While I contemplated writing this article before hearing from Rabbi Oberstein that he wanted to send his remarks as well, I believe that our two perspectives together provide yet more fodder for dialogue. Here, then, is where I stand on President Obama and Israel, in the wake of a visit to the Middle East that has the Israelis frowning, and its Arab enemies crowing.
It’s not always enjoyable to be proven right. Sometimes you’d much rather be wrong. My early assessment of President Obama’s attitudes towards Israel — which was joined, of course, by many other pro-Israel writers — is a case in point.
In advance of the election, when Obama called for “an even-handed approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” I was sharply criticized for terming that “an inability to discern between good and evil.” Similarly, when I questioned why the President-elect refused to support Israel during the recent Gaza conflict — unlike so many of his colleagues in the Senate — I was accused of a “desire to assume the worst about Obama.” When Rabbi Avi Shafran posted words of hope about Obama, that same commenter asserted that “those who once vilified our incoming president are now scurrying to demonstrate their moderation and seek his favor.”
It wasn’t our moderation that was the issue, but Obama’s. And now we fast-forward to the present day, as the President charts out an anti-Israel course without precedent in the last 50 years of US-Israel relations. One is reminded of the Eisenhower administration, which refused to sell weaponry to Israel while simultaneously demanding that Israeli Naval vessels leave the Gulf of Aqaba — leaving Eilat defenseless from a naval assault.
The relationship between the US and Israel has gone from an unprecedented closeness under George W. Bush, to one of confrontation. Few would know this better than Bush’s Former White House Press Secretary, Ari Fleischer, who said that while both Presidents used similar language about how “both sides had obligations to fulfill,” the underlying attitudes are very different: Bush took Israel’s side because of the terror attacks to which Israel was subjected, while Obama is genuinely trying to stand in the middle. Following Obama’s speech in Cairo Fleischer told CBS News, “the speech was balanced and that was what was wrong with it. American policy should not be balanced. It should side with those who fight terror.”
“For instance, Obama said, ‘the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security,’” Fleischer told [CBS News Reporter Mark] Knoller, “[yet] he failed to note that Israel pulled out of Gaza and it’s the behavior of the Palestinians and Hamas that created the humanitarian crisis there.”
“The other greater reality is rocket fire,” he continued. “In exchange for withdrawal, Israel received daily rocket fire. Speeches serve useful purposes, but if you’re on the receiving end of rocket fire, security comes before rhetoric. That’s why the first step toward peace has to be the cessation of terrorist attacks; otherwise Israel will of course do whatever is necessary to defend herself. America would do the same.”
Not only does Obama fail to take Israel’s side — on the contrary, he takes that of the PA. From the Palestinian side, what does he demand? That Hamas “abandon violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel’s right to exist.” Is my recollection faulty, or is this not what the Palestinians had to do in 1993, 1996, and 2000? The Israelis expelled 8000 Gaza residents from their homes to make way for “peace,” and the Palestinians, having turned Gaza into a terrorist base in lieu of a peaceful and productive society, are told that they can repeat the same lies Arafat told the world in 1993, and we’ll call it “progress.”
And from Israel? In Hillary Clinton’s words, “a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not natural-growth exceptions.” If a new couple needs an apartment, if a family outgrows its quarters, if an undersized and run-down synagogue needs a facelift, Israel is supposed to stop it from happening. As Charles Krauthammer put it, “No ‘natural growth’ means strangling to death the thriving towns close to the 1949 armistice line, many of them suburbs of Jerusalem, that every negotiation over the past decade has envisioned Israel retaining.”
Why does it make sense to have Israel throttle the cities that it is expected to retain anyways? Simple: to the Obama administration, the Israelis must meet new demands, the Palestinians can repeat the same lies about how they’ve “abandoned violence,” and the United States can renege on its past commitments.
As Ariel Sharon was attempting to shore up internal support for his controversial, and ultimately counter-productive, “Disengagement” Plan, he received the following understanding from President George W. Bush:
In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.
Obama flatly contradicted Bush’s letter. “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements,” which he said violate previous agreements, undermine peace efforts and must “stop.” In the words of the Jerusalem Post, “Clinton and other State Department officials have also repeatedly refused to endorse” the Bush letter.
While I respect Rabbi Oberstein, I believe in this case that he’s trying just a little too hard to see the bright side. I hope that those who voted for Obama will be a bit more realistic overall, and recognize that they have a special obligation to back Israel and help it to resist pressure from the man they elected.