The useful myth that Obama now likes Israel
Yet a president who helps to empower Israel’s worst enemies – who also happen to be America’s worst enemies – cannot be said to be a friend.
Obama addresses the 2011 AIPAC conference Photo: Screenshot
Reality, especially in 2012, is very hard to face. So many hopes dashed, so many
bad things happening. So people can be forgiven for taking refuge in wishful
Sometimes, not telling the truth has its value in public
affairs, especially when you are looking at a president with four more years in
office and no elections ahead of him.
Such is the story now gaining
currency in some quarters; that President Barack Obama has changed his view of
Israel, now wants to get along with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and the
two are closely cooperating.
If you want to believe that idea, it
probably does no harm, and might make you feel better. Maintaining this fiction
may also encourage Obama supporters to think more kindly of Israel.
is another factor here that should be mentioned. Many people overstated Obama’s
active antagonism toward Israel, as if he wanted to wipe it out or hurt it in
any way possible.
Obama dislikes Israel, disregards its strategic
interests, and despises Netanyahu. That doesn’t mean, however, that he’s
motivated to do much about it.
If, however, you are interested in the
actual situation, I would ask this question: What evidence is there of any
change at all of Obama’s policy toward Israel? Beyond wishful thinking,
basically two things have happened: • The US government issued routine
statements of support for Israel’s battle in Gaza while apparently urging it not
go on too long and for it not to include a ground attack. It didn’t go out of
its way much on the issue, however, for example not rethinking the president’s
love affair with the Turkish Islamist regime despite the fact that its prime
minister froths at the mouth with hatred of Israel.
• The US government
opposed, as it always has, the UN’s upgrading of the Palestinian Authority’s
status. The American government realizes that such behavior is a torpedoing of
the Oslo accords and peace process of which is was a guarantor. But at the same
time, it certainly didn’t seem to put any real pressure on European allies who
supposedly adore Obama and would be willing to listen to him to vote against the
proposal, and there are stories (which are not completely confirmed but seem
authentic) that the White House urged European countries and Canada to give
Israel a hard time over the new construction.
certainly didn’t assert the absurdity of a situation in which the PA can reject
a two-state solution repeatedly and break all of its commitments but Israel is
said to be destroying peace because it approves some future apartment
So Obama’s great support of Israel consisted mostly of not
attacking Israel verbally and maintaining routine administration positions. I am
not suggesting that the Obama administration wanted the General Assembly to give
Palestine non-member state status.
It is so hard to get people to step
back and apply the same logic they would have used a few years ago, but open
your mind for a moment and ask this question: How is it possible for the US to
lose the backing of every single European ally with regard to a policy issue
which is important to the president, but doesn’t involve the national interests
of the allies? In any other case and with any other president, the mass media
would be sounding alarm bells and speaking of a tremendous defeat, of
incompetence and a terribly weak American position.
After all, America’s
allies just threw out 20 years of a diplomatic process sponsored by the United
Of what importance is it that Obama is personally popular with
Europeans if he can’t get them to go along with his goals? Ah yes: he is in
large part personally popular with Europeans because they know he’ll let them do
what they want.
The two biggest examples supposedly to the contrary, i.e.
the overthrowing of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and the increased sanctions on
Iran, only prove the point; these were issues regarding which the key European
states were demonstrably more hawkish than Obama. He followed them as much or
more than they followed him.
At present and concerning Israel, there are
additional points that could be mentioned as demonstrating Obama’s lack of
support, such as his opposing more sanctions on Iran and taking no action toward
the Muslim Brotherhood’s increasing dictatorship in Egypt. There is not the
slightest hint that the administration realizes its pro-Islamist strategy was a
So where’s the change? I think the specter of a second-term
Obama undeterred by a future election is so scary that the flattery is being
stepped up. Well, ok, I won’t make any problems. I’ll go along with this and
pretend all will be well – except in private conversations like this one, in
order to brief my readers accurately.
Most obviously, Obama is not
pressuring Israel to make more concessions to the Palestinians.
pointed out two years ago – and as the president clearly stated in 2010, he had
concluded that he wasn’t going to make Israel- Palestinian peace. It is the only
international issue regarding which this administration seems to have learned
But with all of the other pressing issues in the region plus
the intransigence of the PA, which is still treated as a favored pet by Obama,
plus the unwillingness of Arab governments to help him, why should Obama find
time for the Israel-Palestinian issue? With all the other stuff going on, to
argue that advancing toward a comprehensive peace agreement would solve all the
other regional problems has become too ludicrous even for the current
What is pro-Israel are events in the region and decisions
taken by Israeli leaders. Israel just gave Hamas a beating, intensified (despite
the terrorist group’s bragging) by the utter lack of regional (especially
Egyptian) material aid.
A lot of Egyptians aren’t quietly accepting
Islamist dictatorship; the Egyptian regime is still weak and needs stability to
get foreign aid; Syria is still weakened by its civil war; Hezbollah is in
trouble because of its backing of the Syrian regime and facing increasing
opposition within Lebanon; the Sunni Muslim Arabs don’t want Iranian influence
(though Hamas is happy to take its weapons to shoot at Israel); and Hamas and
the PA can never make up.
Yet a president who helps to empower Israel’s
worst enemies – who also happen to be America’s worst enemies – cannot be said
to be a friend except for nice words, especially at pro- Israel events,
maintaining aid levels, and ongoing intelligence cooperation. Perhaps that’s
what American Jewish voters who supported Obama need to hear, and those who
pursue that line will be richly rewarded.
Or perhaps if we pretend Obama
is friendly to Israel now in his second term he and his colleagues will come to
believe that themselves.
Or perhaps they will reward us by not getting
angry and trying to punish Israel. Okay, so let’s go along with this story for a
while. But my job is to let you in on what’s really happening. Ssh!
is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center,
Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, and editor of The Middle East Review of
International Affairs (MERIA) journal. His latest books are The
Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab
Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria