If senior journalist David Goldman is right, the correct word for describing the way a growing number of US Jews feel about President Barack Obama is not ‘anger’ but ‘rage’ – white-hot rage, at that, and a conviction that they have been swindled.
Goldman, Senior Editor of First Things magazine and ‘Spengler’ columnist for Asia Times Online, spoke last week at a convention on intellectuals and terror at Ariel University in Samaria. In his lecture, he quoted a top Jewish campaign donor who used the word ‘sociopath’ to describe Obama. In an interview with Israel National News, he predicted a possibly dramatic ‘train wreck’ for the Democrats in the November mid-term elections, with Jewish fundraising for Democrats drying up and a possibly high turnout of anti-Obama evangelical Christians.
INN: The recent McLaughlin group poll shows US Jewish support of Obama at about half its level in the 2008 election. Is this an accurate reflection of the mood among US Jews?
DG: When the American Jewish Committee conducted its annual poll of American Jewish opinion in February, just before Obama provoked the diplomatic crisis , 55% of respondents approved of Obama’s handling of relations with Israel, slightly less than the 57% that approved of the Netanyahu government. American Jews were under the mistaken impression that Washington and Jerusalem were on the same track. But 61% opposed any compromise on Jerusalem, while 75% agreed with the statement, “The goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel.” Support for Obama, in short, was a mile wide and an inch deep before he provoked the diplomatic crisis with Israel.
The outrage among Obama’s erstwhile Jewish supporters, reflected daily in Marty Peretz’s ‘The Spine’ blog at the New Republic, is heightened by the sense of wounded self-esteem felt by clever people who have just been swindled. I have spoken privately to several large Jewish contributors to Democratic campaigns who express a sense of outrage that I never have heard before. Jewish contributors to Democratic campaigns are selectively funding Republicans, for example Mark Kirk in Illinois, who is running for Obama’s Senate seat, as a warning. Democratic Congressmen trying to defend Obama have been booed off the dais of meetings at traditionally liberal Reform synagogues in several parts of the country. If the train wreck proceeds as programed, the change in attitude within the American Jewish community could be dramatic.
This also is reflected in the harsh tone with which centrist liberal Jews have criticized Obama–for example Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, Alan Dershowitz, and former New York Mayor Ed Koch.
INN: In the conference at Ariel you quoted contributors who used the word “sociopath.” Is this actually the word they used? What makes Obama’s broken promises different from the campaign double-talk we are used to from politicians?
DG: The actual phrase I heard from one important player in Jewish Democratic circles was, “Sociopath is too nice a word to describe Obama.” That was a Kiddush conversation, so no names, of course. The difference is the magnitude and depth of the deception. In July 2008, the press was full of reports of Obama’s anti-Israel connections, including the fact that his foreign policy advisor in his Senate office was the odious Samantha Power – who proposed international military intervention to end the ‘Israeli occupation’ – as well as Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was an official campaign spokesman, along with many others.
Obama gave assurances to the Jewish community which were so persuasive that Martin Peretz announced in his ‘Spine’ blog that Obama could be trusted. Brzezinski and Power were shown the door (Power after she made inappropriate remarks about Hillary Clinton) and the Jewish community was satisfied that Obama was as reliable as, say, Bill Clinton. Obama has extraordinary gifts of persuasion, and has been profligate about employing them. He persuaded some very wealthy and sophisticated people that he was on their side, and then turned on them.
INN: Ed Koch has predicted the Democrats will suffer a ‘tsunami’ in November. If this scenario materializes, how much pressure would this create on Obama to change his Middle East policies?
DG: The President, not Congress, controls foreign policy. That said, politics is always a factor – but it is not the only factor.
Many observers are predicting a crushing defeat for the Democrats in November. Dick Morris, the former Clinton advisor and Fox News commentator, claims that the Republicans will take both Houses of Congress. The fact that Democratic fundraising among Jews will be a tough sell contributes to the problem, but is not a decisive factor; there are enough other reasons for the Democrats to lose, starting with high unemployment and the fact that Obama has failed to create any middle ground with the Republicans and is perceived as too far too the left to suit the national mood. Obama almost certainly has resigned himself to a bad interim election; his best play is to spend the next two years running against a ‘do-nothing’ Republican Congress in the hope of winning a second term in 2012.
If Obama attempts to impose a settlement on Israel prior to the November elections, it will give the Republicans a stick with which to hit him. American support for Israel is running at all-time highs, with 64% supporting Israel according to Gallup vs. 18% sympathy for the Palestinian Arabs. And if he forces a crisis in diplomatic relations with Israel, it will become a significant factor in 2012. Not only will Jewish fundraising dry up (with some going to Republicans), but evangelical Christian support for Israel may become a factor. The evangelicals are an amorphous movement without centralized leadership, and the big question regarding their weight in elections is turnout. If they are highly motivated by an issue close to their concerns – and Israel is such an issue – they can be an important factor. Evangelicals comprise roughly 28% of the electorate, and a big change in turnout could shift 2% to 3% of the national vote to the Republicans – probably a winning margin.
That is why many Democrats are warning Obama against pursuing a confrontational strategy with Israel. The degree of Obama’s ideological fervor in support of conciliating the Muslim world surprised the political world, as did the ferocity of his diplomatic approach to Israel. It is hard to avoid the conclusion – which I have long believed – that Obama has a profound personal commitment to reconciling America with the Muslim world which will override the usual political calculus. Given that he had a Muslim father and stepfather, was raised for four years in Indonesia, and has written with passion about his sympathy for the traditional identity of Indonesian Muslims, this is not surprising.
Obama’s personal impulses are in conflict with his evident political interests, and it is impossible to predict how things will work out. There are other considerations as well. American troops are supposed to start leaving Iraq in the summer, and the country well might explode. Iran will make progress towards acquiring nuclear weapons, and reinforce its presence in Iraq, Gaza, Lebanon and elsewhere. Obama’s policy in the region may blow up in his face in the advent of the November elections. He has some incentive to make Israel the scapegoat for this failure, by arguing that if only Israel were reasonable in dealing with the Palestinians, the US could win Muslim support in other parts of the region. This is entirely specious, in my view, but the probability is that Obama will stick to his guns.
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