In another long interview with his favourite unofficial spokesman, Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic Magazine, President Barack Obama decided that Israel needed another dose of his tough love which, he seemed to imply, hurt him more than it will hurt us:
President Barack Obama defended his fierce criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the wake of the March elections in Israel, arguing that such criticism lends him credibility when defending the Jewish state in international arenas, and rejected attempts to equate his censure of the Israeli government with anti-Semitism.
Obama, in a wide-ranging interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic, said that his criticism of Netanyahu, who on election day warned in a frantic video that Israel’s Arab citizens were streaming to the polls “in droves,” related to the very “nature of the friendship between the United States and Israel.” He also said that comments such as Netanyahu’s have “foreign-policy consequences.”
That criticism, which rattled the already fraught relationship between the two governments, was due to Netanyahu straying from “the very language of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which explicitly states that all people regardless of race or religion are full participants in the democracy,” said Obama, who also took Netanyahu to task for asserting in the run-up to the election that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch.
Obama was being very disingenuous on both points here. True, Netanyahu made a serious and embarrassing mis-step in his call to rally the voters by mentioning the Arabs streaming out to vote. He ought to have realised how a hostile world would jump on his words and misinterpret them. It doesn’t matter that Netanyahu did not deny the Arabs the vote and didn’t call for them to be disenfranchised; he just wanted to jolt his followers out of their complacency. Nevertheless, the poorly phrased threat was uttered. However, if he so wished, Obama could have kept his criticism private, just between the two leaders. He also needn’t bring it up at every opportunity.
Obama’s criticism of Netanyahu’s assessment that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch is also highly misplaced. Netanyahu wasn’t stating a wish or an aim, he was simply stating a fact. No one could possibly think that in the present circumstances a Palestinian state, which would agree to live in peace with Israel and recognize its right to exist, will come into existence any time soon.
Obama seems determined to impute the worst meanings and motives to Netanyahu’s words.
The Times of Israel continues:
Goldberg asked Obama if the fact that the Iranian regime is anti-Semitic, and thus possessed of a warped view of the way the world works, shouldn’t preclude a negotiating strategy that treats Tehran as a rational player. But the president replied that the regime’s survival instinct is more powerful than other calculations, including its hatred of Jews and imperialist aspirations.
“Well, the fact that you are anti-Semitic, or racist, doesn’t preclude you from being interested in survival,” he said. “It doesn’t preclude you from being rational about the need to keep your economy afloat; it doesn’t preclude you from making strategic decisions about how you stay in power; and so the fact that the supreme leader is anti-Semitic doesn’t mean that this overrides all of his other considerations.”
Tehran, he continued, won’t make irrational decisions — an apparent reference to the regime breaking away to a nuclear weapon or attacking another country — that would threaten its very survival.
It is dismaying to note Obama’s lack of understanding of the nature of the Iranian regime. Indeed they would make irrational decisions when it comes to destroying Israel. In fact they have made several irrational decisions already, chiefly the building of a vast nuclear program which is completely unnecessary for energy or economic purposes given their vast oil reserves, and with which they are continuing unabated despite suffering from severe (and now not-so-severe) sanctions.
Rebecca Shimoni Stoil, also in the ToI, addresses another part of Obama’s interview, where he talks about Israel’s settlement policy:
Obama’s interview was at times defensive, arguing that criticism of Israel’s policies did not constitute a lack of support for Israel and the Jewish people as a whole — and, for that matter, that he was not “bifurcating” the American Jewish community. Obama’s opponents have pointed to his pursuit of an Iranian nuclear deal as linked to his very public run-ins with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over topics that include both Iran, the two-state solution, and the status of Israeli Arabs.
“If you are questioning settlement policy, that indicates you’re anti-Israeli, or that indicates you’re anti-Jewish. If you express compassion or empathy towards Palestinian youth, who are dealing with checkpoints or restrictions on their ability to travel, then you are suspect in terms of your support of Israel. If you are willing to get into public disagreements with the Israeli government, then the notion is that you are being anti-Israel, and by extension, anti-Jewish,” he continued. “I completely reject that.”
Obama’s argument echoed those made by leftist groups like J Street. If this was a trial balloon for Friday’s speech, the argument is unlikely to win over many beyond the already-converted – who have been making this argument themselves for almost a decade.
Obama’s red lines for the US-Israel relationship do not preclude criticism. Obama also rejected arguments made by many American Jewish leaders that suggested that even if criticism is necessary, the acrimony should not be public.
“You should be able to say to Israel, we disagree with you on this particular policy. We disagree with you on settlements. We think that checkpoints are a genuine problem. We disagree with you on a Jewish-nationalist law that would potentially undermine the rights of Arab citizens. And to me, that is entirely consistent with being supportive of the State of Israel and the Jewish people,” he argued.
If that is support, I dread to think what would open hostility look like.
… While most of Obama’s interview seemed to offer a traditional set of guarantees – ensuring Israel’s security, fighting international actions that unfairly single Israel out, maintaining security and intelligence ties – he also occasionally seemed to mix messages about the red lines.
