Obama and the Jews, here and in Israel

As the election draws near, team Obama has been attempting to convince American Jews that, despite the evidence of the past three years, the president is a great friend of Israel. As Jonathan Tobin notes, this effort will not completely undo the damage his antagonistic approach to Israel has done to his popularity with Jews here (our gullibility has its limits), but it will keep him well above water with this constituency.

But what about Israelis? A poll taken for the Jerusalem Post shows that only 24 percent of Israelis consider Obama pro-Israel. An equal percentage see him as pro-Palestinian (my view), while 36 percent believe that Obama favors neither side. The rest are undecided. This means that three-quarters of Israelis are not on-board with the notion that Obama is pro-Israel.

As Tobin reminds us, these numbers actually represent an improvement for Obama. In 2009, after he picked his first fight with Israel, only 6 percent saw him as pro-Israel, while 50 percent considered him pro-Palestinian. Last year, after Obama expressed his support for the 1967 borders as the starting point for future negotiations, 12 percent of Israelis thought he favored their country.

Israelis want desperately to believe that the American president is their friend. They have been unable to convince themselves of this. But with Obama having taken time out, in an election year, from publicly trying to coerce Israel, they have managed to believe he is not their adversary.

It’s not clear that American Jews disagree very much with this assessment. But for most, liberalism trumps Israel. Deep down, therefore, “do no harm” neutrality is probably good enough for them. Unfortunately, “do no harm” neutrality is simply a resting place until after the election, when a more “flexible” Obama can begin beating up Israel in earnest.