The Obama campaign is encouraging Jewish kids to fly to Florida to visit their grandparents over Columbus Day weekend. The website for the intitiative, www.thebigschlep.com, features comedienne Sarah Silverman instructing Jewish youth in Lysistrata-style tactics: Threaten to withhold future visits unless Granny agrees to vote for Obama. Here’s another suggestion: Tell them that if they don’t vote for Obama, “the goodest person we’ve ever had as a presidential choice,” it can only be because they are racists.
My guess is that Bubbe and Zaidy will not be too impressed by such bullying; nor should they be. The grandchildren will seek to prove that Obama will is good for Israel, but their identification with Israel bears no relationship to that of their grandparents. For them the Holocaust is the stuff of history books, not a living memory. Ditto the U.N. vote on Israel’s creation. They did not huddle anxiously around TV sets listening to the U.N. debates leading up to the 1967 war, when a second Holocaust seemed all too possible and 10,000 graves were dug in Tel Aviv in anticipation of war casualties. Many have never heard of Entebbe.
A 2007 study by sociologists Steven Cohen and Ari Kelman found that more than half of non-Orthodox Jews under 35 would not view the destruction of the State of Israel as a personal tragedy. The death and/or expulsions of millions of fellow Jews is something they can live with. By those standards, they probably would not see the Holocaust as a personal tragedy either.
Indifference to Israel, Cohen and Kelman found, “is giving way to downright alienation” among the under 35 cohort. Israel complicates the social lives and muddles the political identity of young Jews. Only 54% profess to be comfortable with the idea of a Jewish state at all. These are not the people to be telling their grandparents who will be good for Israel.
The grandchildren will cite Senator Obama’s high rating from AIPAC as proof of his pro-Israel bona fides. Irrelevant. Every senator with national ambitions has such a high-rating, which is based on nothing more than voting for appropriation resolutions. Far more relevant to determining a candidate’s likely relationship with Israel as president is his worldview.
Obama views talk as a universal solvent, and seems to believe that most conflicts can be solved by sitting people down around a conference table to air their grievances. That makes him remarkably sanguine about resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, which he says would be a high priority from day one of his administration. The last time an American president made solving the conflict a high priority Israel ended up with the Al Aksa intifada and open warfare.
If Obama thinks there is an easy solution to the conflict it can only come in one form: Israel’s return to its 1967 “Auschwitz borders.” He basically confirmed that in a June interview with Jerusalem Post editor David Horowitz, in which he allowed that Israel might justify “67 plus” in terms of a security buffer, “but they’ve got to consider whether getting that buffer is worth the antagonism of the other party.”
Yet an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank would almost surely result in a third Iranian-armed and financed adversary confronting Israel, just as previous Israeli withdrawals from southern Lebanon and Gaza led to the takeover by heavily armed Iranian proxies in the form of Hizbullah and Hamas. Israeli intelligence officials estimate that absent an Israeli presence in the West Bank Hamas would takeover almost as quickly as it seized Gaza. From the Israeli point of view, withdrawal from the West Bank, at present, would be a classic example of Einstein’s definition of insanity – the repetition of the same action with the expectation of different results.
Obama assumes that Israeli settlements, not Israel’s existence, are the source of Palestinian “antagonism.” But Palestinian polls tell a different story. A June 5-7 poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey research found that three-quarters of Palestinians do not believe that reconciliation with Israel is possible in this generation, even after the conclusion of a peace agreement and the creation of a Palestinian state, and nearly two-thirds think it could only happen after many generations or never.
Nor is acceptance of Israel any greater among the senior political echelons with whom Israel is supposed to conclude some kind of peace treaty. The Palestinian Authority recently sent its warmest congratulations to child-murderer Samir Kuntar on his release from an Israeli jail and announced plans for festive celebrations in honor of Dalal Mughrabi, the mastermind of the 1973 Coastal Road massacre in which 37 Israelis were murdered. Those gestures make it difficult to understand how Obama could credit Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayd with doing everything possible “to address some of the systemic failures of the Palestinian Authority,” (unless ceaseless incitement against Israel is not one of those systemic failures in his eyes) .
Senator Obama’s faith in the power of words is equally dangerous with respect to the Iranian threat. In June, Obama told the AIPAC convention that face-to-face negotiations with Iran would be necessary before any military response could be justified. In the last presidential debate, he dropped any reference to military action and said negotiations must precede any strong sanctions, and must include the Russians and Chinese.
But the Europeans have been engaged in futile, unconditional negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program for six years. If Obama has a tastier carrot to offer than the Europeans, he should at least say what it is. As for the Russians and Chinese, they have made clear that their economic interests lie in supporting Iran, and that they will stymie any further U.N. Security Council sanctions.
The only result of yet another round of face-to-face negotiations, after six years of Iranian stonewalling, would be to give Iran with more crucial time to complete its nuclear weapons project and provide Ahmadinejad greater internal legitimacy.
An Obama presidency, then, would almost surely result in an Israel living within indefensible borders and in the crosshairs of a nuclear Iran. Bubby and Zaidy should tell their progeny that in Jewish tradition wisdom flows from the elders to young, not vice versa.
This article appeared in the Jerusalem Post, October 9, 2008.