As US presidential elections near, we’re beginning to hear about how much of a friend Barack Obama has been to Israel. Writing in the New York Times, Haim Saban explained how Obama’s “support for Israel’s security and well-being has been rock solid.” In a recent speech, Vice President Joe Biden declared, “No president since Harry Truman has done more for Israel’s security than Barack Obama.” Most recently, AIPAC released a statement thanking Obama for “deepen[ing] America’s support for Israel in difficult times.”
Have they confused Obama with someone else? Perhaps a president who has visited Israel during his term in office?
Barack Obama is a president who, two days after being sworn in to office, initiated an almost two-year public-pressure campaign against Israel, beginning with the appointment of George Mitchell as special envoy to the Middle East charged with jump-starting the peace process.
During that time, Obama and his principals – Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel – each ratcheted up the pressure on Israel. Settlements were “illegitimate.” The “status quo “unsustainable.” Israeli concessions and US action on Iran were said to “go hand in hand.” Israel had to prove itself as part of a “show me deal — not based on faith — show me.”
In his address “on a new beginning” in Cairo, Obama brought this rhetoric directly to the Muslim world, called for a settlement freeze, equated the Holocaust with Palestinian dislocation at Israel’s founding (ignoring that this was caused by the war launched against Israel), and omitted the Jews’ historic connection to Palestine in explaining American support for Israel.
The all came just as Israel finished operations against Hamas in Gaza and was facing a blood libel in the form of the Goldstone Report. Recall that those operations were necessary to quell rocket fire which resulted from Israel’s total military and civilian withdrawal from Gaza – a very tangible show of willingness (“not based on faith”) to end the conflict.
It also violated private and public commitments made by the US to Israel regarding settlements beyond the 1949 Armistice Lines – commitments made as part of the Gaza withdrawal.
When Israel enacted an “unprecedented” (Clinton’s word) 10-month construction freeze and the Palestinians refused to negotiate, similar pressure was not placed on the Palestinians. Instead, more pressure was placed on Israel to extend the freeze, as per the Palestinians’ demand.
Obama embarrassed Israel on other occasions. In May 2011, on the eve of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit to the US, Obama announced his vision for final borders – calling for Israel to return to the 1949 armistice lines. As the New York Times reported, “using the [pre] 1967 boundaries as the baseline for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute” was a “first by an American president.”
In November 2011, Obama sympathized with French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s complaint that Netanyahu was “a liar,” responding, “You're tired of him; what about me? I have to deal with him every day.”
At one point, Israel’s ambassador to the US had to publicly deny that there was a crisis in US-Israel relations.
Obama’s Jerusalem policy has been a microcosm of the crisis. The administration refuses to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or even as part of Israel. When confronted, administration spokespeople only say “our position has not changed.” At the same time, the administration repeatedly condemns Jewish construction in eastern Jerusalem, confirming that parts of Israel’s capital are to remain off limits to Jews.
So when Democrats rushed to reinsert recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital into their platform (Jerusalem and a number of other pro-Israel planks, had been removed), Democratic representatives strained credulity in claiming that “President Obama recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel” and describing how Obama “personally intervened” to correct this “technical oversight.” Given the president’s actual position on Jerusalem, it is more likely that Obama was responsible for removing Jerusalem in the first place.
MOST DANGEROUS to Israel has been Obama’s Iran policy. President Bush began the process of isolating Iran and drawing public attention to it. Obama, however, declared a “new approach” of “engagement” with Iran. He recognized Iran’s “right to access nuclear energy” and attempted direct negotiations with Iran. At the same time, he focused his Middle East policy on pressuring Israel, instead of Iran.
Even as Iran adds centrifuges to its underground facility and evidence mounts that it is developing a nuclear weapon, the administration has embarked on a public “red light” campaign aimed at scaring Israel from acting unilaterally. This has included emphasizing differences in how intelligence is interpreted, denouncing Israel’s military capabilities, not wanting to seem “complicit” in an Israeli strike and exaggerating such a strike’s consequences.
The administration also publicly rejected Netanyahu’s calls for “clear red lines” to be set with Iran. When Netanyahu asked to meet with Obama to smooth things over, the White House rejected the request claiming Obama’s “schedule will not permit that.”
The refusal to set red lines and the administration’s position that Iran must only be stopped from obtaining nuclear weapons, but not a weapons capability, as Israel has demanded, constitute notice to Iran that the US will not act militarily before the last possible moment (if at all). This encourages Iran to come to the verge of obtaining a nuclear weapon, at which point, even the US would have trouble stopping Iran from taking the next step.
OBAMA’S JEWISH apologists, like Haim Saban, prefer to ignore all of this and instead focus on Obama’s “concrete” actions, such as signing into law a $70 million aid package for Iron Dome, using cyber warfare against Iran, and vetoing anti-Israel resolutions in the Security Council.
Israel should be grateful for these, but not specifically to Obama. The Iron Dome bill was backed by both parties and houses of Congress. The Stuxnet program was initiated by President Bush. Vetoing anti-Israel resolutions in the Security Council is long-standing US policy.
American supporters of Israel must also understand that financial aid is not an acceptable replacement for secure borders, preventing Iranian nuclear proliferation, positive international standing based on Israel’s just claims, and maintaining regional peace – all of which have been harmed by Obama’s policies and rhetoric towards Israel, Iran and the Middle East as a whole.
Daniel Tauber is executive-director of Likud Anglos.