Last week when it emerged that Speaker Boehner had invited PM Binyamin Netanyahu to address Congress in March on the Iran issue, among the other petulant reactions of President Obama was his self-righteous declaration that he won’t meet PM Binyamin Netanyahu because that could be construed as “interfering in Israel’s elections”, giving Netanyahu an edge over his rivals. In theory, Obama is correct, although as some wags have put it, Obama NOT meeting Netanyahu is what is giving him a positive edge over his rivals.
Obama’s justification however becomes transparently hypocritical when we recall that the US Administration has had no compunction in interfering in Israel’s domestic politics and elections campaigns – as long as the “victim” is the right wing, and specifically Binyamin Netanyahu himself.
Rebecca Shimoni Stoil in the Times of Israel jogs our memory when she writes “Actually a US President did host an Israel PM just before elections“:
As tensions rose between Israel and the Obama administration over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s early March visit to Washington to address Congress and AIPAC, and President Barack Obama’s refusal to meet with him, the White House tossed out a justification Thursday for its apparent snub. The president, the White House said, was not boycotting the prime minister because he had set up the Congressional address behind the White House’s back, but because “as a matter of long-standing practice and principle, we do not see heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections, so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country.”
Further back, however, there is a precedent for election-proximate White House meetings, it involves Israel, and Netanyahu was the intended victim.
In 1996, prime minister Shimon Peres, fighting a close campaign against challenger Netanyahu, visited the Clinton White House on April 30, just less than a month ahead of the May 29 elections.
Peres’s substantial lead, in the aftermath of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, was crumbling due to a series of suicide bombings in early spring. In town for the AIPAC annual conference, as Netanyahu will be, Peres met with Clinton in ostensible preparation for additional work on peace agreements with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. In the wake of the March 1996 bombing spree that killed 62 Israelis, Peres and Clinton signed an anti-terrorism agreement at a ceremony – one of three separate meetings that Peres held with Clinton that week amid myriad photo-ops.
A previous US president had also helped Labor, in the previous election year, 1992. Likud prime minister Yitzhak Shamir was forced to defend himself domestically against allegations that he had damaged US-Israel ties through intransigence, particularly over his administration’s settlement policy. The George HW Bush administration – and particularly secretary of state James Baker – delayed providing Israel with vital loan guarantees, with Baker placing conditions on the financial support that Shamir could not accept without alienating his right-wing base. When Labor’s Yitzhak Rabin defeated Shamir, the loan guarantees showed up within two months.
“Baker’s intention was clear: He would not give Shamir the loan guarantees if it would help him politically in what was to become an election battle that year with Rabin,” wrote Aaron David Miller, a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, in a December 2014 column in The Daily Beast.
The Obama Administration, more than any other, has perfected the diplomatic tool of political snubs, “non-meetings” and more, as the article continues with a sorry list of incidents involving many other countries besides Israel:
It would take a sensitive observer, for instance, to notice that in a November 2012 visit to Asia, Obama posted 41 pictures to his website from the trip. There is a four-minute video of Obama’s meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, and in the still frames, Obama is seen with the king and prime minister of Thailand and with Myanmar pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi. Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen is absent from the pictures, after tensions rose between the two countries over Cambodia’s human rights record.
Not-meetings are also powerful fodder for the White House. In a series of awkward leaks, it was revealed that former UK prime minister Gordon Brown made not one but five requests to meet with Obama during a fall visit in 2009. Brown’s office requested a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the UN or at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, but came up empty-handed.
And of course how can we forget the disgustingly juvenile snub of Netanyahu by Obama when he left Netanyahu to cool his heels while he went to dinner with his family. Israellycool reported back in 2010:
Benjamin Netanyahu was left to stew in a White House meeting room for over an hour after President Barack Obama abruptly walked out of tense talks to have supper with his family, it emerged on Thursday.
The snub marked a fresh low in US-Israeli relations and appeared designed to show Mr Netanyahu how low his stock had fallen in Washington after he refused to back down in a row over Jewish construction in east Jerusalem.
The Times adds:
One Israeli newspaper called the meeting “a hazing in stages”, poisoned by such mistrust that the Israeli delegation eventually left rather than risk being eavesdropped on a White House telephone line. Another said that the Prime Minister had received “the treatment reserved for the President of Equatorial Guinea”.
I think Nile Gardiner, a Washington-based foreign affairs analyst and political commentator, says it well:
This is no way to treat America’s closest ally in the Middle East, and a true friend of the United States. I very much doubt that even third world tyrants would be received in such a rude fashion by the president. In fact, they would probably be warmly welcomed by the Obama White House as part of its “engagement” strategy, while the leaders of Britain and Israel are frequently met with arrogant disdain.
This is a foreign policy doctrine that is both destructive and fundamentally against the US national interest. The future security of the United States rests not upon the degree to which it can appease her enemies, but upon the strength of her enduring alliances with the rest of the free world. Israel needs Washington’s support and vice versa, not a slap in the face from a president whose idea of world leadership seems to consist largely of apologising for his country while throwing America’s friends to the wolves.
And here we are, five years (!) down the line, and Obama’s petulance, his penchant for bullying and his adolescent super-sensitivity are unchanged.
This is no way to run the free world and no way to ensure that Western civilization survives and triumphs over a backward malignant culture that seeks to destroy us.
O the other hand, maybe that is Obama’s intention. The mystery is how the American voters haven’t noticed or understood.