Obama, American Jews, And Israel: Changing Dynamics!

One of the most controversial areas of the foreign policy of President Obama is the relationship with America’s traditional ally, Israel.

Obama’s decision to openly criticize Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in March for approving the construction of new Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, an area that Palestinians hope will be the location of their future government capital, outraged the general Israeli public, and leading American Jewish groups, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and the World Jewish Congress. It also greatly upset Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate who this week had a luncheon at the White House, as President Obama attempted to repair damage done by his strong stand against Israeli interests.

While Wiesel said he had been reassured, the major Jewish organizations remain opposed, and there is great suspicion among a majority of Israelis toward Obama Administration policy.

The fact that Obama used Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to deliver his message of opposition to the new settlements, along with his snub of Netanyahu when he visited Washington last month, and the resulting refusal of the Israeli Prime Minister to show up at the recent Nuclear summit that 47 nations attended, only added to the crisis atmosphere.

This led administration officials to speak before the Anti Defamation League National Leadership Conference this week to try to restore good relations, and convinced Obama to communicate with Netanyahu over the phone on the issue.

Many observers think Obama can only mend fences by a direct trip to Israel and promoting a so called “charm offensive”. But that is unlikely to work, because this issue of the settlements in East Jerusalem is very emotional and personal to most Israelis and many American Jewish groups.

But at the same time, it is a fact that a breach has developed between major American Jewish organizations and many American Jews, who do not like what they see as the overwhelming power and influence of traditional Jewish organizations who tend to support Israel with undivided loyalty.

Many Jews in America are pro Israel, but don’t feel the need to support every viewpoint and policy of the Israeli government, particularly a right wing one as headed by a hard liner such as Netanyahu.

So it is not at all surprising that younger Jews, and those without political and pressure group connections, are more critical of Israel and its policies on Middle East peace. 78 percent of Jews voted for Obama, and many agree with his domestic initiatives. A new poll suggests that 55 percent support his policies on Israel, a totally different perspective than that coming from the traditional Jewish leadership.

The real issue seems to be that most American Jews are liberal leaning and secular, while the Israeli government is now controlled by right wing nationalists and ultra religious elements that many American Jews do not approve of.

The long range concern is that the chasm developing between many American Jews and the Israeli policies will continue, and that loyalty and emotional commitment between Jews and Israelis will decline over the next few generations. Many Jews intermarrying only adds to the long range crisis.

The ability of the Obama Administration to bridge the gap between Israel and the United States is under great scrutiny, and there is no way to tell now whether the old relationship has been changed forever, to the detriment of both nations and to the American Jewish community itself!

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