The Jewish Right and the Obama Administration

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

James Besser in Washington

In the current issue, the Jewish Week examined the reaction of a worried Jewish left (read the story here) to a Barack Obama administration that some fear may be shaping up as too centrist for their taste.  But what about the Jewish right?

In some pretty obvious ways, Jews who oppose new peace concessions to the Palestinians and the Syrians were set back on November 4 with the election of a candidate who promised to make Mideast peace a priority from day one of his administration.

In several conversations with pro-Israel hardliners over the weekend, what emerged is this: many are not overly worried Obama will succeed in that goal. And if he doesn’t, they believe it will lay out their arguments much more starkly than in the past.

“Obviously, new negotiations will fail because the Palestinian leadership is simply not ready for peace,” said an official with one staunchly anti-peace process group.  “And when that happens, it will be one more step toward a widespread understanding that pushing Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians or to others is a dead end street.”

For eight years, groups opposed to new land-for-peace deals have labored under a contradiction: the Bush administration was applauded by hardline pro-Israel leaders for mostly leaving  Israel alone, yet it went beyond its predecessors in at least proclaiming the need  for rapid creation of a Palestinian state.

An Obama administration without those contradictions will be easier to forcefully oppose, they believe. And if the White House puts the squeeze on Israel over issues like illegal settlement outposts, it could provoke a reaction from center-right pro-Israel groups that generally fell into line behind the Bush administration even when it made noises about fulfilling it’s Mideast “road map” peace plan by January.

That analysis might prove accurate if the Obama administration leaps headlong into major Israeli-peace initiatives.   But few expect that to happen; instead, Obama is likely to make a few initial statements about the need for a change in U.S. policy, possibly appoint a high-level special envoy to the region – and then put the issue on the back burner, at least on the presidential level,  while he copes with a disastrous economy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That will anger the pro-Israel left – and it won’t do the pro-Israel right much good, either.  But the Jewish center is likely to be perfectly comfortable with that approach, since it supports a stronger U.S. peace role – but is distracted and worried, like most other Americans, by the current economic crisis.

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.