May 13, 2009
Number 05/09 #04
Pope Benedict XVI is just completing his trip to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and the visit has been much more controversial than the previous Papal visit to Israel, by John Paul II, in 2000. This Update looks at aspects of that visit, as well as providing an important preview of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s first official visit as PM to Washington in his current term, which will take place next week.
First up, is a Jewish Telegrahic Agency report on the Papal visit highlighting some of the controversies created by the trip. In particular, there were criticisms of the Pope’s speech, described by some survivors as “lukewarm”, at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, as well as his failure to actually enter the museum. There was also an incident at an interfaith conference in which Palestinian cleric Tayseer Rajab Tamimi apparently seized the podium to deliver an unscheduled speech denouncing Israel and demanding Christians unite with Muslims in opposing Israel. This led to a Papal walkout. For more on the Pope’s important but complicated visit, CLICK HERE. More on the controversy over the allegedly “luke-warm” Yad Vashem speech is here – with opinion pieces on the subject here, here and here. More on the intervention by Tamimi is here, and comment on this incident comes from Barry Rubin’s blog. A pre-visit analysis predicting the Pope’s trip would be controversial and difficult comes from Anshel Pfeiffer of Haaretz.
Next up, top Israeli political scientist Professor Shlomo Avineri takes advantage of the Pope’s visit to compare and contrast Israel’s relations with the Vatican with its relations with the the Palestinians. Avineri points out that Vatican thinking about the Jews has recently undergone a tremendous shift – from treating the Jews as basically having no theological right to exist following the establishment of Christianity to recognising their continued covenant with God. But, he says, such soul-searching appears entirely absent from the Palestinian side, where even those supporting a two-state solution reject the idea of recognising Israel as a Jewish homeland, and Jewish peoplehood. For Avineri’s argument that Palestinian emulation of the example of the Vatican is the key to peace, CLICK HERE.
Finally, with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu due to visit Washington next week for his first official meeting with US President Barack Obama, we include a top-flight preview of the issues and symbolism likely to predominate at that encounter. It comes from former top US official Elliot Abrams, now at the Council of Foreign Relations. He looks at many factors likely to come into play, including the likely efforts of both sides to couple the issues of the Iranian nuclear program and progress on peace with the Palestinians, possible disagreements on settlements, the views of Americans Jews, even the symbolism of routine statements and what is served at the meeting. For this detailed and important take on a seminal meeting, CLICK HERE. Barry Rubin also had some comments on the upcoming meeting, while veteran Australian Jewish leader Isi Liebler looks at how American Jewish leaders are likely to view the meeting.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Two editorials from the Jerusalem Post (here and here), and one from Haaretz, on the Pope’s trip.
- Some views by different rabbis of the Pope’s trip to Israel.
- For anyone still confused about Hamas’ stance following an oft-misrepresented interview in the New York Times last week, Hamas leader Khaled Meshal spells it out clearly saying “Hamas will not accept a two-state solution.”
- Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has called, in his cabinet, for an easing of restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank and efforts to boost the Palestinian economy. Israel has begun implementing this policy by removing additional roadblocks near Ramallah (on top of the 140 removed over the last year.)
- For those who haven’t seen it in yesterday’s Australian, an interesting article on the changing approach of the international left toward Israel and the Palestinians from Nick Dyrenfurth and Philip Mendes.
- An interesting discussion, of the fight against antisemitism, by British MP John Mann, chair of the UK Parliamentary Committee against Anti-Semitism. Meanwhile, Canadian columnist Mark Steyn has a long piece on the degree to which various forms of extreme anti-Zionism and antisemitism have become normal in Europe, including especially in Britain.
- A report that Australia-Israel trade is up sharply.
By Marcy Oster
JTA, May 12, 2009
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Coming as a self-described “pilgrim of peace,” Pope Benedict XVI vowed to fight anti-Semitism and called for a Palestinian state in the moments after his arrival in Israel for a five-day visit.
But controversy has marked the visit this week from the start, as the pope’s supposedly non-political trip abounds with politics and his hosts in Israel and the Palestinian Authority parse his words with nearly Talmudic precision eyeing support for their positions.
