Jewish Journal

Divisions on Obama May Actually Mask Different Perceptions of His Predecessor

by Dr. Michael Berenbaum

April 30, 2010 | 2:58 pm

There is a growing division within the Jewish community regarding President Obama. More than three out of four American Jews voted for Obama [78%] and a higher percentage of Jews continue to support the President, than any other American ethnic group save for the African-American community. Yet if we read the barrage of criticism against the President and his administration – the US-Israel relationship is in crisis, our policy toward Iran is appeasement, the President is a closet Moslem – one would imagine that support for Obama would be in single digits, mirroring the sloppy poll since discredited that hade but 6% of Israelis support Obama.

American Jewish support for Obama developed and has been sustained despite a daily barrage of attacks against Obama by the right wing in the United States and by many Israeli columnists, journalists and political figures. The best that is being said is that the young American president in naïve; worse, much worse, has become common place in the Israeli and American press and Israeli and American Jewish political discourse.

Some commentary has been racist. Much more of what I read is intellectually condescending to a man who after all is manifestly intelligent even without his Harvard and Columbia pedigree. And some seek to scold him as if Israel’s leadership has been an unquestioned bastion of wisdom and competence and as if the former Prime Minister and former President and former Mayor of Jerusalem were not under criminal indictment; as if Israel’s Foreign policy intentions were clear and disciplined and its domestic policy coherent. Whatever its intent, it alienates many American Jews.

If Israel and the American Jewish right and their loudest supporters yearn for George W. Bush or even John McCain, it is they who are being naïve.

Regarding Israel, there is no doubt that George W. Bush was a loyal friend of Israel. That is not subject to dispute, but one cannot help but wonder if eight years of such friendship left Israel more secure, improved its standing in the world, and reduced the threats to its security.

When the 43rd President left office, the United States was in a free fall economically with no bottom in site. The economic policies that had dominated the Bush Administration – the Milton Friedman School that left economic policy to the free unregulated marketplace, and supply side economics, e.g., lower taxes would yield increased government revenues – had led to an economic crisis, which was only addressed by a dramatic change of ideology and policy. It was clear that the previous Administration had run out of ideas and the President and the Republican Presidential Candidate were like deers caught in the headlights, frozen by crisis. President Bush disappeared, would be President McCain grandstanded.

One does not know the extent to which the economic policies of the Obama administration will lead America into a robust rather than a sluggish recovery, but given the behavior of the Stock Market, the end of the massive job loss, the all too slow but still positive growth in jobs, the healthy growth in the GDP and the generally accepted notion among economists that the economic stimulus has at least brought economic stability, the real political issue for President Obama and the Democrats is going to be all about jobs.

There was a deep sense as the 43rd President left office that the American century had ended and that other powers would share, if not dominate leadership in the 21st century. The decline of American power – economic or military – and with it the decline of American Jewish power—is not in Israel’s best interests. Newsweek’s cover story last month “America is back!”

On the international front: the United States entered a war on faulty intelligence and it conducted two wars for six and five long years with manifest and now universally acknowledged incompetence. Only in late 2006 when some of the architects of the war were gone was the way in which the war in Iraq was conducted, changed.

We know that the security of the Bush-Israel tie enabled Israel’s Prime Minister Omert and the Israeli government to initiate two wars with uncertain planning, indeterminate conduct and consequences. We also know that an energy policy that is based on “drill baby drill” only enriched forces hostile to the United States and Israel.

American Jews and supporters of Israel have no more at stake in the global warming issue than all other Americans—and all other denizens of the world—but Jews have the deepest of interest in energy conservation and the development of alternative energy sources. Our expenditures on energy enrich America’s enemies and embolden Israel’s enemies. They shift the global balance of power. And for eight years we had no energy policy. Remember Jimmy Carter’s admonition, energy is the moral equivalent of war was replaced by Ronald Reagan’s “morning in America” and the energy issue was pushed to the back burner. Regarding Carter, even a broken clock is correct twice a day. He was right and we have lost 30 years on the energy front.

Two things are clear: the war in Iraq has empowered Iran. 

The quest for Democracy, the secondary justification for the Iraq war, so heavily influenced by a genuine Jewish hero Natan Sharansky, led to the Bush administration’s insistence on Palestinian elections, despite objections from Israel and Fatah. The result brought Hamas to power and thus only further empowered and emboldened Iran.

The policy of non-negotiation with Iran did not curtail its nuclear ambitions. The new policy of negotiation has also failed but its failure has impacted on world opinion and change public perception regarding an appropriate response to Iranian nuclear development.

None of this need be construed as cheerleading for current American Foreign Policy but one thing is certain the vehemence of the attacks from Israel and from the American Jewish right, the accusations of naïveté and the undisguised yearning for Bush and McCain endanger support for Israel.. The more support for Israel appears as a partisan issue in the highly partisan atmosphere of American politics, the more it alienates many American Jews, most especially our young.

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A blog by Dr. Michael Berenbaum.

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