Obama’s ‘Shalom, Haver’ Problem
How can the president persuade Jews he supports Israel in his kishkes?
Today in Tablet Magazine, senior writer Allison Hoffman has the definitive report on how the Obama campaign is seeking to win (back?) Jewish votes after three years during which it has been seen as a relatively poor friend of Israel. the administration knows it has the facts on its side—increased military-to-military cooperation, funding for Iron Dome, veto protection at the U.N. Security Council—but that for many American Jews, Israel is more of an emotional issue, and here President Obama has failed to deliver.
One thing I’ve heard in informal conversations with several prominent Jewish Republicans is a comparison of Obama, whom they accuse of having no feel for Israel, to President Clinton, whose love of the country and kinship with the late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin were undeniable and conspicuous. Allison’s reporting further bears this out:
visuals and rhetoric—the kishkes factor—have taken on outsized importance. Here, too, Obama has an unusually thorny political problem: the specter of Bill Clinton, specifically of Bill Clinton in a kippah, weeping for Yitzhak Rabin with the words, “Shalom, haver.” “We have the record against the aesthetics here,” said David Saperstein, executive director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center. “The Clinton-Rabin relationship was something extraordinarily special, and it set a very high bar.” It’s a gap Republican partisans know they do well to exploit. “I’ve been asked, ‘Who is the best friend Israel has in the White House?’ ” Fred Zeidman, a Houston oil executive who handled Jewish outreach for McCain and is now assisting the Romney campaign, told me last week. “And I say, ‘Hillary Clinton.’ This is the woman who kissed Suha Arafat. But that’s why, I hate to say it, she’s the best we’ve got.”
Here, too, the facts tell a different story:
The truth is that aside from Clinton and Rabin, no recent president has had that kind of chemistry with a leader of Israel. Reagan paid tribute at a German cemetery at Bitburg that included the graves of SS soldiers, drawing promises from Rabin and then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres that the Jewish people would never forgive him. The first George Bush went to blows with Yitzhak Shamir over the government’s settlement policy, and George W. Bush, with a major assist from his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, forced the catastrophic miscalculation that allowed Hamas to hijack Gaza’s elections in the wake of Ariel Sharon’s 2005 pullout. Bill Clinton, for his part, actually sent his own star political advisers—James Carville and Stan Greenberg—to Israel in 1999 to work for the defeat of [current Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, then a sitting prime minister, in favor of Ehud Barak and the Labor Party. “Excuse me,” said David Luchins, a longtime aide to the late New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Obama is no better, and no worse.”
But that may not matter, and if it doesn’t, Obama in part has himself to blame.
United Jewish Appeal [Tablet Magazine]