On Monday, his first day in Israel, the pope was criticized for not being contrite enough about the Holocaust on behalf of the Catholic Church. Later he cut short an interfaith meeting of clergy after a Palestinian Muslim cleric launched a surprise attack on Israel during an impromptu address.
“I come, like so many others before me, to pray at the holy places, to pray especially for peace — peace here in the Holy Land, and peace throughout the world,” Benedict said Monday morning during a welcoming ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport, where he was met by President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Benedict would repeat that desire for peace and interfaith dialogue in every appearance in the early days of his trip, which the Vatican insisted is non-political.
But his visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, sparked criticism by former Israeli Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who greeted the pontiff at the museum.
“I am deeply grateful to God and to you for the opportunity to stand here in silence: a silence to remember, a silence to pray, a silence to hope,” the pope said.
The cry of those killed “echoes in our hearts. It is a cry raised against every act of injustice and violence. It is a perpetual reproach against the spilling of innocent blood.”
Following the visit, in which the pope did not enter the actual museum due to an exhibit that offers an unflattering portrayal of Pope Pius XII, who has been accused of being silent in the face of Nazi atrocities against the Jews during World War II, Lau criticized the pope’s speech in an interview on Israel’s Channel 1.
Lau, a survivor of Buchenwald who serves as the chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, lamented that while Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, in his address at the museum nine years ago offered a moving personal expression of grief, the current pope did not go that far, instead offering the Church’s “deep compassion” for those killed in the Holocaust.
“I personally missed hearing a tone of sharing the grief,” Lau said. “I missed hearing ‘I’m sorry, I apologize.’ ”
Lau also pointed out that the pontiff, who is German by birth and was a member of the Hitler Youth, did not mention the Germans, or Nazis, as those who carried out the genocide, and used the word “killed” instead of “murdered” to describe how the Jews died. And, he added, the pope never said that 6 million were killed, saying only “millions.”
Rivlin also criticized the Pope.
“With all due respect to the Holy See, we cannot ignore the burden he bears, as a young German who joined the Hitler Youth and as a person who joined Hitler’s army, which was an instrument in the extermination,” he said Tuesday on Israel Radio. “He came and told us as if he were a historian, someone looking in from the sidelines, about things that should not have happened. And what can you do? He was a part of them.”
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi fired back Tuesday, noting that the pope has denounced the Nazis and spoken of his German heritage in previous speeches, including during a visit to the Auschwitz death camp, and used the 6 million figure during his remarks upon arriving in Israel.
Lombardi also said four times that the pope never served in the Hitler Youth, whose members were volunteers, but that he was forced to join anti-aircraft troops against Allied aerial raids near his hometown.
The pope stopped an interfaith conference in Jerusalem after the head of the Palestinian sharia court accused Israel of killing women and children and urged the pope “in the name of the one God to condemn these crimes and press the Israeli government to halt its aggression against the Palestinian people.”
Criticizing the incident, a papal spokesman said, “We hope that such an incident will not damage the mission of the pope aiming at promoting peace and also interreligious dialogue, as he has clearly affirmed in many occasions during this pilgrimage. We hope also that interreligious dialogue in the Holy Land will not be compromised by this incident.”
During a brief visit Tuesday to the Western Wall, the pope placed a handwritten personal prayer between the stones of the wall asking God to “send your peace upon this Holy Land, upon the Middle East, upon the entire human family,” according to a text released by the Office of the Holy See.
Following his quiet reflection at the wall, punctuated by the whirring of camera lens shutters, the pope made a courtesy visit at the compound to the chief rabbis of Israel. He had made a similar visit to the grand mufti of Jerusalem before his wall appearance.
The pope, who traveled with a 40-person staff and 70 reporters, and stayed at the Papal Nuncio’s residence in Jerusalem during his visit, was scheduled to visit a Palestinian refugee camp in Bethlehem on Wednesday and Nazareth on Thursday, where he will celebrate an open-air Mass. He was to fly back to Rome Friday afternoon on a special El Al flight.
Upon the pope’s arrival, “Operation White Robe,” which included 80,000 police officers and security guards, went into effect to protect his safety.
The pope arrived in Israel after spending two days in Jordan, where he celebrated Mass before an estimated audience of 25,000 in a soccer stadium in Amman.
