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Thursday, December 15, 2011

U.S. Jewish conservatives target Obama for treating Israel 'like a punching bag'

 Published 21:27 15.12.11 Latest update 21:27 15.12.11

Full-page ad in major newspapers by Emergency Committee for Israel criticizes U.S. President for Israel policies, as senior New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman says Congress 'bought' by Israel lobby.

By Natasha Mozgovaya

A new campaign by leading U.S. Jewish conservatives took aim at President Barack Obama's Israel policies on Thursday, amid attempts by Democratic officials to recuperate the incumbent's image in the American Jewish community.

The full page ad by Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI), and published in such leading newspapers such as the New York Times, the Miami Herald, and Variety, asked: "Why does the Obama administration treat Israel like a punching bag?"

Barack Obama - AP Obama speaks about the economy last Tuesday at Osawatomie High School, Kansas.
Photo by: AP

Under the headline the ad included a now infamous exchange between Obama and French President Nikola Sarkozy on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's alleged lack of reliability, as well as a comment recently made by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's remarks at the Saban Forum in Washington, where he called Israel to "get to the damn table," a move interpreted by conservatives as putting blame on Israel for the peace talks stalemate.

Other Obama officials quoted in the ad were U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who recently criticized the discrimination of women in Israel, and U.S. envoy to Belgium Howard Gutman, who recently linked the rise of anti-Semitism in the Arab world to the unsolved Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Speaking of the ad, the ECI's chair Bill Kristol said that “the Obama administration has been using Israel as a punching bag. The pro-Israel wing of the pro-Israel community is punching back."

Emergency Committee for Israel ad Emergency Committee for Israel ad attacking Barack Obama's Israel policy, Dec. 15, 2011.

The group's director Noah Pollak said: "In a month that has seen Islamists come to power in Egypt, rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza and Lebanon, progress on the Iranian nuclear program, and the continued slaughter of civilians in Syria, the Obama administration has chosen to repeatedly condemn the only liberal democracy in the region: Israel."

The ad quickly garnered Democratic responses, with National Jewish Democratic Council Chair Marc R. Stanley and President and CEO David A. Harris saying in a statement that ECI is "treating the truth like a punching bag," accusing the conservative organization of "spreading fictions and smears about President Barack Obama and his powerfully pro-Israel record."

"When members of their own party repeatedly suggest that foreign aid should 'start at zero' and then make no mention of the 10-year Memorandum of Understanding between Israel and the U.S., they're silent as can be", Harris wrote, adding: "When 100 percent of House Republicans repeatedly side with business over strengthening Iran sanctions, they're nowhere to be found."

"But they have plenty of cash on hand to spread myths about this President, and to shamefully turn support for Israel into a partisan football. The sad truth is that they're more committed to hurting this President than they are to helping the U.S.-Israel relationship, and that's reprehensible," Harris said.

Regarding Secretary Panetta's comments, the NJDC stressed the top U.S. official "delivered a staunchly pro-Israel address at the Saban Center," while Obama's administration "have a perfect voting record at the United Nations"; and the Jewish Community in the US share the same concerns with Secretary Clinton "over Israeli legislation limiting foreign funding of Israel's non-governmental organizations, and regarding women's rights in Israel."

Thomas Friedman: Netanyahu's applause at Congress were bought by Israel lobby
Another story causing a storm amid the U.S. Jewish voting public was stirred by the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who in his column earlier this week titled "Newt, Mitt, Bibi and Vladimir" attacked Gingrich for calling the Palestinians "invented people," accusing him of pandering to Israel.

However it was Friedman's attack against Netanyahu that garnered the attention, as the veteran columnist wrote: "I sure hope that Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, understands that the standing ovation he got in Congress this year was not for his politics."

"That ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby. The real test is what would happen if Bibi tried to speak at, let’s say, the University of Wisconsin. My guess is that many students would boycott him and many Jewish students would stay away, not because they are hostile but because they are confused," Friedman wrote.

In the ensuing maelstrom, Friedman was accused for "hitting a new low" by conservative "Washington post" blogger Jennifer Rubin, with Democratic Congressman Steve Rothman saying that Friedman "owes an apology" to the pro-Israeli community.

"I gave Prime Minister Netanyahu a standing ovation, not because of any nefarious lobby, but because it is in America’s vital national security interests to support the Jewish State of Israel and it is right for Congress to give a warm welcome to the leader of such a dear and essential ally. Mr. Friedman owes us all an apology," Rothman said.

Once at the briefing with Israeli reporters in Washington Netanyahu was asked about the constant criticism by Friedman. "We might have lost Thomas Friedman, but we didn't lose America," he answered.

An Israeli official told "Haaretz" that "Friedman has crossed a line that true friends of Israel should never allow themselves to cross and inadvertently encouraged anti-Semitism."

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