- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 22, 2011

President Obama failed to ease mounting worries of key Jewish donors Sunday at a speech before the annual policy conference for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Steve Rosen, a former director of foreign policy for AIPAC, said, “the president’s decision to confront Israel’s prime minister in this visit is going to deepen the feeling that Obama will continue to put the U.S.-Israeli relationship in peril. Pro-Israel donors who have been on hold until now will accelerate the search for an alternative to Obama.”

Two such donors who asked not to be named said the president’s speech failed to ease concerns about the lack of trust between the governments of Israel and the United States.

“The speech presented a wonderful opportunity to correct attitudes the White House and supporters of the president believe are misperceptions,” another Jewish community leader told The Washington Times.

“The ball came right over the home plate. He swung hard, but it lined out foul,” said the donor, a prominent Jewish community leader.

The visit of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington was supposed to be a chance for the White House to calm tensions between the Jewish state and the Obama administration.

But after the president on Thursday surprised Mr. Netanyahu by saying the borders of a Palestinian state should be based on Israel’s borders before the 1967 Six Day War, the visit that was supposed to be a makeup session quickly became a flash point in U.S. politics. Mr. Netanyahu told White House reporters last week that those borders were indefensible.

The concern among pro-Israel donors may be an opening for the Republican Party to tap the normally strong Democratic Jewish base.

“People are concerned that the Obama administration’s unbalanced approach demands too many concessions from Israel which puts its security at risk, and that could certainly have domestic political consequences,” said Brad Dayspring, the communications director for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican.

Kristen Kukowski, communications director for the Republican National Committee, said, “Israel is yet another issue that voters are being turned off by Obama’s record of breaking promises. Democrats and Republicans are united against Obama’s recent remarks regarding Israel.”

Mort Zuckerman, a major donor to the Democratic Party and the owner of the New York Daily News, said over the weekend, “I have spoken to a lot of people in the last couple of days - former supporters - who are very upset and feel alienated.”

Mr. Zuckerman, who endorsed Mr. Obama in 2008, added, “He’ll get less political support, fewer activists for his campaign, and I am sure that will extend to financial support as well.”

In his speech Sunday, Mr. Obama tried to put his remarks from Thursday on the 1967 borders and mutually agreed-upon land swaps into context.

He said to applause, land swaps would mean “that the parties themselves - Israelis and Palestinians - will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967.”

Mr. Netanyahu has wanted Mr. Obama for some time to reaffirm the pledge made by President George W. Bush in 2004 that it was unrealistic for Israel to return to those borders.

AIPAC spokesman Ari Goldberg on Sunday said his organization appreciated Mr. Obama’s clarification.

“In particular, we appreciate his statement that the U.S. does not expect Israel to withdraw to the boundaries that existed between Israel and Jordan in 1967 before the Six Day War,” he said.

Mr. Netanyahu canceled an appearance on CNN Sunday following the speech.

He released a statement Sunday saying, “I share the President’s wish to promote peace, and I appreciate his past and present efforts to achieve this goal. I am determined to work with President Obama in order to find ways to resume the peace negotiations. Peace is a vital necessity for us all.”

Despite these official statements of appreciation, the damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship may already be done.

Michael Goldfarb, a Republican consultant with Orion Strategies who is an adviser to the Emergency Committee for Israel, a group that has attacked Mr. Obama’s record on Israel, said, “The White House has to be furious.”

He added, “Here they were clearly hoping to soothe the concerns of Jewish donors in the Democratic Party. It turned into a disaster, maybe the worst confrontation this administration has had to date with Israel. If Obama gets re-elected, there will be a price for Israel, these guys hold a grudge.” <t-5>

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Eli Lake can be reached at elake@washingtontimes.com.

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