On Saturday he visited Mount Nebo, from where the Bible says Moses saw the Land of Israel. The pope said the site was a reminder of “the inseparable bond between the Church and the Jewish people.”
Benedict also visited the King Hussein bin Talal Mosque in Amman. He did not remove his shoes while visiting the mosque and engaged in silent reflection rather than prayer, according to reports. In a meeting there with Muslim leaders, the pope called for a “trilateral dialogue,” including the Church, to help bring Jews and Muslims together to discuss peace.
The pope and Peres together planted an olive tree at the president’s residence Monday afternoon, followed by a performance by a choir made up of Jewish and Arab girls joined by Israeli tenor Dudu Fisher, who sang “Bring Him Home” from the musical “Les Miserables” only minutes after the pope met with the family of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
“Old divisions have aged and diminished,” Peres told the pope. “So more than the need for another armored vehicle, we need a strong, inspiring spirit to instill both the conviction that peace is attainable, and the burning desire to pursue it.”
“Ties of reconciliation and understanding are now being woven between the Holy See and the Jewish people,” he added. “We cherish this process and your leadership. Our door is open to similar efforts with the Muslim world.”
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By Shlomo Avineri
At first glance there is nothing in common between Pope Benedict XVI’s visit and the Palestinian Nakba. But one thing links the two: relations with the Jewish people. For generations the Catholic Church advanced the idea that Jesus’ gospel had its roots in Jewish scripture, but that the New Testament annulled the original covenant between God and the Jewish people, which refused to recognize its messiah and thereby lost the legitimacy to exist.
This traditional theological approach underwent a revolutionary change in the Second Vatican Council in the early-to-mid 1960s. It not only absolved the Jewish people of collective guilt for crucifying Jesus, but recognized the continuing covenant between God and the Jews, paving the way for recognizing the legitimacy of their existence. This transformation, in turn, enabled the Vatican’s recognition of the State of Israel. During his visit to Jerusalem, John Paul II demonstrated tremendous magnanimity when in the note he placed in the Western Wall he asked the Jewish people’s forgiveness for the injustice brought on them by the church for generations. The fact that Benedict chose Mount Nebo to emphasize the deep link between Christianity and Judaism testifies to his awareness of the Jewish people’s ties to the Land of Israel.
Such soul-searching is entirely absent from the way the Palestinians treat every May 15, marking the pain of what befell them in 1948. As Jews and Israelis we cannot be indifferent to this pain, as it is clear the Nakba is directly tied to the founding of the State of Israel. But maybe it could be expected that the Palestinians recognize that their behavior – their refusal to accept the UN partition plan and the decision to respond to it with force – is part of the reason for what happened to them. None of this appears in the Palestinian narrative, which contains only the injustice committed against them.
It could all have been different. Had in 1948 the Palestinians accepted the partition plan as did the Jews (albeit grudgingly), two states would have been born and hundreds of thousands of people would not have been uprooted from their homes and become refugees. Arab and Palestinian literature and public relations completely lack this self-criticism. Even today, when the idea is raised of matching Israeli recognition of a Palestinian nation state with Palestinian recognition of Israel as the home of the Jewish people, the moderates in the Palestinian Authority respond with unqualified refusal. This is not a tactical rejection, it is deeply rooted in Palestinians’ unwillingness to recognize that in 1948 they made an enormous, tragic mistake; even today they are unable to accept the principle of partition.
The Palestinians are willing to talk about two states, but not for two nations, since that would imply recognition of the Jews as a people. Maybe it is too much to ask the Palestinians to demonstrate awareness of the other side’s rights. But while the finest Israeli writers – from S. Yizhar to Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman – confront the moral challenge of upholding the justice of the Zionist enterprise while understanding the Palestinians’ pain and rights, we hear no comparable moral voice on the other side. To this day, no intellectual has arisen who is willing to recognize the Jewish people’s struggle and link to the Land of Israel.
Perhaps we can hope that the pope’s visit will lead to Palestinian soul-searching similar to the church’s. While these are entirely different planes, if the church is able to recognize its mistakes, it’s possible the Palestinians, too, will begin opening up to the voice of the other – the Jew, the Israeli. Without such a willingness, it’s difficult to hope that the principle of partition – two states for two peoples – will ever be realized.
