Barack Obama Israel Middle East peace process

Where are all of Clinton’s “dovish” Jewish supporters?

Newsweek now tells us that it is not only right wing, so-called “pro-Israel” agitators and Republicans who are hopping on the “Obama- is-bad-for-the Jews” bandwagon, it is also Swiftboaters in the Clinton campaign:

“Clinton campaign operatives have sent around negative material about Obama’s relations with Israel, according to e-mails obtained by NEWSWEEK. In addition to Brzezinski, the e-mails attack Obama advisers such as Rob Malley, a former Clinton negotiator at the 2000 Camp David talks who has since written articles sympathetic to the Palestinian point of view…

…In one case, Daphna Ziman, a longtime friend of Hillary Clinton’s who has co-chaired several events for her, forwarded an e-mail from the Republican Jewish Coalition, a grass-roots GOP group, criticizing Obama for proposing a Muslim summit. In a Jan. 31 interview with Paris Match, Obama said he wanted “an honest discussion about ways to bridge the gap that grows between Muslims and the West.” Ziman, in her Feb. 2 e-mail, responded, “I am horrified at Mr. Obama’s point of view.” Her e-mail, sent to a group including Mike Medavoy, a Hollywood producer who supports Obama, contained a press release from RJC executive director Matt Brooks. “Nowhere in the Paris Match article does Senator Obama affirm Israel’s right to exist,” Brooks wrote. (Ziman says “the campaign had nothing to do with” her e-mail.)

In an e-mail sent Feb. 4—a day before Super Tuesday—Clinton finance official Annie Totah passed along a critical essay by Ed Lasky, a conservative blogger whose own anti-Obama e-mails have circulated in the U.S. Jewish community. Totah wrote: “Please read the attached important and very disturbing article on Barak Obama. Please vote wisely in the Primaries.” (She didn’t respond to a request for comment.)

Richard Silverstein in Tikun Olam ably expresses the rage I felt upon learning this news. Check out his call for the Clinton campaign “to renounce this ugly feature of their campaign. I note with most severe censure that when the Newsweek journalists gave Howard Wolfson an opportunity to comment for the article he declined.”

But what has gone unnoticed in this fracas is that at least some of Hillary’s Jewish supporters, including reasonably well-connected fundraisers and volunteers, AGREE WITH ROB MALLEY! They share his take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and don’t want that conflict to be a zero sum game. They want American policy in the Middle East to be evenhanded. They also agree with Obama that the U.S. should not shirk from talking to Syria and Iran. I won’t name names, but trust me on this one. I know a few of them and I am sure there are many more I’ve never met They are supporters of Americans for Peace Now, Israel Policy Forum. They agree with most of the op-eds they read in Haaretz. Some were Friends of Bill and continue to be Friends of Hillary.

It isn’t clear whether they have weighed in and told the people running the campaign that borrowing from the rhetoric of the Republican Jewish Coalition, and using the most dumbed-down, far right definitions of what it means to be “pro-Israel,” are beyond the pale. I confess that I have been afraid to ask the ones I know because I don’t want to put them in the uncomfortable position of saying all is fair in politics, Hillary needs to pull out every conceivable stop to come from behind, and so they have kept quiet, they have let the attack dogs run wild. Perhaps that is not true. Perhaps they have raised objections. Perhaps there has been a furious internal debate in the campaign and these tactics will end. Or perhaps they are not influential enough, when all is said and done, to spark such a debate.

Regardless, the question remains, if Obama wins the nomination, will they come out of the shadows and defend him from the attacks that are sure to come from Republicans? Will they defend Rob Malley and Susan Rice, or at least the positions the two of them espouse? Will they urge Obama to do everything possible to wade into the region and mediate and arbitrate, and, if necessary, employ both sticks and carrots when dealing with Israel as well as its neighbors? Will they defend Rashid Khalidi, the relatively moderate scholar who is the latest object of gibes from Obama bashers because he has dared to be a Palestinian nationalist, as Tikun Olam also reports ? Will they try to wrest control of the rules of the public debate on Middle East policy from the Israel-right-or-wrong crowd?

