First, some background. Understanding the institutional Jewish world is beyond the scope of this post and requires more nuance than I can probably give it. On one level, there are so many Jewish organizations and so much fracture in this small community that it’s hard to certify anyone as a spokesperson for “the Jews.” But certain groups have or are given a large microphone. There are certain designated spokespeople and certain organizations like the ADL get a lot of coverage in the mainstream.
But inside the “Jewish world” most of the large organizations that have the capacity to mount campaigns are the children of/in the thrall of very large donors. On the national scale, this means billionaires. In small towns, this usually means upper middle class folks that write the big checks.
I’m not going to play armchair psychologist on these donors. Suffice it to say that they are very pro-Israel not necessarily in the “Israel can do no wrong” sense, but in the “Israeli right is right about everything” sense. The problem here is that while Jews are generally very liberal, the Israeli right has been right about many big picture things, especially relating to security, over the last 25 years and the elections in Israel bear this out.
One can argue some of these points, but the generally accepted narrative in Israel is that Arafat was never serious about peace, the Oslo accords were an example of Israel’s good will being taken advantage of, that the Second Intifada was the reward for trying for peace, and that even pulling out of Gaza has resulted in wars—wars resulting in unfair international criticism—and that the same thing would result from granting the Palestinians recognition, even though Olmert tried too.
And of course, the major security threats to Israel are Hamas and Hezbollah who have been supplied and funded historically by Iran. So while we may think of Iran as a country at some distance from Israel, if you’re physically in Israel, you are more or less surrounded by terrorist agents of Iran that can rain missiles on almost the entire country.
In the United States, on the other hand, except for a brief spike of approval after 9/11, the Republicans have had a bad long-term success rate on security matters. The largest blot, of course, is the Iraq War, and the Iraq war was cheered by many of the same Israeli hawks that are opposing Obama here.
And let’s not forget that many of these same people loathe Obama for partisan reasons and for what they see as his weak approach to the Middle East. Now keeping in mind that the rest of the world, including most in the US, have close to zero credibility when it comes to Israeli security, the partisan hatred, and the different meanings of Iran to different countries, who have two different political cultures and immediate pasts, and you can see the problem.
Under these circumstances it’s easy to see why there is opposition to this deal, why it seems so virulent, why it seems such a big deal for Jews, and why Jews are so apt to listen to Netanyahu who, in the broader world, seems so hard to believe.
I’m not sure what Obama could do different. I don’t think the deal itself is bad, but there is not much trust that (a) it will be enforced to the letter and that (b) it’s not going to embolden a mortal enemy of Israel. Much of the criticism of Obama is unfair, but it’s there.
On the other hand, Netanyahu could have found a way to make a deal of some kind, any kind–even if not a final one–with the Palestinians over the last 6 years that might have strengthened the US’s hand with the other Sunni states. I suspect that on some level, after the last round of talks with Kerry broke down, Netanyahu’s opinion on this deal became unimportant to the US.
But while to an outside observer, Netanyahu may have no credibility on security matters, to Jews and Israelis, his views are more credible that what most of the rest of the world peddles, because of how unfair and incorrect they are on a daily basis regarding Israel.