Letter to the Editor
Thank you to Akiva Berger for responding to my article, “The Anti-Israel President?”, in the latest edition of The Commentator (“The Not-So-Pro-Israel President”).
I am glad that Akiva agrees with me that it is unfair to characterize President Barack Obama as anti-Israel.
I also agree with Akiva that Mr. Obama has made mistakes regarding the peace process, particularly with the administration’s focus on settlements in 2009 and 2010. We should certainly be vocal about these mistakes. I sent a number of concerned letters to the White House over the last two years myself; you can too at http://wh.gov/contact/.
But to focus on that is to miss much of the big picture.
First, many criticisms of Mr. Obama regarding the peace process also apply to any past president. Every US president since 1967 has opposed the settlements. Guess who said this: “Israeli settlement activity in occupied territories must stop, and the occupation must end through withdrawal to secure and recognized boundaries, consistent with United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338.” Not Jimmy Carter. That was Akiva’s model ally of Israel, George W. Bush, in April 2002, one week after the Passover Massacre.
Other criticisms of Mr. Obama are premature. Regarding peace, Israel has not made any permanent concessions during this presidency—as opposed to under Mr. Bush, when Israel gave up all of Gaza. The jury is still out on whether Iran will get a bomb, though Mr. Obama’s strategy has effectively slowed them so far, while keeping the military option open—as opposed to under Mr. Bush, when Iran’s influence was ascendant, and an unfortunate 2007 National Intelligence Estimate muddled opposition to their nuclear program.
Still others of Akiva’s criticisms are subjective interpretations of Mr. Obama’s “attitude” toward foreign policy, occasionally charged with hyperbole: “childish,” “cowardly,” “horribly warped,” etc.
But most important, criticisms of Mr. Obama must be considered in the context of his exceptional accomplishments.
In particular, cooperation between the US and Israeli militaries is now at an all-time high. I cited many facts in my article to support this, including unprecedented joint defense exercises, military aid, weapons sales, and intelligence sharing.
The testimony of both the US and Israeli defense leadership agrees. Said Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in September 2011, “The Obama administration is backing the security of Israel…in a way that could hardly be compared to any previous administration.” Said US Defense Secretary Robert Gates in March 2011, regarding US-Israel security cooperation, “more has been done in the last two years than in any comparable period in my entire career.”
Also exceptional was the campaign to block the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations. Thanks to an all-out effort by the US and Israel to align UN Security Council members against the bid, the US has not even needed to use its veto. Mr. Obama’s speech at the UN on this issue was described by right-leaning journalist Amir Mizroch as “the most pro-Israeli speech I think anyone has heard at that world forum for a very long time.” The Israeli newspaper Maariv reacted with an illustration of Mr. Obama as a Zionist superhero on the cover of its weekend supplement (23 September 2011; http://twitpic.com/6p40gd).
One last appraisal: Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon—who served as Israeli Ambassador to the US during the Bush administration—said in September 2011, “I can tell you in a very categoric way, and I believe also in an authoritative way, that we have not had a better friend than President Obama.”
When I claimed that the Obama administration is among the most favorable to Israel in history, I made a critical qualification that Akiva left out when he quoted me. This presidency is among the most favorable when judged by its concrete achievements. That is what matters most in the Middle East. To my mind, Akiva’s critique hardly made a dent in that assessment.