I am crossing my pro-American, pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian fingers.

18 thoughts on “Where are all of Clinton’s “dovish” Jewish supporters?

  1. Dan,
    There are two likely explanations for these emails. First, this is normal campaign tactics for a campaign that has grown increasingly desperate as its plans to wrap up the nomination on Super Tuesday never materialized. As there are significant numbers of Jewish voters in major cities in Ohio like Cleveland and Cincinnati and also in cities like Austin, Houston and Dallas in Texas (Houston has a major Holocaust museum) this is a niche electoral market worth targeting.

    Second, it could also be an instance of right-wing Jewish Democrats (i.e. Democrats who are liberal on American politics but Likudniks on Israeli politics) attempting to intimidate Obama into toeing the line before his election. They might figure that if a liberal Mideast policy costs him the support of Jewish voters now in the primaries, he might abandon that policy once he is elected or even before the fall election. I think that the originators of these email attacks overestimate the conservatism of American Jews. While Democratic Jews may prefer Clinton to Obama, it is unlikely that they will abandon the party and vote Republican over this in Nov. After all, there are many other factors besides Israel to consider: party loyalty, economic policy, the influence of evangelical Protestants on Republican social policies, Iraq, etc.

  2. Tom, I agree that “the email attacks overestimate the conservatism of American Jews.” But the lingering problem is: the mere possibility that a candidate who is clearly not going to hurt Israel will take an evenhanded approach to diplomacy is, according to conventional political wisdom, enough grounds to assault him.

  3. I didn’t realize Clinton had such Jewish backers. But if she does it would behoove them, as you note, to come forward to say cleary that while they want to win they don’t want to win at any cost if that cost involves damaging the eventual winner in the heart of the Jewish community–votes he will need to win in Nov.

    THanks for those links too, Dan.

  4. “””an evenhanded approach to diplomacy”””

    What does this phrase mean? Most Americans prefer Israel to Hezbollah or Hamas. In fact, militant strains of Islam as a whole are extremely unpopular here, for reasons that for the most part do not involve Israel.

    It seems to me that in a democracy foreign policy may reflect public opinion, which at the present time is pro-Israel.

  5. I think Obama’s positions are sober, committed, confident, helpful.

    If he articulates his math clearly, he will do fine.

    Attacks from her campaign DON’T support Hillary’s contention of being an experienced and flexible former and implementer of policy. They describe her as petty, vindictive, inconsistent and worse (vague to those that would follow her, but can’t confidently because of the dangers of the ambiguity and arcane whiny complaints. “You only reject Farrakhan, you don’t reject and denounce?”).

    Campaign consultants don’t earn points for losing, and elections are the only measure. No campaign consultant will get a resume point for getting Hillary nominated for Vice President, or Secretary of the Interior.

    And, a candidate can’t tell their lieutenants to inhibit themselves, to consider the aftermath, to consider that she will have to work with Obama in some form. They must be told, “do everything you can to win”.

    I think its a losing strategy to appeal to the xenophobic in Jewish voters, if that is what is intended.

    I’m not particularly hopeful about the ability to bridge the divide between Israel (and supporters) and Palestine (divided) to achieve a real peace.

    I think more of the same is the likely order of the day. And, that is incremental annexation of the West Bank, isolation of Gaza, and reluctant acquiescence by the American administration.

    The failure to enact a reasonably just peace by the voluntary actions of the parties themselves, will force an externally coerced drive to change the reality.

    The US and Israel and American Jews will likely be isolated from that effort, appearing as obstacles to justice rather than supporters of it.

    The features of Israeli society that support the characterization of a democracy will gradually decline. The courts will acquiesce to prejudicial application of law. The universities will shift to the right and purge dissenters. Rationalizations for hindering free speech and press, will be applied.

    That it is gradual, will obscure the changes from view.

    Young people though, haven’t seen the starting and current points, and they will only see “something is wrong”.

