The Obama Administration has tirelessly — one might even say tiresomely — proclaimed its rock solid commitment to Israel. The message has been delivered by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Advisor, and most flamboyantly, by the president himself. At a recent fundraiser attended by Jewish donors, President Obama boasted, “I try not to pat myself too much on the back, but this administration has done more for the security of the state of Israel than any previous administration.” Both clauses of that sentence are risible.
In fact, the Obama administration’s approach to Israel has been decidedly cool when it has not been openly irate. It began in the early weeks of the new administration. Traveling to the region, the president visited American allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia. He skipped Israel.
Rather than consult with Israel about the delicate state of relations with the Palestinians, President Obama jumped directly into the process with a peremptory demand: Israel should cease all settlement activity. Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, had made no such demand regarding renewing negotiations. But once the president of the United States had essentially declared the opening position of the Palestinian Authority, he could hardly demand less. Accordingly, while Netanyahu had agreed to a settlement freeze and no preconditions for resuming negotiations, talks stalled as Abbas refused to participate.
That the administration blamed Israel, and not the Palestinians or itself for the impasse became clear when Vice President Biden was visiting the Jewish state in 2010. During the Vice President’s trip, a municipal authority in Jerusalem announced a building permit for a block of apartments in Jerusalem. The usually phlegmatic President Obama went ballistic. Though Netanyahu apologized to Biden, and Biden accepted the apology on the spot, President Obama insisted that Secretary of State Clinton call Netanyahu and chew him out for 40 minutes. Details of the dressing down were immediately released to the press.
Not satisfied with this, a few days later presidential advisor David Axelrod appeared on a Sunday chat show to reiterate that the White House regarded building apartments for Jews in the capital of the Jewish state as “an affront.” Later, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the White House, President Obama delivered the final slaps – declining to pose for pictures or take press questions with the prime minister; delivering a list of steps Israel would have to take to restore trust; and then pointedly walking out on the prime minister with the parting words “Let me know if there is anything new.”
Contrast that treatment with the administration’s passivity in the face of Palestinian conduct. In March of 2010, Palestinian terrorists entered the home of Udi and Ruth Fogel in the town of Itamar on the West Bank. The terrorists first slit the throats of Udi and his 3-month old daughter Hadas. Ruth was in the bathroom but was attacked and killed as she emerged. Two more sons, Yoav, 11, and Elad, 4, were also killed by knives to the heart. Their throats were slit as well. There were three more Fogel children. Two other boys, ages 8 and 2, asleep on the sofa, were apparently missed by the murderers. Twelve-year-old Tamar, who had been spending Shabbat with friends, returned home to discover 2-year-old Yishai standing over the bodies of his parents and begging them to wake up.
In Rafah, Palestinians celebrated the news of the massacre by dancing, singing, and handing around sweets.
The Obama Administration issued a pro-forma condemnation. “There is no possible justification for the killing of parents and children in their home” it read. Secretary Clinton called the murders “inhuman” and reportedly coaxed a more robust denunciation of the atrocity from Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas than he had at first offered.
But there has been little else – no ongoing campaign to shame or humiliate the Palestinians; no list of actions they must undertake to show their good faith – not even a particularly strong expression of revulsion.
The administration has let it be known, again and again, that it regards Israel as the obstacle to peace. This, at a time when Israel’s neighbors have given the world abundant reasons for worry. The Palestinian Authority has formally allied with the terrorist organization Hamas. Mahmoud Abbas announced just last week that “there are now no differences between us.” Does that include Hamas’s implacable determination to destroy the Jewish state and to exterminate Jews all over the world “no matter how long that should take”?
Meanwhile, in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood won 40 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections, while another 25 percent went to Salafi forces. The Salafis regard the Muslim Brotherhood as squishes. Sheik Abdel Moneim el-Shahat, leader of the Salafis, is scornful of the Muslim Brotherhood for talking about citizenship and freedom outside the strictures of Islamic law. El-Shahat is not so broad-minded. “I want to say: citizenship restricted by Islamic sharia, freedom restricted by Islamic Sharia, equality restricted by Islamic Sharia.” So two-thirds the Egyptian electorate supports candidates who will find Hamas utterly congenial.
The regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria is engaged in a bloody repression of his restive people that has claimed the lives of more than 5000 brave protesters.
But the Obama Administration is dismayed by Israel.
