President Obama’s first White House sit-down with Jewish communal leaders has gotten tongues wagging about whom he chooses as friends and what ulterior motives might lurk behind his hospitality. It seems that the list of 14 organizations represented at the July 13 meeting had a more liberal cast than the invitation lists that used to come out of the Bush White House. Some conservative organizations that used to get invited back then were left out this time, and they’re angry. On the other hand, some liberal organizations were represented this time that didn’t used to be invited during the Bush years, and conservatives are angry about that, too.
Some of what we’re hearing is simply pique on the part of individuals and organizations that had grown accustomed to easy access in George W. Bush’s Washington. For eight years there was an administration that sought out their views because it shared them. The administration’s invitation lists had the effect of boosting the prestige of like-minded factions and reinforcing their views in the larger community. Last November the voters repudiated those views and chose a new administration with different friends. The old guard is having a hard time getting used to it. That’s understandable.
There’s more than just wounded pride at work. Conservatives and hawks have been on the ascendancy in the Jewish community for so long that they’ve come to regard their dominance as a given. Advocates of liberal policies, especially on Israel, have been relegated to outsider status, branded as disreputable. This was assumed to be permanent; it didn’t change even when Israeli governments under Yitzhak Rabin or Ehud Olmert shared the liberals’ views. Now Barack Obama has given the liberals a seat at the table. To the conservatives, it seems a disturbance of the natural order.
To be fair, there is a more substantive complaint. Several organizations, including the Orthodox Union and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, worry aloud that the administration plans to pressure Israel into unwanted concessions. They’re afraid that centrist Jewish organizations will be seduced into acquiescence. We’re hearing warnings that Diaspora Jews have no right to oppose Israeli policy.
We note those views. We’ve heard them before. But we also remember that those same conservative groups talked differently when the positions were reversed. None of them objected when the Bush administration vetoed major Israeli arms deals with China or forbade the Olmert government to open talks with Syria in 2006, over the pleadings of the entire Israeli intelligence community and most of its Cabinet. We remember, too, that conservatives haven’t hesitated in recent years to criticize Israeli talks with the Palestinians and to denounce proposed concessions. Frankly, we respected their right to dissent. We wish they would reciprocate.
As to the new seating arrangements, our best advice is to get used to it.