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Rick Perry's fantasy about Obama, Israel

By John Avlon, CNN Contributor
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Wed September 21, 2011
Texas governor and presidential contender Rick Perry criticized Obama's policy on Israel.
Texas governor and presidential contender Rick Perry criticized Obama's policy on Israel.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rick Perry launched an attack on President Obama over Israel
  • John Avlon says Perry's charges were totally unfounded
  • He says Obama has been supportive of Israel
  • Avlon: Media overstate chance that Obama could lose Jewish vote

Editor's note: John Avlon is a CNN contributor and senior political columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is the co-author of the new book "Deadline Artists: America's Greatest Newspaper Columns."

New York (CNN) -- Gov. Rick Perry unleashed an onslaught against President Obama's Israel policy Tuesday in New York, calling it "moral equivalency," "appeasement," "naive and arrogant, misguided and dangerous."

All this sounds very bad, deepening the narrative that Obama is hell-bent on alienating our closest allies, secretly sides with Muslims in the Middle East and has broken with decades of U.S. policy to do so. On cue, a second spin-driven news-cycle appeared: "Will Obama lose the Jewish vote in 2012?"

Meanwhile, back in reality, the Obama administration was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel at the United Nations to stop the Palestinians' reckless bid to achieve statehood outside the negotiation table. More than 120 U.N. member states are backing the Palestinians, but the U.S. has the power to block such a move in the Security Council, if necessary, and we have never wavered in our commitment to do so. That is what historic allies do for each other.

Of course, "No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction." That's what Obama has said repeatedly, and that's why there is no moral equivalence between the state of Israel and the terrorist-backed political party Hamas or even the PLO-rooted Fatah Party, once led by corrupt charlatan and terrorist-turned-Nobel Peace Prize winner Yasser Arafat.

That's why U.S. military aid to Israel totals more than $3 billion a year and has gone up under the Obama administration. In turn, Obama has said, like most presidents before him, "The United States has no better friend in the world than Israel."

The Obama administration's support for a 'two-state solution" -- determined in mutually agreed-upon negotiations with Israel and conditional on security provisions for Israel, including a non-militarized Palestinian state -- is not significantly different from the goal advanced by the Bush and Clinton administrations.

Perry: Obama Mideast policy 'dangerous'
Two decades of U.S. role in Mideast peace

The controversial pre-1967 borders provision articulated by Obama was an anticipatable lightning rod, and perhaps unwise, but itself not significantly different from what previous presidents have said. The administration's belief in freezing Israeli settlement-building as part of negotiations is also consistent with American policy articulated at least since the Nixon administration. (For a good overview on these and related issues, check out John Heilemann's excellent New York magazine cover story "The First Jewish President."

That's why the Anti-Defamation League's Abraham Foxman and Robert Sugarman -- no slouches on Israel, they -- have said, "We support the president's vision of a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian settlement with strong security provisions for Israel and a non-militarized Palestinian state. ... We appreciate his direct rejection of a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state and his understanding that the Hamas-Fatah agreement poses major problems for Israel."

What Obama seems most guilty of is having an approach to Israel that is not in lockstep with Likud, the conservative party currently in power. But often, U.S. policy debates about Israel to not reflect the full spectrum of opinion in Israel itself.

Which brings me, briefly, to the notion recently floated that Obama will lose the Jewish vote. History tells us that is very unlikely. Obama won the support of Jewish Americans by nearly 80%, and as with almost all demographics, his support has declined significantly from that "hope and change" high. But it is still well over 55%, and no Democrat has lost the Jewish vote in recent decades; Jimmy Carter came closest in 1980.

Belief: Will the GOP push for Jewish votes pay off?

After the terrorist attacks of 2001, it was reasonable to assume that George W. Bush, with his neo-conservative foreign policy, would be able to make significant inroads with this community. Breathless articles were written to this effect in the runup to 2004. (Here's one example.) John Kerry ended up winning 77% of the Jewish vote that year, while George W. Bush won only 22%.

Personally, I'd like to see a Republican presidential candidate win a majority of Jewish Americans' support some day, if only to break down the idea that groups vote in monoliths; healthy competition and a deep diversity of opinion reflect the reality of our country. Likewise, I'd like to see Eric Cantor not be the only Jewish Republican member of Congress. But for Republicans to make inroads to the Jewish community, and to stimulate an honest conversation about why it is important to continue standing with our historic closest ally in the Middle East, we need to have a fact-based debate, not a fear-based debate.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.

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