Obama’s Jewish charm offensive: what does it signal about his Israel policy?

We’ve read a lot in the last few days (see this JTA story in the Jewish Week)  about President Obama’s Jewish charm offensive, which reached a kind of peak with yesterday’s White House visit by Elie Wiesel, who proclaimed himself satisfied that the president does not have it in for Israel.

What we don’t know: what does this all-out effort to ease the concerns of pro-Israel voters signal about administration policy?

Is President Obama simply trying to recover from a politically costly series of missteps before critical congressional midterm elections and before he gears up his 2012 reelection campaign, and does this mean he will back off from  the kind of aggressive peace process he once promised, and which much of his political base – including his base in the Jewish community – wants?

Or is he trying to calm the Jewish waters in preparation for a recalibrated but still forceful U.S. peace push? When he demanded a complete settlement freeze from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he didn’t do much to prepare the Jewish community. Is he doing that now, in preparation for a cranked-up effort after the preliminary round of “proximity talks?”

I asked Kean University political scientist Gilbert Kahn, but he’s as uncertain as I am about what this augers for the peace process.

One thing’s for sure, he said; administration “diplomacy got lost in pique (over the Joe Biden incident), as a result of which they pushed Israel too hard. They got a lot of flak, and now they’re saying ‘we have to climb back off the tree and start again.’”

Kahn said he doesn’t see a change in administration strategy in the Middle East – but a significant change in tactics. And part of that change is ensuring that they have the backing of mainstream Jewish voters and leaders for whatever it is that comes next.

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.