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When President Obama meets Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, behind the diplomatic niceties, their encounter will have profound implications for confronting the threat of a nuclear Iran
By ELLIOTT ABRAMS
Wall Street Journal, MAY 9, 2009
First impressions matter. Experts say we size up new people in somewhere between 30 seconds and two minutes. So how will the first 30 seconds, and the rest of the meeting, go when President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sit down together on May 18?
The first thing to remember is that this meeting is far more important for Mr. Netanyahu than for Mr. Obama; Mr. Netanyahu has a lot more at stake. Foreign leaders come and go in the White House week in and week out, as fast as you can change the sheets in Blair House. (Blair House is for one-night stands, two if you’re lucky. When the King of Jordan dropped by for a whole week in late April he had to stay at a fancy hotel instead. Mr. Netanyahu will happily take Blair House, a physical token of his return to the prime minister’s office after 10 years in the wilderness.)
All those meetings with presidents, prime ministers and princes are valuable for the United States in many ways, yet none are really critical for our security and our future. For an Israeli prime minister, those relations are a matter of survival — political survival because his opponents at home will quickly jump on any perceived gap with Washington, and physical survival because Iran’s nuclear program tops Mr. Netanyahu’s agenda.
Mr. Netanyahu has to care about forging a personal relationship with Mr. Obama, but Mr. Obama may feel he doesn’t need Mr. Netanyahu as a pal. Mr. Obama appears to have enormous faith in his own personal charm (and why not? Look where it’s gotten him) but we do not yet know when he pours it on. Just how much do personal relations with foreign leaders matter to him? For George W. Bush, they mattered a lot: His negative view of Gerhard Schroeder and Jacques Chirac and his trust in Ariel Sharon changed U.S. foreign policy.
Messrs. Obama and Netanyahu will each come to the meeting confident in his ability to judge people. Both men are after all democratic politicians, not princes — nor bureaucrats or academics like most of their staffs. They size people up for a living, have risen to the top doing so, and have a great belief in their own talents. They may of course be wrong; after his first meeting with Vladimir Putin, Mr. Bush famously said, “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. I was able to get a sense of his soul.”
That kind of generous and hugely wrong assessment is unlikely here, for both Messrs. Obama and Netanyahu will come to the meeting half poisoned against the other. Mr. Netanyahu will have been told that Mr. Obama is weak and naive, won’t act against Iran and doesn’t understand the way the world works. Mr. Obama will have been told that Mr. Netanyahu is a “right winger” (and therefore bad by definition) who is tricky and untrustworthy and needs to be pushed hard if there’s to be “progress toward peace.” U.S. Middle East Envoy George Mitchell has already met Mr. Netanyahu several times and will offer the president his private opinion on their sessions in Jerusalem, which one can just imagine: Both smiling, both seeking to appear totally sincere, each doing all he can to maneuver the other into a narrow corner.
It’s unlikely that we’ll know quickly whether they hit it off. The Israelis will almost certainly make this claim within seconds after the meeting ends, and will adduce every possible piece of evidence. Mr. Obama smiled; he put his arm on Mr. Netanyahu’s shoulder; his body language was friendly; his tie had positive colors.
The White House leaks will be more interesting, for the staff may want to keep Mr. Netanyahu nervous; we’ll have to watch what favored journalists are told about the chemistry in the days after the visit. We should not expect to hear the kind of crack that French President Nicolas Sarkozy apparently made to journalists after meeting the president (that Mr. Obama was “not always at his best when it comes to decisions and efficiency”), as that does not appear to be the Obama style. If he makes an exception for Mr. Netanyahu and has the staff trash the prime minister to the media, we’ll know the two men decided to loathe each other.
And then there is substance. Messrs. Netanyahu and Obama have a lot to talk about, from Palestinians to Syria to the United Nations, but for Mr. Netanyahu — as for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the president will soon find out — the top item is Iran. Israelis see an Iranian bomb as an existential threat, for two reasons. First, they cannot be sure an Iranian leader waiting excitedly for the Mahdi’s return will be using game theory and mathematical calculations to decide whether it’s sensible to strike the Jewish State. Even former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani, whom European diplomats view as a wonderful moderate, called Israel “a one-bomb country.”
