Top Jewish Americans ponder support for Obama

CHICAGO Sat May 21, 2011 5:51pm EDT

Related Topics

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Some prominent Jewish Americans are rethinking their support for President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election bid after he effectively called on Israel to give back territory it has occupied since 1967 to Palestinians.

The backlash after Obama's keynote speech on the Middle East has Democratic Party operatives scrambling to mollify the Jewish community as the president prepares to seek a second term in the White House.

Obama on Thursday called for any new Palestinian state to respect the borders as they were in 1967, prompting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to tell him bluntly that his vision of how to achieve Middle East peace was unrealistic.

"He has in effect sought to reduce Israel's negotiation power and I condemn him for that," former New York Mayor Ed Koch told Reuters.

Koch said he might not campaign or vote for Obama if Republicans nominate a pro-Israel candidate who offers an alternative to recent austere budgetary measures backed by Republicans in Congress.

Koch donated $2,300 to Obama's campaign in 2008, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

"I believed that then-Senator Obama would be as good as John McCain based on his statements at the time and based on his support of Israel. It turns out I was wrong," he said.

Despite the stormy reaction to Obama's remarks, some commentators noted talk of the 1967 borders was nothing new.

"This has been the basic idea for at least 12 years. This is what Bill Clinton, Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat were talking about at Camp David, and later, at Taba," Jeffrey Goldberg wrote on The Atlantic website.

"This is what George W. Bush was talking about with Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert. So what's the huge deal here?"

Exit polls from the 2008 election showed 78 percent of Jewish voters chose Obama over his Republican rival Senator McCain.

"I have spoken to a lot of people in the last couple of days -- former supporters -- who are very upset and feel alienated," billionaire real estate developer and publisher Mortimer Zuckerman said.

"He'll get less political support, fewer activists for his campaign, and I am sure that will extend to financial support as well."

Zuckerman backed Obama during his 2008 presidential run and the newspaper he owns, the New York Daily News, endorsed the president.

Obama's Chicago-based re-election campaign sought to play down reaction to the shift in the U.S. stance toward Israel.

"There's no question that we've reached out to the Jewish donor community, as we have to many other communities that strongly supported the president in 2008," a campaign spokeswoman said on Friday.

"The continued grassroots organizing and fundraising efforts of many prominent leaders in the Jewish community makes it clear this will remain a strong base of support in 2012."

Texas-based real estate developer Kirk Rudy, who is a deputy finance chairman for the Democratic National Committee, said he exchanged phone calls and e-mails with a large network of supporters since the president's speech "trying to take people's pulse" and has not seen a strong backlash.

"I have seen very emphatic and robust support -- and financial support -- from the Jewish community," Rudy said, adding Obama received "significant financial participation from the Jewish community" at two fund-raisers in Austin, before the Middle East speech, that brought in roughly $2 million.

Since the speech, Rudy has received e-mails from angry voters but the overwhelming majority of his network will continue to donate and not cross party lines, he said.

But Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, wrote an open letter to the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, calling on it to cancel a scheduled address by Obama to the lobby group on Sunday.

(Editing by John O'Callaghan)

FILED UNDER: