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'Pro-Israel' figures who rebuked Obama now endorse him for president

While happy to harp on U.S. President Obama at every opportunity if he veers from their demand for unconditional support for Israel, when it comes to U.S. elections, prominent “pro-Israel” American Jews prefer him to Romney because when it comes to everything else, Obama is more in line with their liberal ideals.

With the U.S. election only 3 days away, a variety of high-profile American Jewish “pro-Israel” figures who have previously lambasted President Obama decided to come out publicly in support of his candidacy for a second term.

Last week, former New York Mayor Ed Koch officially backed President Obama for another term in office. In a video clearly targeting American Jewish voters, the same Koch who has repeatedly criticized Obama for affronting Israel gave his wholehearted endorsement – calling Obama a “true friend” of Israel.

Pointing not only to his stellar record on Israel, Koch also says Obama is the “clear best choice on domestic policy,” preferring him to Romney on issues of abortion, healthcare and taxes. Speaking about the importance of economic welfare and boosting the middle class, Koch said Obama’s economic policies are “Not just American values, Jewish values too.”

This is the same Koch that has repeatedly criticized Obama and even accused him of “throwing Israel under the bus with impunity” last year in the New York Times for calling Israel out on settlements and putting the onus on it to enter negotiations with the Palestinians. He also recently expressed public outrage at Obama for his handling of the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi as well as for failing to schedule a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu while in New York in September attending the UN General Assembly.

Yet when push comes to shove, Koch has decided to back Obama for president (again) – and he is not the only one. Several other prominent American Jewish figures (members of what I call the “pro-Israel watchdog guard team”) have either endorsed Obama for president or at least “vetted” him as a friend of Israel – after criticizing him (at times vociferously) on this very issue in the past. They include:

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Harvard lawyer Alan Dershowitz
Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel
Israeli-American billionaire and founder of the Saban Center for Middle East policy Haim Saban
Former State Department official Dennis Ross
The Israel lobby AIPAC

As Lee Smith put it in a Tablet piece speaking specifically about Koch, Dershowitz and Saban, these guys have “spent Obama’s first term laying into the president on his Israel policy as if it were their litmus test—and all three are now publicly supporting his re-election.”

Alan Dershowitz — who I consider quite the hawk on Israel (to put it mildly) and who has made a career out of being a pro-Israel propagandist, making baseless and counterproductive attacks on liberal bodies like J Street and Media Matters for being too critical of Israel (to put it mildly) — wrote back in July already that he will vote for Obama because he is sure he has Israel’s back and is generally better for America and the world. This, despite attacking Obama just over a month ago in the Wall Street Journal for being too soft on Iran.

Following Hurricane Sandy, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has been critical of Obama in the past, decided to formally endorse him, citing climate change in the president’s favor and also attacking Romney for backtracking on issues he promoted as senator of Massachusetts. (This, after Republican Governor and Romney-ally Chris Christie praised the president for his handling of the hurricane.)

While Elie Wiesel is known to be friendly with Obama and has not publicly condemned or endorsed him, he has been quite openly disapproving of American pressure on Israel. In April 2010, he published an ad in three top American newspapers stating that “Jerusalem is above politics,” undermining the notion that Jerusalem’s status is up for discussion and implying that Obama’s criticism and spotlighting of Israeli settlement activity and policies in East Jerusalem is out of line. Yet, in an interview with Haaretz while on a visit to Israel a few days ago, Wiesel said he plans on writing a book with Obama after the elections, “a book of two friends.”

So why have all these figures decided to give their public seal of approval for President Obama? Each case may be a bit different, but two things are clear:

1) Obama has indeed passed the litmus test as far as what these men consider to be a “pro-Israel” approach, since Obama ultimately been acquiescent to destructive and reckless Israeli policies: He did nothing to stop Israeli settlements after criticizing them in Cairo, has consistently sided with Israel at the UN, and has continued to provide Israel with unconditional economic and military support. These guys simply cannot argue with that. In their book they can put a big V in the “pro-Israel” column. But in my book, as an Israeli actually living here under a government I find hostile, counterproductive and irresponsible, Obama’s complacency has done nothing to better the future of Israelis or the people of this region. 