Obam asserted that under certain conditions, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism were clearly linked. …
But at a different point in the interview, referring to his critiques of Israeli policy, he said he maintained the right to “speak honestly and truthfully about what I think will be most likely to lead to long-term security, and will best position us to continue to combat anti-Semitism” – a statement that seemed to tie willingness to criticize Israel’s policies with the ability to combat anti-Semitism. “I make no apologies for that precisely because I am secure and confident about how deeply I care about Israel and the Jewish people,” he stated.
If Obama’s interview is any indication of his case to American Jews as a whole, it does little to break ground in appealing to the center-right who are likely to remain unconvinced by the argument that his criticism is a sign of tough love. The “we’re such good friends that we should be able to criticize each other” argument has been tried before, with little resonance outside those who already leaned toward supporting the president.
On Friday, following the Atlantic interview, Obama addressed a Jewish audience at the Adas Israel Synagogue in Washington DC, where he asserted that the Palestinians have a right to a state of their own – and then had the chutzpah to claim that the establishment of such a state is integral to Jewish values, as if he is the expert on Judaism:
President Barack Obama on Friday called for the establishment of a free Palestinian state alongside Israel, saying it was necessary for the preservation of Israeli democracy and security, and integral to Jewish values.
“Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their land as well,” he said.
“That’s not easy,” he went on. “The Palestinians are not the easiest of partners. The neighborhood is dangerous and we cannot expect Israel to take existential risks with their security, and so any deal that takes place has to take into account the genuine dangers of terrorism and hostility.”
The President displays a woeful ignorance of history. The Palestinians were already given a state of their own at the time of the San Remo Conference in 1920 – the state of Transjordan, which became Jordan, was intended for the Arabs. The only Palestinians at the time were the Jews, who lived in Palestine, and they were given the territory which is now Israel to be their homeland. In fact a huge chunk of territory was ripped off and given to the Arabs to placate them for the “crime” of allowing Jews to live in the Middle East. The Palestinians of today have no right at all to any state of their own, and if they are so given such a country, there is no justification in the world for this to be on land belonging to Israel. They should address their grievances to HM King Abdullah of Jordan.
Obama continued in this self-righteous vein of preaching Jewish values to the Jews:
Obama drew lines between his pursuit of equality of opportunity in America and his support for Israel and for combatting anti-Semitism, adding that “the rights of the Jewish people compel me to think about the rights of a Palestinian child in Ramallah who feels trapped without opportunity.”
“That’s what Jewish values teach me,” he said.
I can tell Obama what Jewish values teach me. They teach me that “he who rises up to kill you, you rise earlier to kill him”. Self-preservation is not antithetical to Judaism, and the only people who are expected to act as good Christians and turn the other cheek to life-threatening violence are the Jews.
Boaz Bismuth in Israel Hayom analyses Obama’s interview, saying that in the Middle East, Obama’s sole problem is Netanyahu:
“I want Israel, in the same way that I want the United States, to embody … what I believe are human or universal values that have led to progress over a millennium,” Obama said. “The same values that led to the end of Jim Crow and slavery. The same values that led to Nelson Mandela being freed and a multiracial democracy emerging in South Africa.”
Obama essentially compared apples and oranges. Israel’s policies are security-related, but in South Africa, racial segregation and apartheid were the goal itself.
It appears that Obama cannot bring himself to forgive Netanyahu for his election day video message on Arab voters. God may forgive, but Obama does not. So what if Obama called on Hispanic Americans to vote in droves to punish their Republican enemies in 2012? Just who are those enemies? Are they Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, both of whom are of Cuban descent?
… So what if British Prime Minister David Cameron has warned of the dire consequences of an alliance between the nationalist Scots and the Labour Party. So what. It only matters when Netanyahu speaks.
Obama is nostalgic for an Israel of a distant era. The Israel of the kibbutzim. When Obama was in his teens, in the 1970s, the Israel he knew was defined by then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and then-Prime Minster Golda Meir. In case you forgot, Mr. President, Meir was the one who said that “there is no Palestinian people. Has there ever been a Palestinian people that lived in its own country called Palestine? They were never a people.”
An altogether different – and much friendlier – view of Israel was expressed by another US Democrat, former Senator Joe Lieberman, as the Elder of Ziyon writes in the Algemeiner:
“I think there will be a friend of Israel in the White House,” he said, noting that both Clinton and the leading Republican candidates all have pro-Israel records. “It will be a new beginning, a new opportunity. Is it going to be better than it has been under President Obama? Probably, yeah.”
Lieberman expressed concern over support for Israel in the Democratic Party. While almost all Democratic lawmakers support Israel, he said, Lieberman worried that younger party activists are more skeptical of the Jewish state.
“It’s something people who care about Israel are really working at,” said Lieberman, a four-term senator from Connecticut, who won as an independent in 2006 after losing the Democratic primary — in part because of his continued support for the Iraq War. “Part of it is to remind people who are liberal Democrats that, without saying everything Israel ever does is perfect, Israel is by far the most liberal country and society.”
The last 2 years of Obama’s presidency can’t go by fast enough.