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Confessions of a Pro-Israel Obama Supporter

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I confess.

I voted for Barack Obama and I'm glad I did. Like most of my fellow Jews, I think he's doing a pretty good job as President of the United States. I also feel a special connection to the State of Israel and strongly support its right to exist as a democracy, defend itself, and not be held to a double standard by the U.N. or the rest of the world as it so often is today.

Those sentiments don't sound or feel the least bit radical or incongruous to me. But that just shows how out of touch I must be with millions of other people who also say they care deeply about our country and the Jewish state. Many of them have never been angrier or more concerned that Obama would like nothing better than to sell Israel down the river in his spare time as he bankrupts and destroys America with his socialist agenda.

I would apologize for supporting this horrible man if I could just figure out what he is doing wrong.

We have a representative democracy that seems to have served us well over the years. A majority of Americans elected Obama president 16 months ago . The margin was even more dramatic if you consider that he won pretty much every state outside the former Confederacy and the Wilderness states where a large double-digit percentage of the voters acknowledged they would never vote for a black man. He was particularly popular with Jews, who supported him by a 3-1 margin.

But many American Jews who identify themselves as staunchly "pro-Israel" have never been comfortable with Obama. In recent weeks, several respected Jewish leaders have joined others who seem so confused that they don't know the difference between Haman and Mordechai -- the villain and the hero of the Purim story in which an evil politician tries to destroy the Jewish people.

Obama is no Haman. He has made it clear from the outset that he would like to be a force for progress in bringing about the two-state solution that is essential if Israel is to remain a Jewish democracy for longer than a few more years.

He has repeatedly stated his commitment to Israel's security and safety and has made it clear that the Palestinians and Arab states need to renounce terrorism and violence and recognize Israel's right to exist.

Obama first voiced his unshakable support for Israel during his address to AIPAC prior to his election and recently sent Vice-President Biden to Israel affirm that commitment yet again.

But when March Madness began on the basketball court, March Mishegos took over the Jewish press and several pro-Israel organizations. And the insanity continues.

Like his predecessor, Obama has stated that the U.S. role in making peace would be made easier if Israel stopped building neighborhoods in the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem. So the White House was understandably annoyed with both the timing and the substance of the decision to build 1600 new housing units in part of Jerusalem that was announced during Biden's visit.

The White House has made it clear that this awkward incident was a spat among friends -- not a crisis or a major game-changer in U.S.-Israel relations. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu apologized for the timing of the announcement and has repeatedly insisted that this incident did not provoke a crisis between his country and the U.S.

It never seemed like that big a deal. But a number of Jewish "leaders" and journalists clearly disagree.

AIPAC, the largest pro-Israel organization in the U.S., immediately called on the Obama administration to "diffuse the tensions" with Israel, branding statements by the White House "a matter of serious concern." The AIPAC statement cites no specific comments or incidents as the cause of the undefined tension nor did it state what the Israeli government should be doing to help improve the situation.

The next day, Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick announced that the incident in Israel "drove Obama into a fit of uncontrolled rage from which he has yet to recover" which caused him to "foment a crisis (and) launch a political war on Israel."

Glick never offered quotes or any documentation for her dramatic claims but her column was lapped up and spread through the email network by concerned Jews.

A few days later, New York Post and Fox News military analyst Ralph Peters wrote a column featuring a very old photo of Obama standing next to Reverend Jeremiah Wright and stated that "regarding Israel, a lifetime of extremist associations has infected Obama with an emotional loathing for the Jewish state and a romantic vision of Palestinian terrorists as freedom fighters." Like Glick, Peters cited no quotes or facts to substantiate his accusations. But that email has also been widely distributed.

Then former New York City mayor and Obama supporter Ed Koch went on Fox News to echo what he had just written -- that Obama had "thrown Israel under the bus." Koch criticized our president for his "abysmal attitude toward the State of Israel and his humiliating treatment of Netanyahu." According to Koch, Obama insulted Bibi by having only a single photographer take pictures when the two met in Washington last week. That was the humiliating treatment. No specifics, facts, or quotes were cited by Koch to back his other serious accusations and criticism of Obama.

Netanyahu has said nothing publicly other than to "condemn and deny" a quote attributed to an anonymous source who quoted him as calling Obama "a disaster for Israel" and to assert in a speech at AIPAC, that Israel has the right to build settlements in Jerusalem or anywhere else it wants to.

So what am I missing? Where is the tension? Where is the rage? Where is the outrageous treatment of Netanyahu? Where is anything resembling a crisis?

