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July 26, 2009

Dysfunctional Critics of Obama

Listed in: Israel, Other Foreign Policy, NJDC News, Opinions

Originally published in The Huffington Post

By Ira N. Forman, CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC)

Dysfunctional is the word that comes to mind when I think of the Palestinian political leadership over the last 50 years. The old Abba Eban, famed Israeli diplomat and politician, quote sums it up nicely: “The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

Yet, Palestinians do not have a monopoly on this characteristic and sometimes it helps define the behavior of some Jewish supporters of Israel. Case in point: the detached-from-reality spin that a handful of folks circulated right after the July 13 White House meeting between President Barack Obama and 16 leaders of Jewish organizations.

I was lucky enough to actually be in the room and hear from the President that day. It is safe to say that nearly everyone who came out of that meeting—including representatives of the largest Jewish organizations—were impressed with his commitment to Israel and the depth of his knowledge. However, a number of folks who were not in the room that day have, either willingly or unwittingly, decided to swallow whole a narrative of the meeting that bears only the most minimal relationship to reality.

Last week, Steve Rosen’s Foreign Policy piece, “Tough Love Is No Love at All,” is a prime example. During the course of the meeting, one participant informed Obama and the rest of us that he was a “student of history” and that history taught him that the only time there is progress in the peace process is when there are no public disagreements between the U.S. and Israel. The President responded with some comments about the serious, concrete responsibilities the Arab world (not just the Palestinian Authority) must undertake if the peace process is to advance. Obama then politely disagreed with the participant and correctly pointed out that the peace process did not advance in the last eight years when there were few public disagreements between the U.S. and Israel. Rosen and others who were not in the room apparently have been fed and regurgitated a very misleading and abbreviated version of this conversation, failing to tie Obama’s remarks to the central bone of contention: that only when there is no disagreement between the U.S. and Israel will the peace process advance.

Rosen’s piece, however, seems studiously objective compared to Anne Bayefsky’s piece in the The Jerusalem Post on July 19. I have to take my hat off to Bayefsky. She too did not attend the meeting and she seemed to have worked very hard to get so much of the facts and atmospherics surrounding a meeting so consistently wrong. In fact, Bayefsky seems to be describing a meeting that took place in some parallel universe. If something was white in the actual meeting it turns out to be black in Bayefsky’s telling.

For example, she claims that the White House demanded strict confidentiality. In truth, participants were told they could speak to the press about the meeting and we were allowed to take extensive notes of what was said.

Bayefsky concludes that this meeting makes “one thing very clear…[Israel] no longer has a friend in the leader of the free world.” Bayefsky must reside on a different planet because if she had interviewed all the participants (or even a few of them) she would have concluded just the opposite.

At the July 13 meeting, the room full of Jewish leaders were clearly willing to ask tough questions to the President and nearly everyone walked out of the meeting with an increased appreciation of Obama and his attitudes toward Israel. However, at least one of the participants was clearly set on grossly distorting the Obama’s very clear message. Even more disturbingly there are more than a few in our Jewish community who are happy to be spoon fed distortions so they can twist reality to fit their own vision of how the world should be.