The administration's outreach effort has seen top officials — from chief political adviser David Axelrod to National Security Adviser Jim Jones — making the rounds at Jewish organizations and ceremonies, proclaiming as Jones put it to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, that there is "no space between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel's security."
The outreach is encouraging, given the alarming discord over the past several weeks. But it's not enough. Alan Solow, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said of the recent outreach blitz that "there are two questions, though, that will only be answered over time: Will the outreach be sustained, and will the policy be consistent with the positions being expressed in the outreach?"
U.S. Jewry, which overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama, is understandably wary. According to a Quinnipiac poll published last week, 67 percent of American Jews disapprove of Obama's handling of the situation between Israel and the Palestinians. Even 42 percent of Americans in general say that Obama is not a strong supporter of Israel, compared to 34 percent that say he is.
A poll of American Jews taken by John McLaughlin earlier this month showed that a plurality of U.S. Jews would consider voting for a candidate other than Obama in the next election.
The administration harbors obvious political reasons for wanting to reduce tensions with American Jewry, but if he wants to make any progress in moving past the impasse in Israeli-Palestinian relations, he must go directly to the Israeli public.
The majority of Israelis desperately seek peace, but there is a growing resignation that the Palestinians are really not interested. Hamas extremists aside, as long as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and others also refuse to engage in direct talks, continue to insist on the Palestinians' so-called "right of return" and refuse to acknowledge the Jews' historic roots in Jerusalem, then talk of peace becomes meaningless chatter falling on the ears of a cynical Israeli public. As Ed Rettig, the American Jewish Committee's man in Jerusalem, said during a visit here this week: In Israel, "the right has failed, the left has failed, and the center is bulging with frustrated people with nowhere to turn."
The president can continue to push his agenda, but he has a long way to go toward regaining the trust of the Israeli people.