The Israelis and Americans seem to be on different pages regarding the timing of a potential Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, but U.S. Rep. Deborah Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said the debate has in no way detracted from the close relationship between Jerusalem and Washington.
Wasserman Schultz, perhaps Obama's chief surrogate in the Jewish community, told the Jewish Exponent that the Obama administration warnings against an Israeli strike represent "tactical differences of opinion that exist between allies."
In an interview during an April 5 visit to Philadelphia, the 45-year-old lawmaker referenced the litany of public disagreements that Republican presidents have had with Israeli officials, such as in 1991 when President George H.W. Bush opposed $10 billion in loan guarantees to the Jewish state.
"I certainly hope no one is suggesting that the U.S and Israel — that there is an expectation for us always to agree on everything. That's never been the case," she said.
Wasserman Schultz was in town to headline a fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-District 13), the state's only Jewish member of Congress. Wasserman Schultz also met with 18 local Jewish leaders — several were there not as Democratic partisans but representing Jewish organizations — and faced some pointed questions about the president's Mideast policies, according to several attendees.
Some Democrats have, at least privately, expressed skepticism or disappointment with how the president initially pressured Israel on settlements. Lately, despite Obama's assurances that American policy is to prevent a nuclear Iran, the president and other officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, have made it clear they want Israel to hold off on any military action for now.
Wasserman Schultz's Center City meeting with local Jews came less than a month after Ira Forman, who oversees Jewish outreach for the Obama campaign, was in town for a similar purpose, though that meeting was geared for committed Democratic fundraisers.
"Outreach is really an exponential operation. You don't do something once," the lawmaker said, adding that while the party is confident of its position among Jewish voters — she cited a recent poll showing 62 percent of Jews supporting Obama — the re-election effort is not taking anything for granted.
She asserted that cooperation between Jerusalem and Washington has never been stronger, pointing out that the president supported giving $205 million for Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system, which was used to great effect during a recent spate of missile attacks from Gaza.
When it comes to the controversy over Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which came to the fore in 2010 and again last year, she said the issue was much ado about nothing.
"We've had the same position on settlements with this administration that we have had with every previous administration. It isn't any different," she said. Obama did, however, go further than previous administrations by publicly saying in 2011 that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations should be based on the pre-1967 boundaries, with mutually agreed-upon land swaps.
The leading Republican contender, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, has said that if he's elected, his first visit abroad would be to Israel.
Asked why Obama hasn't visited Israel during his first term in office, Wasserman Schultz replied that "the president did visit Israel, just before he was elected president" in the summer of 2008. "Ronald Reagan never visited Israel. George W. Bush only visited in the eighth year of his presidency. There is not a tradition of presidents visiting Israel in their first term."
She argued that there is virtually no difference between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to Israel, and Jews should make their choice based on other issues, like reproductive choice, education policy, or funding for health research.
"The notion of tikkun olam is inextricably linked with our approach to policy. That is why the Democratic Party has always been the natural home politically for Jewish voters," she said. "The Republicans are wrong on all the issues that matter to Jews." u
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