2) When it comes to a basic holistic approach to the world, most of these American Jews, like the majority of American Jews and like Obama himself, are liberal, civil-rights oriented people who champion minority rights and taxes, and the right to an abortion, and believe government involvement in healthcare to be a good thing. When it comes to domestic issues and their daily lives, these high-profile figures not only prefer Obama be their president, but also disapprove of Romney because he directly clashes with their culture and values.

So, after all the hype and commotion about how dangerous Obama is for Israel, the very people who make being “pro-Israel” a full-time profession have wholeheartedly endorsed him on his stellar record on safeguarding Israel. It’s not that they have convinced me that Obama is actually good for Israel – but rather they have succeeded in equating being “pro-Israel” with supporting Israel’s right-wing repressive policies, rights abuses and diplomatic belligerence – and unfortunately, Obama’s first term complacency has embodied that definition. But ask them who they want to run the country? They’ll pick the intelligent and rational Obama over Romney any day.

On AIPAC, Obama and the ‘pro-Israel’ lie

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    1. Piotr Berman

      One should draw a cartoon of rats entering a ship (usually another ship, drowning, is shown in the background).

      Reply to Comment
      • Toby

        That doesn’t quite capture the essence of the situation. It’s more like they scuttled their own ship and now realize the alternative is a slave galley.

        The changing of minds you describe is likely too little, too late. Not that I care. Foreign policy wise, including I-P, Obama’s spineless pandering to his political archenemies means that there is zero appreciable difference between Romney and him.

        As for the likely domestic implications (dismantling what can laughingly be called the social safety net, taking back Obama’s baby steps towards an actual healthcare system, medieval abortion policy etc.), it’s too bad, but American voters bring that upon themselves.

        Reply to Comment
    2. dan

      What Dershowitz, Koch et al understand is that no matter how one defines “pro-Israel” an economically, environmentally, and morally weakened USA cannot possibly be good for Israel. Plus they live in America, they are concerned about the communities in which they live.

      Reply to Comment
    3. AYLA

      thanks, Mairav. Your assessment is so sound, it makes me wonder how I even wondered how/why the turnaround. A victory for sanity, at least? Albeit not before Americans in Israel mailed their absentee ballots. But you know what? Most of them are NY and California anyway, aren’t they? Plus I don’t trust those polls. No one called me. And I vote Ohio ;).

      Reply to Comment
      • amy

        Yaaaaaay for your Ohio vote Ayla! This is one (of several) situations where America really *needs* Israeli support. And when disaster strikes such that large urban areas are literally drowning there is no starker contrast btwn a republican response and a democratic one. Obama started his response to domestic disasters in 2009 when he hired a real professional to run the federal emergency management agency. Obama’s shortcomings aside (and there are several) there is still no clearer choice about who to follow out of the proverbial and literal wasteland. I hope you are right about those Israeli polls- although they seem to reflect what I saw during my visit this past summer.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Piotr Berman

      Congratulations, Ayla! You won! Democratic President, Senator and hopefully many other favorites of yours (American elect officials like “recorder of deeds” and “protonotary” and many others).

      I think that Dan is wrong. My thinking is that the Lobby is a relatively brainless creature. It operates like amoeba, moving toward nutrients. If scaring donors gives money, donors shall be scared. So it is always a crisis, and Israel now, more then ever needs your help. The dire need to set red lines or attack Iran, lines or no lines is simply the most dramatic crisis that could be fabricated — Israel is very secure right now, thank you very much.

      Obama was seemingly criticized for 3 reasons:

      a) he raised the issue of settlements which was wrong [very convoluted argument followed, Americans actually do not like settlements if you put the issue straightforwardly to them]

      b) he showed insufficiently high regard for Netanyahu, which is a very novel kind of requirement for POTUS

      c) he show no readiness to attack Iran — as a result, Obama was more trusted on foreign policy than Romney. A little problem is that USA (forget tiny Israel) cannot attack Iran without dire consequences.

      Dan’s conjecture cannot explain why the endorsement came so late, when it was quite clear that endorsements or not, Obama will win.

      Reply to Comment