Except for the fact that the proceedings were held in English, an Israeli attending Texas Governor Rick Perry’s “press conference” at the W Hotel in midtown Manhattan Tuesday morning might be excused for imagining that he was in the middle of a pep rally for one of Israel’s right-wing politicians, and a hard-liner at that.
Flanked by two of the Knesset’s most hard-core peace process pooh-poohers, the Likud’s Danny Danon and Shas’ Nissim Ze’ev, and enthusiastically encouraged by an organized band of Orthodox Jewish cheerleaders, Perry adopted the rhetoric of Israel’s radical right lock, stock and barrel, repeating the word “appeasement” in all its inflections, in order to hammer home a not-too-subtle association between President Obama’s Middle East peace policies in 2011 and Neville Chamberlain Munich capitulations in 1938.
Against the backdrop of the upcoming drama at the UN, Perry castigated Obama’s “arrogant” attitude towards Israel, dismissed negotiations based on the 1967 borders, issued the obligatory pledge to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, dismissed most of the Palestinians as schemers or terrorists or both and garnished, with Danon smiling contentedly at his side, with an unprecedented carte blanche for Israel to build in the settlements as much as it pleases.
Perry, obviously, harbors no hope of securing even a single vote from the 2 million strong Arab-American community, which will come as welcome news for Obama, who is increasingly and rather ironically being viewed by Arab voters as “too pro-Israel”. Furthermore, by surrounding himself with staunch Israeli right-wingers and no less zealous Orthodox figures from New York, Perry may also be signaling that, at least in the upcoming Republican primaries, he does not expect to get many votes from less conservative and more mainstream Jewish supporters, who are in any case uncomfortable with the Texas governor’s evangelical enthusiasm.
Ever since the sensational victory of Republican Bob Turner in New York’s traditionally democratic and heavily-Jewish Ninth Congressional District last week, the issue of the Jewish vote and of the candidates’ attitudes towards Israel has featured prominently in the media discourse.
Yesterday’s no-holds-barred bashing of Obama by the Republican frontrunner – endorsed, as it was, by members of Israel’s ruling coalition – is a clear sign that the injection of Israel and the importation of its divisive internal conflicts into the upcoming American election campaign may run dangerously deeper than most mainstream Jewish leaders had feared.
Though the winners and losers are still hard to predict at this early stage, it seems safe to assume that after the votes are cast come November 2012, both the spirit of political bipartisanship as well as the already–fraying unity of the American Jewish community in support of Israel will be counted as the clear-cut casualties.