US-Israel role reversal: Who needs whom?

The New York Times reported on Friday that US Vice President Joe Biden is doing a round of events in the Jewish community in order to “reassure Jewish voters” of Obama’s loyalty to Israel (as if there should be any doubt, especially following the UN General Assembly).

It is no secret that the Obama Administration is concerned over losing Jewish voters in the 2012 elections, and indeed newspapers have been filled with reports of waning Jewish support for Obama (although an American Jewish Committee poll found that overall, American Jews would still vote overwhelmingly for Obama).

What struck me as peculiar and significant about the report though, was that the reporter paraphrased administration officials as saying that the White House “needs all the Jewish friends it can get.” Huh? OK, it is, again, no secret that American Jews constitute a significant constituency because Jewish and “pro-Israel” money comprises a substantial percentage of political party contributions and because in certain states, Jews can seriously affect the vote. But to say that the White House needs all the Jewish friends it can get? It used to be the other way around: Israel needed all the American friends it could get. In fact, former Prime Minister Menachem Begin was the first Israeli leader to solidify the relationship between Israelis and American Christians (specifically evangelical) in the early 1980’s –  at the time, following the  First Lebanon War, when Americans suffered the highest rate of troop deaths since WWII, and when Israel was embroiled in the Sabra and Shatila massacre, Israel was desperate for any friends it could get and could not be picky about its international relations.

Currently, at a time when Israel’s government is so rigidly right-wing, constantly affronting the Obama Administration and severely isolated in the region, it is amazing to me that anyone in the White House would actually admit that they could use all the Jewish friends they could get.  It just goes to show how problematic the link between Jewish identity and “pro-Israelism” can be.