Even if they assume Iran would not “nuke” Israel (out of fear that a counterstrike would end this brief period of growing Shia ascendancy in the Islamic world), Israelis fear what Iranian possession of a nuke would do to the morale of their society. That is, take today’s threats (“cancerous tumor” that must be removed, says the Supreme Leader) and add a nuclear bomb, and Israelis would be living under threat of annihilation — call it Holocaust? — every day. Can such a place attract immigrants, or deter brain drain? Does it seem like a place with a real future? Can the children of Holocaust survivors sit around and take a chance on Iran?
Mr. Netanyahu will tell the president that the answer is no; Iran can’t be allowed to have the bomb. He will urge Mr. Obama to adopt a far tougher program of economic sanctions than now exists, and accept the use of force as a last resort. This portion of the meeting will be fateful. In June 1961, when John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev met in Vienna two months after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the Soviet leader concluded that Mr. Kennedy was a pushover. Just over two months later Mr. Khrushchev gave the go-ahead for building the Berlin Wall, and just over a year later he was putting missiles into Cuba. Mr. Khrushchev had decided that Mr. Kennedy was “too intelligent and too weak.” If that’s the assessment Mr. Netanyahu makes — that Mr. Obama is plenty smart, but will never risk confronting Iran — he may resolve that an Israeli strike on Iran is unavoidable.
Israel’s military options and capabilities against Iran — and the state of its intelligence about the Iranian nuclear program — are of course state secrets, but the Israeli air force has been practicing long-range bombing runs. Israel’s surprise attack on the secret Syrian nuclear reactor at al-Kibar in 2007 was gutsy and beautifully done, but far simpler than an attack on Iran — which is much farther away and presents multiple targets. Israel must also assess how Iran, and its agents in Hezbollah, would react to such an attack. Syria, like Iraq after Israel hit the Osirak reactor in 1981, did not react by trying to strike Israel; indeed Syria even hid the fact of the bombing, trying to save face. Iran might do likewise, might respond with acts of terrorism against Israel, or might unleash rockets attacks on Israeli military sites or even Israeli cities. So the decision on this subject is the most difficult one facing Israel’s government and the one Mr. Netanyahu will most wish to discuss with President Obama.
On the “peace process,” Mr. Obama will want progress toward a negotiated settlement, while Mr. Netanyahu will offer practical actions (more jobs and fewer roadblocks in the West Bank; more meetings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas; more training of Palestinian police). This past week he outlined a “triple track” approach: renewed peace negotiations as the political track, strengthening the Palestinian “security apparatus” as the security track, and an economic track meant to advance the Palestinian economy. But it seemed clear that security comes first, and that a final status agreement is not in the cards right now.
Mr. Mitchell seems to understand all of this, wily pol that he is — and impressed as he is by the Arab preoccupation with Iran rather than with the Palestinians. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, another pol, seems to get it too. With the Palestinians split between Fatah and Hamas — Fatah unreformed and desperately weak, Iran and Hezbollah pouring support into every rejectionist group and now undermining Mr. Mubarak in Egypt — the old “peace process” is increasingly irrelevant to real world crises.
There is a critical struggle under way right now in the Middle East, but it is not between Israelis and Palestinians; it is the people aligned with us — including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian Authority, Israel and the United Arab Emirates — against Iran, Qatar, Syria, Hezbollah and the Palestinian rejectionist groups. Mr. Netanyahu will tell the president this, but no one knows if the president will buy it — at least until he consults with those Arab leaders and hears the same thing.
The problem of Iran and its proxy Hezbollah, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the supply of oil to the U.S. and the world market, the huge sovereign wealth funds now in the hands of Gulf countries, and the fear of terrorism by Arab extremist groups such as Al Qaeda are among the reasons that the Middle East remains a key geopolitical interest for the U.S. In a short period of weeks this spring, American officials are traveling throughout the region (just this past week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and other officials were in Syria), and the president is receiving visits from the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.
