Cantor’s partisan slap, Obama’s clumsy policy shift?

Does this sound like a partisan hit or what?

I just just received a statement from Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House minority whip and the only Jewish Republican in Congress, in response to today’s New York Times story suggesting a dramatic change in U.S. policy toward Israel – a change that is going to be causing a lot of sleepless nights for pro-Israel leaders here.

So far, mainstream Jewish leaders have been pretty circumspect in their responses, seeking additional information about exactly what the administration intends and what it might mean for Israel before they speak out.

Not Cantor. This is what the statement from his office said:

“House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) today issued the following statement in response to President Obama’s remarks Tuesday, which appeared in the New York Times, that Israel may be “costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure.”

This is what the New York Times said:

“Mr. Obama said conflicts like the one in the Middle East ended up ‘costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure’ — drawing an explicit link between the Israeli-Palestinian strife and the safety of American soldiers as they battle Islamic extremism and terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Note the difference?

The Times said it’s the conflict that may be linked to other critical U.S. interests. A lot of Jews disagree with that premise, but even if you do, it’s pretty clear it’s different than saying Israel is “costing us significantly….”

The Congressman, now speaking directly, went on to say this:

“With each passing day, more Americans are becoming increasingly concerned about the deteriorating state of U.S.-Israel relations. This concern was expressed succinctly by a letter today from World Jewish Congress President Ron Lauder to President Obama, who wrote, ‘Our great country and the tiny State of Israel have long shared the core values of freedom and democracy. It is a bond much treasured by the Jewish people. In that spirit I submit, most respectfully, that it is time to end our public feud with Israel and to confront the real challenges that we face together.’”

But the recent American Jewish Committee survey was ambiguous on the issue of President Obama’s standing among Jewish voters. His overall approval rating has dropped pretty significantly – but, curiously, his approval rating on the issue of his handling of U.S.-Israel relations was pretty much unchanged from last year.

That said, it seems to me there’s something incredibly ham handed – pardon the expression –  about the administration’s apparent policy shift.

If President Obama, as has been reported, is getting set to offer a U.S. peace plan, why isn’t he addressing the legitimate concerns of the Israeli people? Why does he persist in fueling the perception that he is demanding a lot of Israel, very little of the Palestinians?

Any U.S. plan that emanates from a climate of distrust like the one that exists today isn’t likely to go very far. And from my vantage point, this administration – and the Middle East – can’t afford another big foreign policy flop.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.