Rep. Klein: Obama faces ‘perception problem’ with Jewish voters over his Israel policyby George Bennett | June 14th, 2010
U.S. Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, said President Obama faces a “perception problem” with Jewish voters because of his approach to Israel. Klein, whose Palm Beach-Broward congressional district includes a significant number of Jewish voters, made the comment during a meeting with The Palm Beach Post editorial board this morning.
Klein said the Obama administration is taking a correct approach against Iran, which Klein said poses the greatest threat to Israel. But Klein faulted the administration for its harsh criticism of Israel’s plans to build housing in East Jerusalem. And he said Obama needs to better explain his strategy of trying to “engage” Arab countries in seeking Middle East peace.
Klein and other Jewish members of Congress met with Obama and top aides at the White House last month to discuss U.S.-Israel relations. The group suggested, among other things, that Obama visit Israel.
Jewish voters tend to vote heavily Democratic, and an estimated 78 percent voted for Obama in 2008. Asked if he sees Obama losing Jewish support, Klein said, “I think there are a lot of people that are questioning. I’ve heard some people, a lot of conversations.”
Klein said Obama’s critics have tried to “exaggerate things that are out there. But, there’s definitely a perception problem and that’s something he has to deal with.”
Klein said Obama’s Middle East policies have been a departure from former President Bush’s.
“It can certainly be argued for the Bush Administration that President Bush just gave green light, green light, green light, green light to whatever Israel did. And that probably was not necessarily the right thing for the United States and some people have argued it wasn’t the right thing for Israel,” Klein said.
“President Obama has taken probably an approach which is more engaged in trying to get a peace process going by trying to engage a lot of the other Arab countries in a more direct way…I support this, I view this as a correct approach. It doesn’t mean you’re going to trust them. It doesn’t mean you’re going to give in to them but you certainly extend the opportunity and if they snub you or they spit at you then you know where you stand. But I think in terms of a peace process, you have to have the Arab countries engaged.”
Obama needs to better explain this strategy, Klein said.
“I think, as far as perception goes, there are definitely some people in the Jewish community that are questioning whether the strategies are correct. And I think President Obama has to speak more directly — and again, I appreciate the fact that he’s trying to reach out beyond just the pro-Israel community in order to get something done here. But I think he also has to make sure the pro-Israel community knows what his intentions are.”