Haaretz correspondent Barak Ravid reported earlier this month that an “atmosphere of permanent crisis has surrounded” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bureau since he took office: Netanyahu appears to be suffering from confusion and paranoia. He is convinced that the media are after him, that his aides are leaking information against him and that the American administration wants him out of office. Two months after his visit to Washington, he is still finding it difficult to communicate normally with the White House. To appreciate the depth of his paranoia, it is enough to hear how he refers to Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, Obama’s senior aides: as ‘self-hating Jews.’”
Ravid’s story paints a dismal picture of infighting and rancor among the Israeli premier’s aides: “Behind closed doors, Netanyahu’s coalition partners — including Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman — have also expressed shock at his behavior. One senior minister told an aide that he is finding it very difficult to work with the premier. ‘He drives us mad,’ the minister said. ‘Every minute things change, and I am constantly busy doing maintenance on Netanyahu.’”
As Netanyahu girds for a fight with the Obama administration — and its “self-hating Jews” milling about the Oval Office — numerous press outlets report that cordiality reigned during a July 13 White House meeting with President Obama and representatives of 14 Jewish groups (see JTA story on Page 3). Unlike in the Bush-Cheney years, the meeting included a more expansive spectrum of political viewpoints; specifically, leaders of J Street and Americans for Peace Now, two groups that support Israel’s political left wing.
The Forward’s Washington correspondent, Nathan Guttman, reported last week that the list of participants “was prepared by the White House in consultation with Jewish groups.”
“The participants represent a broad set of viewpoints, and no one group was excluded — or included — because of their specific positions,” Shin Inouye, director of specialty media at the White House, told the Forward.
In a page one story in this week’s Forward, Guttman notes that Jewish participants left their 45-minute meeting with Obama “glowing,” according to one participant. Despite “some misgivings regarding the tone Obama has used toward Israel, the bulk of the organized Jewish community is in full support of his peace efforts, including his demand for a complete freeze of Jewish settlements on the Israeli-occupied West Bank,” writes Guttman.
So, the predictions of calamity, vis-Ã -vis an Obama administration’s Israel policies, have not really materialized. Readers of the Jewish World’s editions last fall were warned week after week, in ads placed by the Republican Jewish Coalition, that Obama would be “reckless,” and would take counsel from a cadre of advisors who are “pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel, even hostile to America.” To refresh your memory, the RJC declared (Oct. 3, 2008): “Sen. Barack Obama has surrounded himself with individuals whose anti-Israel views are so dangerous, naÃ¯ve and reckless that it raises serious questions about his judgment.”
What seems to be happening, both within the world of self-appointed Jewish leaders and in offices of the elected president, is that Middle East observers grasp that the agency of the United States is vital in restarting substantive talks toward a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The drift of events over eight years of Bush-Cheney misrule led to a worsening situation in the region. Apart from an unpredictable situation in Iran, Palestinian hopelessness has grown, and the pace of Israel’s wars — with Hezbollah in 2006, and Hamas in 2009 — has quickened and the violence has become more costly in terms of civilian casualties. Israel’s war in Gaza seriously diminished the international reputation of the Jewish state.
There apparently was some civil contention between Obama and the representatives of the Jewish groups at the White House meeting on the issue of the U.S. publicly expressing disagreement with Israeli policies. The president, however, who is also applying pressure on the Palestinian Authority and Arab states to facilitate a peace deal, “did not back off on the issue of publicly disagreeing with Israel,” according to the Forward. “Obama made clear that he did not believe in hiding differences of opinion. He cited the past eight years of the Bush administration as evidence that no public differences does not necessarily lead to progress.”
The Forward story added that Jewish participants in the recent meeting with Obama acknowledge that the president still enjoys broad support in the Jewish community, whatever the machers might say about his Israel policies. However, “Obama’s charm has not been enough to win over the Israeli public, which is highly critical of the American president,” writes Guttman. “A recent poll found that only six percent of Israeli Jews view Obama as pro-Israel.”
This disconnect between American Jews and Israelis speaks, in part, to the fact that Jews stateside are concerned about a range of social issues; and Israel is not necessarily uppermost in the minds of many Jews.
— Mordecai Specktor / firstname.lastname@example.org
(American Jewish World, 7.24.09)