In his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Mr. Obama will ask for something on settlements. If he goes back to the old 2001 Mitchell Report language (“settlement freeze, including natural growth”), Mr. Netanyahu will explain, pol to pol, that no democratic government can “freeze” life in a town of 38,000 like Maale Adumim. He might ask the president how long could you “freeze” 100% of construction in Bowling Green, Ky., or Salem, Mass., which are about the same size, before voters revolted and citizens just ignored such an edict. Mr. Netanyahu may offer some compromises — constrained settlement growth, perhaps no growth beyond the security fence or no “physical” growth, meaning “build up, not out.” He will be watching Mr. Obama’s body language during these exchanges attentively.
Here too, it’s unlikely that we’ll know the outcome fast. After the meetings, both teams will want to cogitate on what just happened, what the other guy really meant, what their guy really committed to. The Israelis will be looking especially for hints of new American policies, departures from the Bush years. They will focus on the tone of the president’s comments on Iran: Does he call it “unacceptable” for Iran to get the bomb or use a weaker word? On the Palestinians, does he say simply that progress is our goal, or does he call it “urgent”? Does he link our ability to help on Iran to such progress, with terms like “precondition”? Does he publicly speak about a settlement freeze, and if so in what terms — demand, desire, propose, suggest? Keep your thesaurus handy, to help interpret what the president said, and what he “really meant.”
Often it isn’t clear; diplomacy is a game in which words are used to obfuscate, not inform. Is a commitment to study a proposal carefully a half-agreement or a polite dismissal? Is “100% effort” a guarantee of action or early notice that those efforts will fail to produce progress? When the Bush administration promised to “address fully and seriously” all of Israel’s objections to the “Roadmap to Peace,” many Israelis reached for their dictionaries. Why did we need an address? What were we going to mail, and to whom? If the president says we need to “create the conditions” for progress toward peace, does that mean he thinks peace is years off, or is it a polite way of saying “stop settlements now”? It may be months before we really know the meaning of the words spoken in the Obama-Netanyahu sessions.
The physical details of the meetings will be carefully noted by both sides as well. Who attends, or perhaps more importantly, who is left out? Is Mr. Mitchell there? Dennis Ross, the new special adviser on Iran? Who from the White House staff accompanies National Security Adviser Jim Jones? Who speaks up, and who stays silent? To whom does the president turn for advice or information? And on the other side, who is with Mr. Netanyahu and whom does he appear to trust? How is he treated? Does he get lunch? And if so, in the West Wing, or “at home” in the East Wing residence? Or does he just get a plain-vanilla meeting in the Oval Office, and go away hungry?
Silent witnesses to the forthcoming meeting will be the American Jewish community. American Jews are Democrats who voted for Obama. They are happiest when an Israel-friendly Democrat in the White House joins hands with a Labor Party prime minister in Jerusalem. Any other mix makes them nervous. A Republican in the White House is usually mistrusted; after giving Ariel Sharon total backing to crush the intifada, announcing his opposition to the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees and telling Israel it could keep the major settlement blocs in the West Bank, Mr. Bush won only 24% of the Jewish vote in 2004.
The worst combination for American Jews would be a popular Democrat in the White House clashing with a Likud prime minister — so nerves are on edge. American Jews will be pained by any confrontation between the two men, and if one begins to develop they will seek to keep it quiet and to defuse it.
American Jewish leaders are much taken with the Iran issue, though, and if Mr. Obama seems to be tougher on Mr. Netanyahu than on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (or Hugo Chávez, for that matter), it won’t take long for nerves to fray. Even the Jews, loyalists for the Democrats, can change their votes. Richard Nixon won 17% of the Jewish vote in 1968, but against George McGovern in 1972 that doubled to 35%. George H.W. Bush won 35% of Jews in 2008, perhaps a Jewish vote of thanks to Ronald Reagan, but when he lost his bid for re-election in 1992 he had whittled Jewish support down to 11%. In this league the winner and still champion is Jimmy Carter. Mr. Carter won 71% of the Jewish vote in 1976, but only 45% in 1980. It can happen.
Jews who watched, and then watched again, the clip of President Obama appearing to bow to Saudi King Abdullah when they met in London will pay close attention to the public treatment Mr. Netanyahu gets when he arrives at the White House. In those first 30 seconds the two men will see eye to eye; they are both about 6 feet tall. As they clasp hands for the first time, all smiles, their entourages will know that appearances can be deceiving — and so will we.
Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He was the deputy national security adviser overseeing Near East and North African affairs from 2005 to January 2009.