Is Obama More AIPAC Than J Street?

February 17, 2010 10:41 am ET — MJ Rosenberg

Steve Rosen, former AIPAC policy director (the lobby let him go after he was charged under the Espionage Act for trading in classified information although the charges were ultimately dropped), writes in today's Foreign Policy blog that President Obama has turned out to be no dove on Israeli-Palestinian issues. "On issues that touch Israel more directly, Obama's choices actually align him more closely with Israel" than with progressives, Rosen writes.

He notes that Obama backed down on his demand for a settlement freeze, has moved closer to Israel's position on Iran, and continues the previous administration's policy of rejecting any dealings with Hamas.

Why the shift rightward? Rosen sees it as part of the administration's evolving general strategy.

He says that Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod are paying "more attention to the fact that the independents and swing voters who voted for Obama in 2008 deserted him in droves, including suburban union members who also helped Republicans win formerly Democratic offices in New Jersey and Virginia. The Obama team is worried that independents and Democratic centrists are fleeing to the GOP. It is not the progressives that they want to woo."

Rosen makes some sense. The administration has certainly flagged in its determination to put any pressure whatsoever on Israel. In fact, on Israel-Palestine, its policies are in line with those of the previous administration.

But the shift, if that is what it is, has little or nothing to do with courting "independent and swing voters" (let alone "suburban union members") who don't exactly count Israel as among their top dozen or two dozen concerns. More likely, the climb down has to do with the combined impact of influential donors linked to Rosen's old employer, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) -- and with members of Congress who take their marching orders from AIPAC. With all the problems confronting the president, he is clearly less than eager to tangle with the most powerful foreign policy lobby in Washington. And, no doubt, his cautious aides are warning him against doing anything that might offend a lobby known in Washington as the "800-pound gorilla."

One last point. Rosen mocks my claim that, when it comes to dealing with the Israeli prime minister, the American President holds 51 cards in the deck. He thinks that Obama's retreat indicates that he, in fact, doesn't.

No, he does. But only if he chooses to play those cards. So far, he hasn't. Both America and Israel will continue to pay a heavy price until he does.

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