Republicans vs. Obama on Israel: 2008 All Over Again

Updated with Obama comments at 4:25 pm EDT

The escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas poses more than a deadly regional dilemma in the Middle East.

It has offered an opening for Republicans to chastise the Obama administration for its approach to the crisis, which in turn is the party’s way of attempting to drive a wedge between Jewish American voters and the Democratic Party.

Sixty-nine percent of Jewish voters supported President Barack Obama at reelection in 2012, fewer than the 78 percent who backed him in 2008. The Republican Jewish Coalition, with support from major donors such as Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, has worked hard at eroding the Jewish community’s support for Democrats. Al Gore won 79 percent of the Jewsish vote in 2000, John Kerry 74 percent in 2004.

Obama’s campaign had its own Jewish voter outreach specialist in Florida in his first election campaign — in Florida and other states, the RJC was running newspaper ads in Jewish newspapers picturing then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran with a warning: “Ahmadinejad says Israel won’t survive… Obama says he would meet with him personally.” Obama campaign coordinator Hailie Soifer went condo to condo in South Florida telling people that Obama “has never wavered when it comes to Israel’s defense.”

This is precisely what Republicans are accusing Obama of today, almost a month into combat in Gaza which has taken a greater toll on Palestinians than Israelis. They have singled out Secretary of State John Kerry for seeking a route around the failed cease fires that Egypt attempted to broker, accusing the U.S. of strengthening Hamas’ hand in the process.

Today, as another cease fire collapsed with Hamas’ killing of two Israeli soldiers and apparent kidnapping of another, Second Lt. Hadar Goldin, another voice from Florida is weighing in:

At the same time, some of the president’s critics are saying the same thing the administration is saying: Israel’s hand has been forced by a relentless rocket assault from Gaza.

“Hamas exploits their medical facilities as a human shield to launch terrorist operations against Israel, while Israel uses theirs to provide cutting-edge medical care to people whose government’s avowed goal is to destroy the Jewish state. Hamas‘ actions are a war crime,” Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas writes at his Senate website. “Israel’s are one of the great, unsung humanitarian missions on the planet.”

The White House’ repeatedly has asserted Israel’s right to defend itself and pointed to U.S. support for the “Iron Dome” defense that wards off rockets aimed at Israeli citizens. The White House’s Tony Blinken repeatedly has said in media interviews that Israel is attempting to meet a higher standard of protecting civilians from collateral damage in its assaults on Gaza — he’s also suggested the Israel Defense Forces can do better.

Kerry, who telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today as the latest U.S.-United Nations cease fire failed, said in a statement issued by the State Department:

“The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms today’s attack, which led to the killing of two Israeli soldiers and the apparent abduction of another. It was an outrageous violation of the ceasefire negotiated over the past several days, and of the assurances given to the United States and the United Nations.

“Hamas, which has security control over the Gaza Strip, must immediately and unconditionally release the missing Israeli soldier, and I call on those with influence over Hamas to reinforce this message,” Kerry said. “After the horrific loss of life in this attack and its aftermath, it would be a tragedy if this outrageous attack leads to more suffering and loss of life on both sides of this conflict.”

Obama, appearing at an impromptu White House news conference today, said:

“Let me take this opportunity, by the way, to give Secretary John Kerry credit. He has been persistent. He has worked very hard. He has endured, on many occasions  really, unfair criticism.”

“Simply to try to get the point where the killing stops and the underlying issues about Israel’s security, but also the concerns of Palestinians in Gaza can be addressed —  we’re going to keep working towards that,” Obama said. “It’s going to take some time. I think it’s going to be very hard to put a cease-fire back together again if Israelis and the international community can’t feel confident that Hamas can follow through on a cease-fire commitment.”

“Nevertheless, we try,” Obama said. “We go in there and we make an effort. And when I see John Kerry going out there and trying to broker a cease- fire, we should all be supporting him. There shouldn’t be a bunch of complaints and second-guessing about, `Well, it hasn’t happened yet,’ or nitpicking before he’s had a chance to complete his efforts.”

Yet Gov. Rick Perry, another Texas Republican, has sounded the rallying cry for Israel with another suggestion that the Obama administration has shown a “calculated ambivalence” in the Middle East conflict.

And Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey has suggested that Israel “is not sure that they have America’s full support like they used to.”

This isn’t what Israel has been saying.

Israel is engaged in a full-court defense of its own actions, as international publicity has focused on the Palestinian death toll.

Yet the Obama White House has its own incoming attacks to contend with, as Republicans work to whittle support for the president’s party heading into midterm congressional elections this fall and an open presidency in 2016. It’s starting to sound like 2008 all over again.

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