After the embarrassing housing announcement in Israel for which Netanyahu apologized, Biden made a speech there in which he said:

"I am here to remind you, though I hope you will never forget, that America stands with you shoulder-to-shoulder in facing these threats. President Obama and I represent an unbroken chain of American leaders who have understood this critical, strategic relationship. As the President said recently, "I will never waver from ensuring Israel's security and helping them secure themselves in what is a very hostile region."

Doesn't sound like a crisis to me.

All this happened at the time when Obama was working around the clock to get health care reform passed during which he never mentioned Israel once. After its passage, every time he appeared on TV he seemed downright giddy over his legislative triumph. No anger or rage. No mention of a war on Israel or any talk about a crisis.

The larger and more troubling question is why so many Jewish organizations have jumped on the bandwagon expressing their concerns. Their thinly-veiled message seemed to be that despite his repeated public statements of support for Israel they essentially agreed with those who questioned Obama's sincerity and motives.

None of these individuals or groups did themselves or the Jewish people a service by adding to and promoting the unwarranted anger and hysteria that has swept the "pro-Israel" community. A series of polls taken in both Israel and U.S. in recent days that show that most Jews support Obama and his concern about the negative impact of the radical settler movement and their damaging role in shaping Israel's domestic policies.

Polls released in two Israeli newspapers this week revealed that Israelis are evenly split on the issue of whether all neighborhood and settlement growth in the West Bank and Jerusalem should be halted. A clear majority of non-Orthodox Jews in Israel support such a freeze.

A separate poll of Israelis showed that 69 percent of Israelis view Obama as "fair or friendly" to Israel while only 21 percent viewed the U.S. president as "hostile."

Recent polls by J-Street and Gallup show that more than 60 percent of American Jews approve of the job Obama is doing as president --15 percentage points higher than the U.S. population as a whole.

In addition, a Rasmussen poll of U.S. voters show that a majority believe that Israel should stop growing neighborhoods in the West Bank and Jerusalem. By a 3-1 margin, American voters also believe that the Palestinians should recognize Israel's right to exist.

So not only are the alarmists who are trying to convince us that a U.S.-Israel crisis exists in the absence an any evidence, they are also out of touch with the majority of the constituencies they claim to represent.

There IS a serious crisis in Israel but it has nothing to do with Obama or the U.S. It is the toxic impact of the Religious Right and the settler movement -- a group that is small in numbers but huge in influence due to Israel's form of government which requires a leader like Netanyahu to put together a majority coalition to remain in power. The religious Shas party is a key part of that group and Bibi had to name a Shas interior minister to form his government. That minister is the one who blind-sided his own boss with the untimely announcement of the new construction in Jerusalem during Biden's visit.

Bibi's greatest challenge is not Obama. It's deciding if and when he is going to spend more time and energy working on the inevitable two-state solution and less on sucking up to the fundamentalist fanatics who have consistently worked against the peace process. Most American Jews don't want to acknowledge (much less deal with) those complexities so they just bash Muslims and Obama and define being "pro-Israel -- American style" to include positions that most Israelis would find frightening.

Surveys have consistently shown that a majority of Israelis would be willing to give up the settlements if it would help the cause of peace. Netanyahu certainly has the right to do whatever he wants. The issue is whether it's smart for him to fly in the face of common sense, the will of his own people and most American Jews.

As a deeply committed Jew who has made almost two dozen trips to Israel and has held top positions in Federation, Israel Bonds, Jewish days schools, and other organizations I am aware of serious concerns in our community about continuity and the shrinking base of Jews who are choosing to become involved with existing community organizations.

It doesn't help our cause for those who claim to be leaders and staunchly pro-Israel to be so out of touch with the values and ideology of the majority of our people -- particularly those who are not yet on Medicare. They are our future and my sense is they are driven even further away by the posturing and lack of a factual basis for many of the claims and accusations that are supposedly being made on their behalf.

Jews are no strangers to crisis and we have suffered in the past under presidents and political leaders who were either indifferent or worse to our legitimate rights and concerns. Now that we have a president and many other leaders who are truly advocates of peace and hope, it seems silly and counter-productive to ramp up the rhetoric and accusations without any facts or documentation to back them up.

Purim and March Michegos are over as is April Fool's Day. Hopefully we can move forward from here with an approach that generates much more light and a lot less heat. And if the leaders of the Chosen People or anyone else want to level vicious attacks against our president, they should at least back them with facts and sources.

That's a change we can all believe in.

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