You’ve been hearing it since about 2007: Barack Obama doesn’t like Jews. He’s anti-Israel. He “snubbed” the prime minister of Israel. If he’s elected, or re-elected, he’ll “throw Israel under the bus.” And because of the continuing Obama presidency, the future of the Jewish state is in serious question.
These accusations don’t only come from forwarded emails from older relatives. In the past few years, there’s been a concerted effort among Super PACs, 501C-3 organizations, and even Republican politicians themselves, to put forward the notion that the President is not a friend of Israel or of the Jews.
This stuff has never had much truth to it, so where did it all come from? Even though Obama has long been surrounded by Jewish advisers and was known for being close with the Jewish community as a politician in Illinois, there were rumblings from almost the beginning of his career as a national politician that he might not be quite “kosher” on the issue. After all, Republicans have long sought to bring Jews into their tent—and, as journalist Jonathan Chait pointed out in 2011, Jewish Republicans tend to have an “unstated assumption … that any left-of-center black politician is an anti-Semite unless proven otherwise.”
There was the Indonesian Madrassah story (debunked) and the secret-Muslim stuff (also debunked). In the closing days of the 2008 campaign, 75,000 Jewish voters in Pennsylvania received a letter comparing Obama’s potential election with “the warning signs in the 1930s and 1940s” that their European ancestors had failed to heed prior to the Holocaust.
As president, Obama has been pilloried for putting pressure on the Jewish state to return to the negotiating table with the Palestinians, for stating that a peace deal would be based on the 1967 borders plus land swaps, and for his often-frosty relationship with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He’s also been criticized for not visiting Israel as president.
But pushing for a two-state solution—based on the 1967 lines and swaps—has been U.S. policy for decades and the basis of negotiations since early in the Clinton administration. And while Obama and Netanyahu aren’t exactly best buds, that’s often the case when one leader is liberal and other conservative; numerous leaders across Israel’s political spectrum have pointed out that security cooperation between the nations is at its all-time highest point.
Obama has also stood up for the U.S. ally more than once, including in opposition to the Palestinian’s U.N. resolution for unilateral statehood. As for visiting, the President went to Israel while running in 2008. Ronald Reagan never set foot in Israel in his lifetime.
In the 2012 election, the Obama-hates-Israel campaign failed. While exit polls differ, Obama’s share of the Jewish vote dropped slightly from 2008 to 2012, from around 75 percent to around 70. However, the President carried every swing state with a significant Jewish population—including Pennsylvania—and won every state with a Jewish population of more than one percent, with the exception of Arizona and Georgia. The Republican dream of hundreds of bubbes pushing Mitt Romney over the top in Florida was not to be.
As for efforts to make Israel a partisan issue, look to what happened in the weeks after the election. The conflict’s latest flare-up, in which Hamas launched rockets from Gaza and Israel responded with bombardment, was a bad time for the “Obama hates Israel” crowd—mostly because the President backed the Jewish state every step of the way. This, despite the article of faith among some that Obama would be free to “throw Israel under the bus” once he no longer had to worry about re-election.
Obama took the position that Israel had a right to defend itself, that the rocket attacks had to stop, and that the best possible outcome is a ceasefire, hopefully leading into a resumption of peace negotiations. You know who else holds that position? Just about everybody in Israel—including Michael B. Oren, Netanyahu’s New Jersey-born ambassador to the U.S., who posted a Facebook message thanking Obama and Hillary Clinton for their unwavering support.
As the conflict flared, most of my liberal Jewish Facebook friends—who had been posting constant pro-Obama messages at election time—were posting constant messages about Israel, the rockets, and concern for friends and family living in Israel. Proof, I suppose, that liberal Zionism is alive and well—and we’re pretty far away from a world in which supporting Israel makes one a Republican.
During the presidential campaign, a Republican hack group known as the “Emergency Committee for Israel” campaigned against various “anti-Israel” Democratic candidates. Even though recent events in Israel can very much be called an emergency, the Emergency Committee for Israel’s website doesn’t appear to have been updated since the election. The homepage still features attack ads against various Democrats and no reference to rocket attacks or Gaza.
The truth is, the “Obama hates Israel” myth was always way more about scaring Jews into voting against Obama than anything related to policy or reality.