July 24, 2009
National Jewish Leader Turns against ObamaBy Leo Rennert
A huge crack has surfaced in Obama's Jewish base in the person of Alan Solow, one of the president's closest Chicago friends and long-time supporters.
Solow, who was named chairman of the Conference of President of Major Jewish Organizations last December, just released a highly critical statement on behalf of the 52-member group, in which he thoroughly disagrees with Obama's demand that Israel halt all construction of Jewish housing in East Jerusalem, including the Old City -- the holiest place in Judaism.
In a statement co-signed by Conference Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein, Solow took special aim at Obama's insistence that Israel not proceed with 20-apartment development on a Jewish-owned parcel in the eastern section of Israel's capital.
Solow said he found "disturbing the objections raised to the proposed construction of residential units on property that was legally purchased and approved by the appropriate authorities. The area in question houses major Israeli governmental agencies, including the national police headquarters. In addition to the Jewish housing, the project called for apartment units for Arabs as well."
Solow complained that, while the Obama administration wants to freeze legal Jewish housing in the eastern part of Jerusalem, it has been quick to "raise objections to the removal of illegal structures built by Arabs in eastern Jerusalem, even though they were built in violation of zoning and other requirements often on usurped land."
"Hundreds of Arab families have moved into Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem and the same right should be accorded to Jewish residents to live wherever they choose in Jerusalem. No government of Israel has or can pursue a discriminatory policy that would prevent the legitimate presence of Jews in any area of the capital," Solow added.
To appreciate the significance of Solow's fallout with Obama on Jerusalem, one needs to keep in mind their long-time close relationship in Chicago. Solow, who once lived in Obama's neighborhood, backed his political ascent going back to Obama's campaign for the Illinois Senate a dozen years ago.
One also needs to keep in mind that Solow was chosen to head the Conference of Presidents as a clear post-election signal that the American Jewish community, which voted for Obama by a lopsided 78 percent margin, wanted the new president to know that one of his closest friends and supporters would be speaking for U.S. Jewry as Obama prepared to take office.
For his part, Solow was clearly smitten with Obama and firmly believed that he could be counted on to nurture positive ties with Israel during his term in office. "I said with a smile that he will be the first Jewish president," Solow boasted after Obama won the Democratic nomination. "He has a deep understanding of issues that confront Israel and the Jewish community."
Solow had similar feelings and expectations for another one of his close Chicago acquaintances -- White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Speaking of Emanuel, Solow remarked last year that "his support of Israel fits with the president-elect's thinking."
Now, Solow's statement makes it clear that his rosy expectations of Obama and Emanuel as reliable friends of Israel have been dashed.
Furthermore to appreciate Solow's public disagreement with the president, it's significant that he issued his statement not as a private citizen, but on the letterhead of , the Conference of Presidents. The conference embraces 52 Jewish organizations spanning the gamut from Reform to Orthodox, from American for Peace Now to the Zionist Organization of America.
So this time, it's not only a few reliable Israel supporters like Morton Klein of ZOA or Conference Vice Chairman Hoenlein who have been voicing deep concerns about Obama's policies toward Israel. Now, it's long-time friend Solow, speaking for the entire Conference.
The same Solow, who also initiated Obama's recent White House meeting with a group of Jewish leaders.
For Solow to break so visibly with Obama belies assertions by far-left Jewish groups like J Street that their full confidence and support for Obama represent the consensus of views of American Jewry and that only a few Jews on the margins are being critical of the president.
Solow's statement has ushered in a new chapter in relations between this White House and the American Jewish community. This honeymoon could be over.