US President Barack Obama’s thermonuclear charm offensive in Israel this week
was sweet music to my ears. I truly enjoyed the talk of eternal alliance
(lanetzach!), unswerving commitment to Israel’s security, and the Jewish
People’s historic rights in the Land of Israel.
I know that such
reaffirmations of the US-Israel bond are critically important to our staying
power and deterrent power. They send a strong signal to Israel’s
They are much appreciated, and I salute the president for
his magnanimous visit. I credit US Ambassador Dan Shapiro for convincing Obama
to take the high road and share the love.
But I worry that Obama’s
rhetorical blitzkrieg may soon give way to spoonfuls of “tough
That’s certainly the case if you believe Obama’s shill Jeffrey
He says that Obama is preparing to “combat Israeli policy that
seems wrong to him and in his estimation jeopardizes Israel’s future and also
hurts the United States.” He came to Israel to “create space to combat misguided
Israeli policy.” He came “to first make love and then war.”
words, the visit was a slickly planned attempt to beguile us. The whole visit
was about making love to Israelis and then war on Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu’s policies. It had a nefarious agenda behind it that will play out in
nasty chords in the coming weeks and months.
According to Goldberg, who
trades and revels in his closeness to Obama, the president thinks Israelis to be
“a damaged, lonely and neurotic people, who need love badly.”
President Obama came to embrace us, calm us down, and make us compliant; to
smother us with affection, then clobber us with ultimatum; to make it easier to
dictate a renewed settlement freeze and Israeli withdrawals.
ambassador and peace negotiator Martin Indyk is even starker in outlining
Indyk unabashedly says that Obama saw this trip as “an
opportunity to gain critical leverage over Prime Minister Netanyahu by
reintroducing himself to the Israeli people” as their great friend. “If the
president can change the balance of Israeli public opinion in his favor, he will
benefit from a more positive relationship with a more pliant Israeli prime
Indyk: “Once Israelis come to believe in Obama, Prime Minister
Netanyahu will have to think long and hard before he decides again to upbraid
the president in the Oval Office. It will not be so easy for him to refuse
Obama’s requests to restrain settlement activity, to take confidence-building
steps toward the Palestinians, and to pipe down about Iran’s nuclear program.
Historically, the Israeli public has punished prime ministers who mishandle
Israel’s allimportant relationship with a popular US president.”
page straight out of Bill Clinton’s playbook (“Shalom, Chaver”) and US diplomat
George W. Ball’s infamous 1977 article (“How to Save Israel in Spite of
Herself”), Obama is seeking to gain and leverage the trust of Israelis to make
Netanyahu more “pliant.”
According to Goldberg, Obama has the right to
save Israel in spite of herself because he is “the most Jewish president the
United States has ever had,” and he is practically a “representative of
mainstream liberal American Judaism.” He loves Israel, identifies with Israel,
cares for Israel, and is worried sick about Israel. He has the privilege and
obligation to push and pressure Israel to do the right (Left!) thing because our
leaders (read: Netanyahu) are screwing up the country’s future. He has the
mandate to do so from American Jewry and from our own children.
THAT the Goldberg and Indyk readings of Obama are wildly off base. I prefer to
take Obama’s love at face value. I prefer to give Obama the benefit of the
doubt. I prefer to believe that the leader of the free world came here to
bolster us, not bamboozle us; and even, perhaps, to draw strength and
inspiration for himself from the People of Israel. I want to believe that Obama
has learned from his many first-term mistakes in obsequious outreach to the
radical Islamic world and in unjust unilateral demands of Israel.
I’m wrong, and the intrepid interpreters of Obama are right, we’re in for a
rough ride, and Obama is in for a harsh awakening.
The charm offensive
It won’t turn Israelis against Netanyahu the way Obama hoped
for. It won’t bring peace.
Israelis are unlikely to buy into Obama’s
“trust me” paradigm because, by and large, their reading of Middle East
strategic and security realities jives with Netanyahu’s, not Obama’s. Israelis
aren’t going to give Obama leeway to push Netanyahu because the president’s
record is, frankly, unimpressive. He has been wrong about the Palestinians until
now, and he hasn’t handled the “Arab Spring” so brilliantly
Nobody in Israel believes that a mad sprint toward grandiose
signing ceremonies on the White House lawn, instead of modest diplomacy aimed at
nudging Israeli-Palestinian relations away from the dangers of confrontation, is
a good idea. Nobody in Israeli government thinks that concessions to a feckless
and radicalized Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, without ending the rule
of Iran and Hamas in Gaza, is going to advance us anywhere good. Nobody believes
that Iran can be talked out of its nuclear drive.
When Obama acts
decisively against Isfahan and Fordow he’ll gain our trust. The president
shouldn’t expect Israelis or Netanyahu to all-of-a-sudden become “pliant”
because he gave a few good speeches in Jerusalem.