Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Despite Jewish Voters' Concerns, Leaders Pressure Candidates for One-Sided Mideast Policy

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Despite Jewish Voters' Concerns, Leaders Pressure Candidates for One-Sided Mideast Policy

Article excerpt

Usually, when political candidates address Jewish forums, they turn their attention to U.S. policy in the Middle East, apparently believing that this is the way to appeal to Jewish voters. The annual survey of American Jewish opinion conducted by the American Jewish Committee, which was released in December, indicates a far different picture, however.

According to the survey, the past year saw a decline in the percentage of Jews who feel "very close" to Israel-from 37 percent in 2006 to 30 percent in 2007. The issue most often selected as the most important in choosing a president in 2008 was "the economy and jobs," at 22 percent, in contrast to the war in Iraq, cited by just l6 percent of American Jews.

Asked about the issues that will determine their presidential vote this year, a strong plurality of 42 percent picked either "economy and jobs" or "health care," the two domestic choices offered. By contrast, only 36 percent picked one of the three Middle East-related suggestions, the war in Iraq (16 percent), "terrorism and national security" (14 percent) or "support for Israel" (6 percent).

Ironically, 15 of the survey's 38 questions touched on terrorism and Middle East-related issues and another five amplified energy and immigration. The rest involved anti-Semitism, Jewish identity and presidential choices. None touched on economic issues-the very issues most Jewish voters said they care about the most.

As the campaign has proceeded, however, Jewish organizations and leaders have done their best to impose an orthodox pro-Israel policy upon the candidates, and have been harshly critical of any divergence from that path.

A confidential memo questioning Senator Barack Obama's potential approach to Middle East policy was distributed in January among staff members at the American Jewish Committee. The memo, written by Debra Feuer, the Committee's counsel for special projects, noted that Obama's approach to dealing with Iran "raises questions." It also suggested that Obama placed the burden of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict primarily upon Israel. Quoting Obama's statement early in the campaign that "no one has suffered more than the Palestinians," Feuer questioned Obama's potential as a peace broker.

"He appears to believe the Israelis bear the burden of taking the risky steps for peace, and that the violence Israel has received in return does not shift that burden," Feuer wrote. She also expressed concern about Obama's emphasis on diplomacy, particularly in dealing with Iran and other "rogue states."

"Frankly some of the commentary I've seen suggests guilt by association."

"The senator's interpretation of the NIE raises questions," Feuer wrote, referring to the National Intelligence Estimate, released in November 2007, which determined that Iran had halted its alleged nuclear weapons program in 2003. She included a number of statements Obama has made that encourage diplomatic engagement with Tehran and are critical of the Bush administration. She also noted Obama's presence at a fund-raiser headlined in l998 by the late Edward Said.

One of Obama's chief backers, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL), argued that the memo reflected "political bias on the part of the drafter of the memo, rather than the facts." He said he took particular issue with the idea that Obama's calls for diplomacy should cause alarm within Jewish circles, given that a number of Jewish lawmakers have advocated the same position. "The whole notion that if a lawmaker supports renewed diplomacy with Iran, that that somehow suggests a position that the American Jewish community should be concerned about-well, put me on the top of that list," Wexler said. "Put [the late] Tom Lantos on the top of that list, put Howard Berman and Gary Ackerman on the top of that list."

Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign, in an effort to ingratiate itself with Jewish organizations, has questioned Obama's commitment to U. …

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