What Do American Jews Think About Obama?

April 02, 2010 2:04 pm ET — MJ Rosenberg

Ed Koch was mayor of New York City (elected in 1973) and, although long retired, his words still get picked up, especially when they are incendiary. Otherwise, I would not even bother addressing his recent column. But Koch was once mayor of America's premier city so he's hard to simply ignore, especially when his accusations are so utterly obscene.

In a column written for RealClearPolitics, and excerpted in Rupert Murdoch's New York Post, Koch condemns the American Jewish community and members of Congress for not speaking out against President Obama's stance on Israeli settlements. 

Koch considers Obama's criticism of the Israeli government over settlements as indicative of disrespect and hostility toward the State of Israel and to Jews.

Koch writes:

President Obama's abysmal attitude toward the State of Israel and his humiliating treatment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is shocking. [...]

In the 1930s, the Jewish community and its leadership, with few exceptions, were silent when their coreligionists were being attacked, hunted down, incarcerated and slaughtered. Ultimately 6 million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust. [...]

[W]here are our Senators, Schumer and Gillibrand? And, where are the voices, not only of the 31 members of the House and 14 Senators who are Jewish, but the Christian members of the House and Senate who support the State of Israel? Where are the peoples' voices? Remember the words of Pastor Niemoller, so familiar that I will not recite them, except for the last line: "Then they came for me, and by that time, there was no one left to speak up."

Not too subtle. 

While most of those who attack Netanyahu's critics only hint at Holocaust analogies, Koch drops the H-bomb with reckless abandon, standard operating procedure when one is on the losing side of an argument about the Middle East. 

None of this should be a surprise.

Koch, a nominal Democrat, is first and foremost a neocon.  He believes George W. Bush was a great President.  In fact, he bolted the Democratic Party in 2004 to support Bush over John Kerry because he was grateful that Bush's Vice President, Dick Cheney, had successfully manipulated the United States into Iraq. 

Koch thought that the war would be good for Israel when, in fact, it proved to be disastrous for Israel by eliminating Iraq as Iran's counterweight.  

But being wrong never deters the neocons.  If it did, they would have gone out of business long ago rather than hanging out in their bunkers hoping for some mega-disaster that will afford them the satisfaction of saying "I told you so."

Koch gets his 20th century history wrong too.  The American Jewish community was not silent about the Holocaust.  But there was not much American Jews could do other than enlist in the US effort to defeat Nazi Germany (and Imperial Japan), which they did (including Koch himself), in numbers out of proportion to their percentage in the population. 

What would Koch have had them do other than fight and, often, die?

Then there is Koch's main point. Are Jews silent in the face of Obama's opposition to Netanyahu's settlement policies?

Yes, I think they are.  But I think that the silence of the community -- in contrast to the mindless hollering by the lobby -- is telling.

Most American Jews -- no, make that most friends of Israel -- are not protesting Obama's policies because they agree with them. They understand that President Obama's strong stand against expanded settlements testifies to his concern for Israel (and the Palestinians).

After all, the number one threat to Israel today is the occupation itself.  If Israel retains the Palestinian areas, Palestinians will constitute a majority of Israel within the next few years.  Either Israel ends the occupation or the occupation will end the Jewish State of Israel.

That simple fact is the reason racist Israelis like Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have advocated "transfer" or ethnic cleansing.  It is why more sophisticated American racists like Prof. Martin Kramer advocate suppressing the Palestinian birth rate. 

They, of course, do not consider the one strategy that will preserve Israel's security and its future.

Read the words of David Remnick, the very pro-Israel editor of the New Yorker: "Without the creation of a viable contiguous Palestinian state, comprising a land area equivalent to all of the West Bank and Gaza (allowing for land swaps), and with East Jerusalem as its capital, it is impossible to imagine a Jewish and democratic future for Israel. There is nothing the Israeli leadership could do to make the current fantasy of an indifferent American leadership become a reality faster than to get lost in the stubborn fantasy of sustaining the status quo."

And the pro-Israel community understands that.

That comes out loud and clear in a Gersten-Agne poll of American Jewish attitudes conducted for J Street during the current crisis:

American Jews by a four-to-one margin, 82-18 percent, support the United States playing an active role in helping the parties to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, with 73 percent of American Jews supporting this active role even if it means that the United States were to publicly state its disagreements with both the Israelis and the Arabs.

And by a 71-29 percent margin, American Jews support the United States "exerting pressure" on both the Israelis and the Arabs to make the necessary compromises to achieve peace. An earlier J Street poll last March found a similar level of support.

A majority of all American Jews, 52-48 percent, still support an active role even if         he United States were to publicly state its disagreements with only Israel.

Meanwhile, a Zogby poll of Americans in general finds that "More than four-in-five Americans (81%) agree the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a negative impact on U.S. interests, including a majority of both Democrats (88%) and Republicans (77%)."

In other words, they agree with General David Petraeus that continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- and the perception that the US backs the Israeli occupation -- endangers American interests (i.e., our troops) in the Middle East.

Screaming and foot-stomping -- dropping the H-bomb and calling critics anti-Semites or self-hating Jews -- is the last resort of the desperate.

Koch, and others like him, would argue that their only concern is Israel's well-being.  That is impossible to believe when the policies they advocate would end a state that took 1900 years to create.

Postscript:  Charles Krauthammer is no Koch.  He knows the issues and he has chosen to back whatever Israel is doing with his eyes open.  I have heard him speak at my synagogue more than once and, if he cares about any other issue, he sure is careful to give no evidence of it.

Krauthammer is a psychiatrist and in today's column, he cleverly defends Netanyahu to the hilt without mentioning him or the State of Israel.  His column is called "Obama's Policy of Slapping Allies" and here are the allies he names: Argentina, the United Kingdom, India, Poland, and the Czech Republic.  Guess which country he doesn't name?

How brilliant to leave out Israel almost as if that conspicuous act of omission will lead us all to say "yeah, India, Poland, Honduras .....and Israel, too."

Poor Chuck.  He's trying way too hard.