For whatever reason, I tend to hang out with a lot of lefty, politically conscious Jews. Birds of a feather flock to the same delicatessens, I guess. But as another election approaches, these people whom I’ve always known to share my progressive politics have grown increasingly disillusioned with the Democrats. And not for the same reasons that everyone else has. From what I’ve heard in the Jewish media and seen in forwarded chain-emails from my bubby, it’s clear that an increasing number of Jews feel disheartened by what they perceive as President Barack Obama’s frosty approach to Israel.

I hear the same tropes repeated over and over — Obama supports Hamas; he’s critical of Israeli settlements; he snubbed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to the White House. And 6,000 miles to the east, in Israel, the anti-Obama sentiment is even more impassioned. During a 10-day visit to the Holy Land in May, I tried to talk politics with almost everyone I met. Though the Israelis I came across seemed to love the U.S. and Americans, the vast majority were highly skeptical of Obama. Many suggested that he’s weak on terrorism and a handful said they thought he was a practicing Muslim. If it weren’t for their accents, I might’ve mistaken them for Tea Partiers.

As I talked to these Israelis, I looked forward to the rest of my summer in Washington, D.C., where I hoped I might learn concrete facts — in addition to hearing opinions — about America’s current relationship with Israel. Fortunately, as an intern for an organization with a strong hand in advocacy for Israel, I had the opportunity to attend a number of seminars and lectures focused on Middle East policy. I made a point of continuing serious dialogue with interns from both AIPAC and J Street, two separate voices in the world of Israel advocacy. And I supplemented my experience by reading scores of articles debating the pros and cons of Obama’s policies regarding Israel.

So what did I discover? For starters, I learned some objective numbers. As pointed out by Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro, the Obama administration requested the largest sum for Israeli security assistance in history — $2.775 billion for fiscal year 2010. And for the 2011 fiscal year, the administration bumped up their request to $3 billion. That number doesn’t even include the $205 million that Obama requested from Congress earlier this year to support a new Israeli missile defense project known as the Iron Dome.

And in addition to sheer numbers, the aid that Obama has overseen is being used in unparalleled ways to advance what’s known as Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge — its capacity to counteract state and non-state actors while keeping losses minimal. Israel’s QME diminished during the Bush administration, particularly in the face of the administration’s sale of arms to Persian Gulf states in the effort against Iraq. But under the auspices of Obama, through increased efforts to share military intelligence and technology, Israel’s QME has grown by leaps and bounds. Just this Monday, the Pentagon announced yet another collaboration with Israel to advance an additional weapons system to defend against short-range ballistic missiles.

But military aid is only part of the picture. While it’s true that Obama has criticized Israeli settlements in the West Bank, it’s crucial to note that some of his most conservative predecessors — George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, in particular — were equally critical of settlements. Far from being anti-Israel, the president’s recent call on Netanyahu to continue a settlement freeze for the duration of the current peace talks exhibits his dedication to peace.

It’s also worth mentioning that Netanyahu, who was supposedly snubbed at the White House earlier this year, expressed his gratitude for Obama before an American crowd last week. He asserted that Obama’s commitment to the peace talks “made a great impression on me.” In July, in an interview with Fox News, Netanyahu also said, “all U.S. presidents…including President Obama, share what the president called the basic bedrock of this unbreakable bond between Israel and the United States.” If Obama ever offended Bibi Netanyahu in the past — and it’s not clear that he ever did — it appears that the two leaders currently have a perfectly healthy relationship.

That isn’t all that’s surprising when one considers that the two men share one very important policy goal: preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. In July, Obama told an Israeli television network that thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions “has been my number one foreign policy priority over the course of the last 18 months.” And the Obama administration has strongly supported sanctions against Iran, particularly targeting its influential banking system.

Nearly halfway into his first term, Obama has surely left a lot to be desired on a variety of issues. Though I’m still optimistic about him, I’ve been less than thrilled with much of his leadership. But when it comes to supporting Israel, Obama has been exactly the president I’d hoped he’d be. And as the peace talks go forward, the Obama administration is rock solid in its support of both Israel and lasting peace in the region.

Matthew Green can be reached at greenmat@umich.edu

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.