The Not-So-Pro-Israel President
Among the many political issues that never fail to pique the interest of American Jewish voters is that of US-Israel relations. A recent article by Rafi Miller published in The Commentator argued that the Obama presidency is "in fact among the most favorable to Israel in history." He then went on to delineate four areas in which the President has been a friend to Israel, noting various achievements which demonstrate the overwhelmingly positive way Obama has treated Israel. Despite the fact that it may be difficult to label Obama as being "anti-Israel," there is much room to debate his handling of the Jewish state on the foreign stage. Regardless of which side of this debate one chooses, one cannot and should not laud Obama’s Israel policy as being among the best historically. In fact, it may be worthy of the exact opposite characterization.
The misguided nature of President Obama’s Israel policy is most obvious when one examines the way in which he has handled the now-stalled "peace process." Upon assuming the Presidency, Obama placed the adoption of a unilateral settlement freeze by Israel at the very top of his Middle East agenda. This was to be the innovative strategy which had eluded all the past presidents before him, one which assumed a "hardline" position toward Mr. Obama’s stubborn counterparts in the Israeli Knesset. Instead, the move enormously backfired. Obama’s demand prompted the PA to adopt a policy designating settlement construction as a precondition for talks. Never before had the PA demanded such a stop – restricting construction even within existing yishuvim – as a condition to just return to the negotiating table. Historically, settlements have been among the issues that are dealt with during negotiations. The onus falls on the President for not realizing that the settlement issue has been used over and over again as a ploy for the PA to avoid discussion of the real "obstacles to peace." The mere fact that President Abbas refused to resume negotiations for months at a time proves that he was never serious about his side of the peace bargain. Instead of calling the Palestinians’ bluff, Mr. Obama has even tried to wring another settlement freeze out of Netanyahu, luckily to no avail. This is hardly the "pro-Israel" president labeled so by many left-leaning Jews. These Jews are misreading a president unable to grasp the true source of Palestinian intransigence.
President Obama’s entire attitude comes from a childish outlook on foreign policy in general, and the Middle East in particular. Taking an "evenhanded" approach, the President repeatedly fails to see the difference between thriving, democratic allies and oppressive, deceitful dictatorships. In a June-2009 address to Jewish American leaders, the President claimed that "for eight years there was no light between the US and Israel, and nothing got accomplished." His policy, therefore, has been to put some "daylight" between the two countries, with a call for Israel "to engage in serious self-reflection." He almost forgets that the country he so willfully maligns is the one that rejects terrorism as a means to achieve political solutions, in contrast to the tyrannical Arab regimes that make use of violence and fear tactics.
Under Obama’s watch, the title "Jerusalem, Israel" has been erased from the White House archives; no president has done more to call into question Israeli sovereignty over the capital. The Obama administration was so utterly insulted when Israel announced a new housing project in a suburb of Jerusalem that Vice President Biden was quickly flown home from his only visit there. Yet sadly, not a whisper was heard when, the very next day, the PA honored a female terrorist who murdered 38 Israelis and one American in 1978, an event frighteningly indicative of the deep-seated mindset permeating the Palestinian public sphere.
Both settlements and borders have been points of contention in which the State Department has tried prodding Israel to unilaterally offer concessions. Nearly every time Israel has announced construction permits in the West Bank, the State Department has rebuked it for ‘impeding’ the road to peace. Where are the parallel demands on the Palestinians? No concrete pressure has come from President Obama regarding issues of incitement in schools, Fatah’s unity deal with Hamas, and public celebration of terrorist heroes. Mr. Obama fails to understand that a much deeper issue underlies the inability of the two sides to come to terms, one that extends far beyond someone building an extension to a house in Beitar. The administration clings to the childish view of the whole struggle as a tit-for-tat affair, one that could be solved if only both sides refrain from "incendiary" actions. The problem is that President Obama believes settlement construction within existing communities to be just as provocative an action as the celebration of the release of 1,000 coldhearted murders, a grave moral failure no upstanding individual can defend.
Moreover, President Obama has been remarkably unhelpful to Israel on the world stage, in particular with regard to Iran. When he took office, the president touted a brand-new "engagement" strategy, which would, aside from indicating the poor job of the hawkish President Bush, prove its effectiveness simply by cajoling the extremist Iranian leadership to abandon its nuclear ambitions. When direct diplomacy was thrown back in his face, a baffled President Obama finally got a set of toothless economic sanctions passed by the U.N. Security Council in June 2010. Aside from requiring the US to scrap President Bush’s strategic missile defense pact with Poland to get short-lived Russian support, the sanctions Obama lauded as such an achievement have been far from "crippling." Fewer than ten companies have been censured, and absolutely no action has been taken to curb Turkish, Russian, and Chinese corporate investments in Iran.
Just this month, the International Atomic Energy Agency published a report declaring Iran to be closing in on its crazed aspirations to attain a nuclear weapon. Nevertheless, the administration continues to cling to the flawed idea that diplomatic solutions are the only answer, which only serves to embolden the Iranian mullahs. Obama is out of cards to play to get Chinese and Russian support for U.N. sanctions, presenting a big problem for a cowardly president beholden to the pitiful U.N. in dealing with rogue states. Similar to many issues in which political expediency dictates policy, Obama has elected to kick the can down the road until (guess when?) after the next election. This endangers not only Israel, but other Arab states in the region, as well. Although President Bush also warned Israel against military action, he did it privately so as to not bolster Israel’s enemies. Astoundingly, Obama has ignored the genuine, existential threat Iran represents, instead choosing the Neville Chamberlain/European Union route of appeasement and capitulation to fanatical, evil regimes.
Concerning other U.N. proceedings, the President has failed miserably to stand up for Israel against the morally abhorrent nations which comprise this comical organization. As soon as Obama took office, he petitioned for the admission of the United States to the Human Rights Council, a branch of the U.N. notorious for its anti-Israel and anti-Semitic motions. Defying his predecessor, Obama had no ethical qualms in recognizing the validity of a body that openly ignores human rights violators and has condemned Israel more than any other nation. In numerous speeches to the General Assembly, the President has linked Israeli aggression and Palestinian terror, even going as far as to compare rocket attacks on Israeli children to the lack of clean water in Gaza (September 2009). Though Obama rightfully ordered a veto of the Palestinian statehood bid, he still tried to appeal to Congress to restore funding to UNESCO, the only U.N. agency to have fully recognized Palestine. Thankfully, Congress did not budge, instead adopting a bold approach that has forced the U.N. to compel the Palestinians to cease applying for admission into numerous organizations, lest those agencies lose U.S. funding. Obama’s entire policy towards Israel is rooted in the horribly warped belief that Israel, cherishing love of life and the ethical pursuit of justice, is just as responsible for regional tension as are the corrupt, hateful countries which surround her.
Let me be clear: I do not think President Obama is secretly a Muslim who harbors deep, anti-Semitic sentiments that influence policy. I do, however, believe that his conduct towards Israel leaves much to be desired. The statement that he is among the presidents most favorable to Israel is plainly untrue, especially when compared to the overwhelmingly supportive policies of President Nixon and Secretary Kissinger, and the strong relationship President George W. Bush built with Israeli Prime Ministers. If anything, President Obama exhibits a negative attitude and promotes unconstructive policy regarding the Jewish state, acting in the face of a Congress exceptionally sympathetic to Israel’s cause. While the "anti-Israel" label may be a bit too harsh, there are most definitely a number of valid reasons why one should express legitimate concern over the Obama administration’s neglect of its most loyal ally.
Many thanks to Noach Goldstein (YC ’13) for his constructive literary and political critiques of earlier drafts.