March 20, 2012
Obama Administration, Scared of AIPAC, Punts on J Street


Over at the Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg has his headline exactly right.

A couple of weeks ago, every politician who was able came running to ensure AIPAC crowds of his or her love, respect, and admiration for Israel. But it was only one vision of Israel, the one put forward by Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and embraced by American Jews who lean to the Right when it comes to America’s relationship to Israel. Now that another vision of Israel is being presented to Washington, the same politicians won’t be coming out.

J Street, the left-leaning pro-Israel group, is having its big conference in Washington starting this weekend. It’s not going to be an AIPAC-sized 13,000-person circus, but J Street is still expecting 2,500 people or so. One person who won’t be coming is President Obama, even though (or perhaps because) roughly 100 percent of the attendees will be Obama supporters. The Administration isn’t sending the vice president, the secretaries of state or defense, or the national security adviser, either, to speak at the conference. Instead, in a clear sign that the Administration is spooked by AIPAC, which sees J Street as a left-flank threat, the White House, according to J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami, is sending Tony Blinken, the vice president’s national security adviser and a senior official of the National Security Council, to speak to the gathering next Monday.

Why? First of all, look at the numbers: 2,500 is a nice crowd but it can’t command the respect of 13,000. More important than that, though, is that Obama can’t be seen reassuring the J Street lefties that he won’t simply rubber-stamp everything the Likud party wants to do (even if that’s actually what he will do). Showing up at the J Street conference — or sending anyone from the administration who gives off a whiff of authority — would be a beautifully-wrapped gift for the GOP.

Indeed, in the aftermath of the AIPAC conference, there was still all sorts of criticism about Obama’s perceived weakness on Iran and wavering support for Israel from the GOP presidential hopefuls, from the Likud party, and from AIPAC’s right-leaning attendees. All of this is nonsense, of course, but, in an election year, it’s great fodder for a populace that doesn’t do its own research.

LTMC: The greatest tragedy of Obama’s absence from J Street is that he could have delivered the same exact speech he did at AIPAC, but used the opportunity to note the political diversity of the Jewish community, and nudge the conversation on Israel back towards the center.  One of the largest misnomers in America (as  Ari has said before) is that Jews are of uniform opinion when it comes to America’s foreign policy on Israel.  Obama could easily use his inherent visibility as President to put J Street on the map and give them a bigger presence in the public square, thereby demonstrating that AIPAC isn’t the only game in town.  Huge missed opportunity, if you ask me.

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    LTMC: The greatest tragedy of Obama’s absence from J Street is that he could have delivered the same exact speech he did...
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