    Right now, young people are nor as politically motivated as 30 years ago. But, one appeal of the Obama campaign, is that young people can contribute and participate. That is similar to Kennedy. Young people got permission to be inspired, to act, and got involved in the civil rights movement, and later the anti-Vietnam war movement.

  6. Jonathan,

    “Evenhandedness,” to me, means fundamental fairness to both sides, not just one side, and helping –or at least trying to help– each side to realize aspirations that are reasonable as well as consistent with American interests. Hard to define exactly what that means because it is case-specific, case-dependendent; it’s much like pornography, I will know it when I see it.

    By “reasonable aspirations,” I refer to aspirations that, if realized, will allow the other side to live in peace. Hamas and Hizbollah, as presently constituted, do not have “reasonable” aspirations and evenhandedness does not mean placating them. Nor does it mean placating Israeli settlers who defy Israeli law and keep erecting settlement outposts, or rabbis who call upon Israeli soldiers to resist orders to evacuate settlements.

    Evenhandedness means expecting both sides to keep promises they have made to the American government. Neither side has done so.

  7. “””Hamas and Hizbollah, as presently constituted, do not have “reasonable” aspirations and evenhandedness does not mean placating them. Nor does it mean placating Israeli settlers”””

    Great. Based on the above, evenhandedness means that the US will support a war against Hamas if Hamas shells Israel hundreds of times a week for months on end.

    In addition, the US will support a war against Israeli settlers if Israeli settlers shell Palestine hundreds of times a week for months on end.

    The US will oppose suicide bombings by Hamas, and the US will oppose suicide bombings by Israeli settlers.

    I support the above kind of evenhandedness. If Barack and Hillary and McCain do also, and they might, then the problem is solved. We have an evenhanded policy.

  8. One shouldn’t make a mathematical equation between provocations from both sides. There is are major assymetries of power and the circumstances confronting each party are different. The provocations the U.S. should try to prevent or address are those that, if unchecked, preclude the possibility of peace. That includes shelling from Hamas as well Israel’s abject refusal to talk to Hamas. It includes suicide bombings by Palestinians as well as illegal Israeli settlement outposts and unchecked settlement expansion. They are not morally equivalent, but they are all screwing up the lives of decent people on both sides

  9. “””There is are major assymetries of power and the circumstances confronting each party are different.”””

    True. However, one even-handed policy which I would like to see is an even-handed policy of intentionally aiming and firing rockets at civilians in their homes.

    If Hamas intentionally aims and fires rockets at random into residential areas of Sderot and Ashkelon then the U.S. would support Israel going to war to stop it.

  10. What I meant is that I would like to see an even-handed policy opposing intentionally aiming rockets at civilians in their homes.

    I would also like to see-an even-handed policy in favor of shooting at automobiles containing rocketeers who fire at civilians. The US should even-handedly support Israel firing at automobiles that Hamas rocket squads travel in.

  11. Jonathan,
    I don’t think that the U.S. has criticized Israel for clean assassinations of Palestinian terrorists and I don’t really expect this to change under a Democratic administration. The problem is when Israel carries out targeted killings in the knowledge that they will kill a disproportionate number of civilian casualties. Under international law civilian casualties have to be in proportion to the military value of the target. Killing ten civilians when the operative being assassinated can be easily replaced is disproportionate and therefore illegal under international law. These are the type of actions that are likely to be criticized by the Democrats.

  12. “””The problem is when Israel carries out targeted killings in the knowledge that they will kill a disproportionate number of civilian casualties.”””


    (1) “””Killing ten civilians when the operative being assassinated can be easily replaced is disproportionate and therefore illegal under international law.”””

    (2) On the other hand, killing ten militants for every civilian death is okay.

    An even-handed policy would support Israeli activities which result in the acceptable second situation, and oppose Hamas and Islamic Jihad rocket firings at Sderot and Ashkelon, which result in the unacceptable first situation.

    Thus an evenhanded approach, applying the same rules to both sides, could easily result in the US supporting an Israeli military action in Gaza to take out the rocketeers.

    I am in favor of such a US policy. I don’t know whether such an invasion of Gaza would be a good idea, but if it occurs I hope that the US will implement the evenhanded policy described above and support it.