Every previous US administration has tacitly accepted that Israel has nuclear weapons and has chosen not to make an issue of it. And for good reasons. Every fair-minded analyst understands that Israel is a tiny nation surrounded by enemies dedicated to her destruction. Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons is understood to be a purely defensive measure. But the Obama Administration, in the person of Rose Gottemoeller, Assistant Secretary of State and America’s chief nuclear arms negotiator, has called on Israel (along with Pakistan, India, and North Korea) to sign the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. It is hard to interpret this as anything less than a hostile act by the United States.
When Turkey and a consortium of Islamist and leftist groups (including Obama friends Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn) organized the so-called “Freedom Flotilla” to run the legal blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza, President Obama failed to condemn the Turks. Yet when Israel was forced to confront the ships at sea, the U.S. declared that the blockade (also imposed, incidentally, by Egypt) was “unsustainable and unacceptable”. Rather than defend Israel at the United Nations when the inevitable resolution condemning Israel was presented to the Security Council, the U.S. voted with Israel’s enemies. It was a move that Elliott Abrams called “joining the jackals.”
The president telegraphed his intention to distance the United States from Israel in his first address to the United Nations. “The United States does Israel no favors,” he said, “when we fail to couple an unwavering commitment to its security with an insistence that Israel respect the legitimate claims and rights of the Palestinians.” The clear implication is that Israel is not, in fact, respecting the legitimate claims and rights of the Palestinians.
In his second address to the UN, the president went further — demanding that Israel withdraw to the 1967 borders (with land swaps). After enduring bitter criticism from Republicans and even some Democrats in Congress, the administration attempted to justify its recommendation of what Abba Eban called “Auschwitz borders” by suggesting that “everyone knows” that a future Palestinian state will be on the West Bank and Gaza. But once again, rather than insist that the Palestinians accept Israel as a Jewish state, or that the Palestinians purge the terrorists from their midst, the president placed all of the onus on Israel. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, repairing to the language of those with nothing on the line, encouraged Israel to “take risks for peace.” In his less serene moments, he has barked that Israel should “get back to the damn table” — an extraordinary example of anti-Israel bias by the Obama administration since it is the Palestinians, not the Israelis, who have refused to talk.
Incredibly, even Iran’s march toward a nuclear bomb — arguably the greatest foreign policy challenge of this decade — has been blamed on Israel by the Obama administration. Former National Security Advisor James Jones offered that “We understand Israel’s preoccupation with Iran as an existential threat. We agree with that. . . . By the same token, there are a lot of things that you can do to diminish that existential threat by working hard towards achieving a two-state solution.”
This was no stray remark. A few weeks later, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, made the same point: “For Israel to get the kind of strong support it’s looking for vis-à-vis Iran it can’t stay on the sideline with respect to the Palestinian and the peace efforts . . . they go hand-in-hand.” In other words, any effort to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons is perceived by this administration not as a national security priority for the United States, but as a favor to Israel.
Even assuming that the U.S. were going to “reward” Israel with, say, tough sanctions on Iran in exchange for “progress” on a Palestinian state, what world are living in when you imagine that a two-state solution would have any bearing whatsoever on Iran’s nuclear ambitions? Does President Obama believe that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons in order to achieve a Palestinian state?
President Obama brought to relations with Israel the leftist views he’d imbibed from academia, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Prof. Rashid Khalidi, and from the left wing of the Democratic Party (Jimmy Carter supported the Palestinian’s bid for statehood at the UN). Yes, he’s sold the Israelis bunker buster bombs, and engaged in military to military cooperation. But the most important support America provides to Israel is public. The most damaging attacks on Israel in the 21st century (so far) have not been military but moral and psychological. Israel’s enemies have sought to delegitimize and defame the Jewish state — with some success. So-called “Israel Apartheid” protests have proliferated on university campuses. UN conferences at Durban have trafficked in anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic slanders. It is becoming acceptable in Europe to say that Israel’s birth was a mistake. Even a liberal columnist for the Washington Post, Richard Cohen, has expressed this view.
The nations of the world, never a sentimental lot, have the capacity to descend to a lynch mob where Israel is concerned. Only the military, political, diplomatic, and moral support of the United States prevents that. President Obama, whatever behind-the-scenes aid he has provided to the Jewish state, has failed in the far more important public support for one of America’s closest allies.