Ari Fleischer fears the re-election of Barack Obama will lead the United States to abandon support of Israel.
Speaking in Manalapan, the former spokesman for President George W. Bush said that in his effort to be neutral, Obama has placed Israel in a precarious position.
“I think Barack Obama wants to be the great man in the middle who wants to bring the Israelis and Palestinians together,” said Fleischer, who served as White House press secretary from 2001 to 2003. “I think he believes he can’t have leverage unless he’s in the middle.”
But Fleischer compared such a position to “the police saying they’re going to be neutral in their dealings with criminals.”
Fleischer spoke before a crowd of more than 300 gathered June 12 at Congregation Sons of Israel, in a program sponsored by the Central New Jersey Chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
In a conversation moderated by WOR radio talk-show host Steve Malzberg, Fleischer spoke about 9/11, his time as press secretary, and his own journey from liberal Democrat to Republican.
The event attracted a number of local Republican politicians and hopefuls from municipal, county, and state government as well as Sharron Angle, the Tea Party candidate who lost to Sen. Harry Reid in last November’s hotly contested race in Nevada. Organizers said Angle, who received loud applause when introduced to the crowd, was in New York on business and decided to attend on her own.
Fleischer, who grew up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and in Westchester County, spent 21 years in Washington.
He said while Bush never wavered either in his support for Israel or belief that terrorists can’t be negotiated with, Obama’s decision to negotiate with Palestinians who have never renounced violence sends a signal to them that “there is no right or wrong.”
“Instead, we should be sending a signal: We never negotiate with terrorists,” said Fleischer, now back in New York as president of Ari Fleischer Communications.
Fleischer said in his current capacity he has advised the Israel Defense Forces to place cameras on its drones flying over Gaza to gather video evidence of rockets and missiles being launched from mosques and schools. The public relations move to counter Palestinian claims has fallen on deaf ears, he lamented.
Fleischer said Bush always knew “in his heart” that Israel was in the right.
“During the second Intifada, when Israel was getting hit time after time by rockets from Gaza, he didn’t need to confer with Colin Powell or Condie Rice to say that Israel has a right to defend itself.”
The self-described son of “two principled liberal Democrats,” Fleischer said his own conversion came while a student at Middlebury College in Vermont. There a distaste for Jimmy Carter and a love of Ronald Reagan came together to produce his political outlook.
Fleischer said even within his immediate family there is great political divergence, although he said he believes his parents may have switched parties over Obama’s positions on Israel.
Nevertheless, he said, the traditional Jewish allegiance to the Democratic Party is very likely unbreakable, owing to the community’s largely liberal stances on social issues such as abortion and stem cell research. (Fleischer also acknowledged that the Democratic congressional leadership remains strongly pro-Israel.)
While he had no quibble with those who vote Democratic because they place a high value on such social issues, he termed “misplaced” Jewish fears of the alliance of Republicans and the Christian Right.
Fleischer recalled hearing Sen. Joseph Lieberman recite a prayer from Chronicles as he stood with former Vice President Al Gore after receiving the Democratic nomination for vice president.
“I thought, ‘How beautiful,’” said Fleischer. “If Joe Lieberman can say a prayer, we have nothing to fear from some Christians saying a prayer…. Ladies and gentlemen, we have absolutely nothing to fear from these pious people.”
Fleischer said that Obama is beatable and the 2012 election could hinge on Jewish voters because of their heavy concentration and high turnout in influential states. He called losing the Jewish vote to Democrats by only a three-to-one margin “a huge win” for Republicans, enough to very possibly give the election to the party.