  13. Calling Rashid Khalidi a moderate is a stretch of truly epic proportions. Rob Malley was an Arafat stooge and the less said about Brezinski the better.

  14. Although I lean towards conservatism I started checking this sight to learn about the nuances and texture of other ideologies so my own positions would at least be informed ones.

    However, it seems like “identity politics” is a given. Despite the use of poll statistics from an earlier post one gets the impression that a Jew’s vote is reflective of Israel first and foremost and maybe only.

    I was too young to vote in 1980 but why should it be considered a shock that a large number of Jewish voters defied stereotypes and voted for Reagan? The content and comments of that implied that this exodus was due to an anti-Israel bias of Carter and his cabinet.
    How do we know that was the underlying cause? Back then, the economy was in complete disrepair, the prime lending rate was something like 20%, it appeared that the USSR was tilting the balance of power in their favor, the Iranian students held American hostages and IMO Carter did not possess the leadership abilities to handle these challenges. It’s quite possible that many Jews voted like “real Americans” in favor of someone who appeared to be a remedy to those harsh conditions. Jews don’t live in parallel universes or parallel Americas where we aren’t affected by issues like the economy, unemployment or faulty leadership.

    Along similar notes, the Walt & Mearsheimer paper spoke how the “Israel Lobby” were responsible for unseating politicians who didn’t tow their line but the only example they could find was former Illinois Senator Charles Percy. Besides this glaring lack of actual evidence which even the New York Review of Books criticized as being disingenuous, the unemployment rate for Illinois in 1980 was 19%. However, it appears more expedient to blame “The Lobby”.

    Once again along those lines and speaking of Illinois it’s not likely that I will be voting for Obama. His resume is light, he has made some whoppers of statements (invade Pakistan), he habitually earmarks and pork-barrels with the rest of them, his ties with that crooked character Klezko is a cause for concern and I’m in agreement with Alan Greenspan’s observation that Obamania is an exercise of “irrational exuberance”.

    That said, I identify as an Orthodox Jew and yes I am theologically and emotionally invested in a safe and sound Israel. I’m also enough of a realist to conclude that what America does is in American interests and there’s nothing irrational about that. Considering Pres Bush’s “about face” regarding negotiating with the PA (which really didn’t shock me) we need to expect that every subsequent President, irrespective of party affiliation, will deal with things in a similar manner until some kind of resolution presents itself.

    Actually, until I found out about Ron Paul’s pre-internet paper trail I was intrigued by the guy. His take on stopping foreign aid sounding interesting. For one thing, as much as shutting of the handout spigot would benefit America, Israel would even benefit much more. Furthermore, his plan would be an example of cutting off aid across the board without favoritism. Some politicians would likely favor cutting off aid to Israel but letting it continue for Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, PA, etc. Paul’s approach was equal stoppage.

    Anyhow, based on the rhetoric presented at this site it sounds like a given that Jews are not inclined to vote with more general issues. Perhaps I’m reading into things the wrong way but it seems that publications with left-of-center tilts (whether blogs or otherwise) involved with the Jewish community operate along the lines of “Presumption of Obama” and whoever doesn’t tow that line better present plausible reasons in order to be exonerated or face being labeled a “Obama-is-bad-for-Israel/Jews” type of mudslinger.

  15. Realistic Dove is a website where people discuss the Mideast.

    There are other websites we go to for discussing other issues. For instance, I have a website called for discussing Virginia politics.

  16. Jonathan,

    It’s not so neat ‘n easy to splice the two apart. The Mideast is subject to policies emanating from the U.S.

    Whatever level of truth irregardless, Americans of the Jewish faith are viewed as an influential factor through the ballot and lobbying and Israel is obviously a topic that generates heat.

    That said, identity politics comes into play.

  17. “””It’s not so neat ‘n easy to splice the two apart.”””

    I didn’t say it was. However, since Realistic Dove is a website which concentrates on the Mideast, the postings on it tend to be skewed in favor of discussions of the Middle East.

    People who post here may also post on subjects other than the Mideast, but not on this website.

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