Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has denied calling White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and senior Obama advisor David Axelrod “self-hating Jews." The alleged use of that term is particularly timely as Jews mourn on Thursday the destruction of the First and Second Holy Temples; Judaism teaches that “causeless hatred” among Jews was the reason for the fall of the Second Temple.
Whether or not the Prime Minister used the term, increasing criticism by American Jews of U.S. President Barack Obama signals a split in the American Jewish community.
The trigger for the growing crisis between Israel and the U.S., and among American Jews, is the issue of “settlements,” which President Obama labeled as “illegitimate” in his speech in Cairo nearly two months ago. He later included Jewish communities in eastern Jerusalem as part of the “settlement” label.
President Obama revealed this week that his White House advisor Rahm Emanuel, whose father was an Israeli and part of the underground resistance movement under the British Mandate, tells him everything he needs to know about Israel.
Emanuel also is the man who choreographed the handshake between former President Bill Clinton, former Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin and Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn.
He has pushed the president into a head-on collision with the Netanyahu government, but there is a growing opinion that he has also left the president out on a limb. Emanuel’s strategy was to demonstrate that the pro-Israel lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) no longer speaks for American Jewry.
Mondoweis Blogger Philip Weis, who continually attacks a Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria and eastern Jerusalem, wrote last month, “Obama's game is to defeat the Israel lobby from within. He could not defeat the lobby from outside it…. But now he is cracking it like a nut, and counting on Jews to do the cracking.”
That strategy has turned into a wall of opposition, both in Israel, where the president’s popularity rating is near-zero, in the U.S. where Emanuel has simply ignored opposing views of major Jewish organizations, and in the normally anti-settlement American press.
Washington Post vs. Obama
The liberal and highly influential Washington Post has criticized President Obama on his policy towards Israel, and an editorial on Thursday went even further. Under the title “Tough on Israel - Why: President Obama's battle against Jewish settlements could prove self-defeating,” the newspaper’s editors wrote:
“One of the more striking results of the Obama administration's first six months is that only one country has worse relations with the United States than it did in January: Israel. The new administration has pushed a reset button with Russia and sent new ambassadors to Syria and Venezuela; it has offered olive branches to Cuba and Burma. But for nearly three months it has been locked in a public confrontation with Israel over Jewish housing construction in Jerusalem and the West Bank.”
The editorial criticized the president for his “absolutist demand” for a freeze on all building for Jews in Judea and Samaria and eastern Jerusalem. “Palestinian and Arab leaders who had accepted previous compromises immediately hardened their positions; they also balked at delivering the ‘confidence-building’ concessions to Israel that the administration seeks. Israeli public opinion, which normally leans against the settler movement, has rallied behind Mr. Netanyahu.”
The newspaper warned that any compromise by President Obama may leave him “diminished among both Israelis and Arabs.”
The turning point against President Obama may have been the meeting in the White House earlier this month with American Jewish leaders. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations requested a discussion with President Obama, but Emanuel decided who would attend.
He used the opportunity to attempt to create an impression of solid support for President Obama and show off the relative new J Street lobby. Unlike AIPAC, it is active politically and endorsed and campaigned for Congressional candidates who fit their agenda, which includes Israel’s surrendering all of Judea and Samaria and parts of Jerusalem that were restored to the Jewish State in the 1967 Six-Day War.
At the same time, he excluded National Council of Young Israel (NCYI) and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), both of which support a Jewish presence in all of Israel.
The latest confrontation on a new project for Jews in eastern Jerusalem prompted Alan Solow, chairman of the Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, to state this week, "Hundreds of Arab families have moved into Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem and the same right should be accorded to Jewish residents to live wherever they choose in Jerusalem. No government of Israel has or can pursue a discriminatory policy that would prevent the legitimate presence of Jews in any area of the capital."
In response, five leftist groups, including Americans for Peace Now and J Street, criticized supporters of Jews’ rights to build in the area. It added, “Unilateral actions that inflame tensions, impair negotiations and make the ultimate resolution of issues surrounding Jerusalem more difficult are unhelpful and should be avoided at this particularly sensitive moment."
While Emanuel is trying to strengthen his position, he faces another challenge on the Obama administration’s health plan. Emanuel’s brother Dr. Ezekiel Emmanuel is Obama’s “health czar,” and the plan is being widely panned in American media, leaving the White House Chief of Staff with two potential failures for the President.