Administration suddenly changed its tune. All the finger-pointing and hostile leaking suddenly stopped.
According to the Wall Street Journal, “a group of Jewish Democratic House members met with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough in his office last week” and warned that for them to help “sell a very unpopular [Iran nuclear] deal to our constituents,” President Obama must “increase his popularity with our constituents,” the Journal quoted one Democratic congressman as saying.
The Jewish Democratic lawmakers told McDonough that the president should “soften his tone” toward Prime Minister Netanyahu and avoid “getting into a daily argument with” him, one participant told the Journal. Congresswoman Nita Lowey said, “I conveyed directly to the White House that it’s time to dial back the temperature and affirm and strengthen the U.S.-Israeli relationship.”
Pennsylvania Democratic fundraiser Alan Kessler was quoted by the Journal as saying that Republican Senator Pat Toomey might have an advantage in his re-election race because he is “a steadfast supporter of Israel.” Kessler didn’t say – but everyone knows – that his likely Democratic opponent’s ties to the Muslim extremist group CAIR will also be a factor.
And Leonard Barrack, another longtime Democratic fundraiser, told the Journal that “many fellow Democrats of the Jewish faith were appalled” that some Democratic congressmen did not show Prime Minister Netanyahu “the respect and courtesy of being in the audience.”
The Democrat congressmembers who met with McDonough have to run for re-election. Obama does not. So they leaned on the President to take a different approach. And that’s what he’s doing.
In an interview with the New York Times, Obama launched this new “charm offensive,” hitting the key points he will be using to try to intimidate American Jews into supporting, or at least not opposing, the Iran surrender:
Argument #1: “It’s either this or war.”
That plays to the old Jewish fear, going all the way back to at least the days of Charles Lindbergh, of being accused of “war-mongering.”
Argument #2: “You’re hurting me personally.”
When Obama spoke to the Times about his discomfort at Jewish criticism, interviewer Thomas Friedman, almost as if he were speaking on cue, asked, “You mean you take it personally?” To which the president responded, “It has been personally difficult for me to hear…expressions that somehow…this administration has not done everything it could to look out for Israel’s interest.” Get it? If you doubt Obama, you’re hurting him personally. That plays to Jewish fears of being seen as caring more about themselves than about the president of the United States.
Argument #3: “I’m an African-American President.”
Of course, President Obama didn’t actually say those words. He didn’t have to. He did just as much during his campaign against Netanyahu speaking to Congress, when he held a 90-minute meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who then emerged to declare that the controversy was really “about President Barack Obama being a black man disrespected by a foreign leader.” There’s nothing that scares American Jews more than the fear of being called racist. Having already played that card, the Administration knows it’s still out there, on the table. Nobody has forgotten it.
President Obama and his advisers are playing an interesting and sophisticated game. They think they understand the American Jewish psyche and can manipulate the Jewish community to back down on Iran. This crisis is thus a test for American Jewish leaders. Will they be cowed into silence by their old fears and insecurities? Or can they rise up and do the right thing?
Moshe Phillips is president and Benyamin Korn is chairman of the Religious Zionists of Philadelphia, and both are current candidates on the Religious Zionist slate (www.VoteTorah.org) in the World Zionist Congress elections.