POLITICS

Jewish Dem Talking Points Link Obama To Bush On Settlements

07/17/2009 05:12 am 05:12:01 | Updated May 25, 2011

Talking points, distributed by one of the nation's largest Jewish Democratic organizations, seek to improve perceptions of President Barack Obama's policies on Israel by, in part, painting them as a continuation of former President George W. Bush's policies.

The Huffington Post obtained a copy of a brief that the National Jewish Democratic Council has sent to Jewish Democrats on the Hill, as well as prominent Jewish activists. In it, the organization stressed Obama's commitment to Israel's security, the continued strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's praise for the president.

The most interesting bit comes, however, when NJDC addresses recent Republican critiques of the White House's position on Israeli settlements: Obama wants a complete freeze on settlement activity including "natural growth" within the settlements. Though it is unusual for the organization to cite Bush favorably, NJDC does just that, arguing that the Obama administration is actually mimicking its predecessor's approach.

Obama's critics seem to have a very short-term memory and forget that U.S. policy on settlements has essentially not changed from the previous George W. Bush administration.

As evidence, the NJDC points to a May 2003 article in The Forward, in which it was reported that "the administration, from the president on down, continues to insist on a 'total freeze' on settlements, in accordance with the road map, and rejects Israel's insistence on continued expansion of the settlements within the limits of their 'natural growth.'"

It sounds like a nice political rebuttal. In reality, however, the Obama-Bush comparison is a bit more complex. The former administration publicly called for a freeze in Israel's settlement activity, but made few, if any objections, when such activity continued. As for natural growth, reports have surfaced in recent weeks that there was a tacit agreement that Israeli families would be allowed to expand within their current homes. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has insisted that there is no proof such an arrangement ever existed.

NJDC's disbursement of talking points comes at a time when the president's Republican opponents have begun attacking him more forcefully for downplaying the United States' special relationship with Israel. The group addresses this attack heads on, arguing that, "Obama has been crystal clear in his support for Israel and his rock-solid commitment to Israel's security as well."

(Read the talking points: here)

But the main rebuttal may be simply be a matter of pointing to recent staffing moves within the Obama White House. Ambassador Dennis Ross, a longtime Israel ally (and occasional hawk) is slated to move from the Iran portfolio to the National Security Council, giving him greater access to the president and better sway over administration policy.

"The people around Obama have more pro-Israel credibility than Bush," said one Jewish Democrat, who noted Ross's ascendancy along with Chief of Staff's longstanding commitment to the Jewish State.

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