On whom can we rely?

Since his election in 2012, Obama has maintained a level of pressure on Israel exceeding that of any former president.

November 17, 2013 22:56
Negotiators from the UK, Iran, Germany and the EU at nuclear talks in Geneva November 9, 2013.

Geneva nuclear talks November 9, 2013 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Jean-Christophe Bott/Pool )

 The fact that recent negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 world powers have not resulted in the lifting of sanctions only minimally mitigates the danger that these discussions are even taking place.

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With the US spending more time in high-level discussions with Iran than it has since 1979, and with another set of talks already scheduled for November 20, the potential of an unwarranted lifting of sanctions and the increased possibility of Iran becoming a threshold nuclear country remains a frightening threat to Israel.

Unfortunately, the US participation in discussions with Iran’s foreign minister and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani – who Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warns is “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” – came as no surprise. Concerns about US President Barack Obama’s true intentions and allegiances in the Middle East, and where they would take the US, began even before he took office.

During his June 4 address to the 2008 American Israel Public Affairs Committee Conference – just one day after he clinched the 2008 Democratic nomination – presidential candidate Obama declared that Israel’s security was sancrosanct and Jerusalem must remain undivided. But the very next day and over the weeks that followed, he apologized continually, saying “undivided” was a poor choice of words.

Frequently during the first two years of his presidency, Obama berated Israel and professed the notion that Israeli settlements were at the root of its problems with the Palestinians. And time after time, he seemed to go out of his way to appease and engage the Muslim world, often clearly to Israel’s detriment.

ON MAY 19, 2011, Obama began what we call a “six-day tap dance” with Netanyahu, when he presented a policy speech in which he asserted, “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the [pre-]1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” The next day Netanyahu took his first dance steps during a White House press conference following a private meeting with Obama, spelling out why anything based on the indefensible pre-1967 borders could never be one of the concessions Israel was willing to make for peace.

The dance continued on May 22, when Obama addressed AIPAC’s 2011 Annual Policy Conference, clarifying what he meant by “[pre-]1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” On the 23rd Netanyahu spoke at AIPAC, focusing on the common values of Israel and the US, and on the full democratic rights and freedoms enjoyed by the 1 million Muslims in Israel.

The six days ended with Netanyahu’s May 24th address to the US Congress. While Netanyahu was clearly the winner – with Congress’s overwhelmingly enthusiastic response to his speech, and his declaration that “Israel is not what’s wrong with the Middle East. Israel is what’s right about the Middle East” – the episode resulted in growing apprehension in the Jewish community.

Obama’s stand cost him a 20-percent drop in polls of American Jewry. A large segment of the community feared that if Obama won the Democratic Party nomination, captured the 2012 election and had another four years in the White House, Israel would no longer be able to count on strong US support. Award-winning journalist Glenn Kessler captured the feeling clearly in the title of his article posted on The Washington Post website on July 11, 2011: “Obama and Israel: Stalled Diplomacy or Suspicion and Distrust?” Much of the Jewish community’s concern about the US president has centered around his relationship with Iran. Interestingly, candidate Obama spent considerable time on the problems of Iran during his 2008 address to AIPAC, while as president, Obama only made a brief mention of Iran during his May 2011 policy speech.

In his 2008 address one heard rhetoric such as, “There’s no greater threat to Israel or to the peace and the stability of the region than Iran... The Iranian regime supports violent extremists and challenges us across the re gion... pursues a nuclear capability that could spark a dangerous arms race and raise the prospect of a transfer of nuclear know-how to terrorists. Its president denies the Holocaust and threatens to wipe Israel off the map.”

In his May 19, 2011 policy speech, in contrast, he simply remarked, “Our opposition to Iran’s intolerance – as well as its illicit nuclear program, and its sponsorship of terror – is well-known,” not bothering to report updates on Iran’s nuclear activities, like the deal it signed with Turkey or the break the world got when the March 2011 tsunami interfered with Japan’s plan to provide Iran with nuclear fuel rods.

SINCE HIS ELECTION in 2012, Obama has maintained a level of pressure on Israel exceeding that of any former president. He has greatly increased diplomatic engagement with Iran, and continues to maintain his promise that the Islamic Republic will never have a nuclear bomb during his era – despite the lack of any indication his attempts to-date are doing anything to force them to suspend their bellicose policies and stop their nuclear production.

And he continues to deliberately follow a policy in the international arena of “leading from behind,” stepping back from what had always been accepted as the US’s manifest destiny as global guardian of democratic values.

Today, concerns about Iran, the American commitment to Israel and the US’s continued downward trajectory from its historic and crucial role as a superpower continue to escalate. The situation with Iran is just one of many that have the ability to wreak havoc on Israel, the Jewish community globally, and the world as a whole.

So the question is: “On whom can we rely?” In Mishna Sotah 9:15, that same question is asked, but only after the Mishna details an era where there is a complete lack of possible human avenues. There is no honor, no truth, no morality, no wisdom… None to offer reproof… Our own families as our enemies.

In a world as bleak as the era described in the Mishna, the answer to the question is: “On Our Father in Heaven.”

But as alarming as the challenges facing Israel, the Jewish people and the world today might be, they’re nowhere as bleak as what was described in the Mishna.

So in addition to relying on Our Father in Heaven, we have a responsibility to search for and use what honor, truth, morality and wisdom are still available.

We need to be willing to offer – and accept – rebuke.

And we need to keep our families from becoming our enemies by caring for, respecting and listening to one another – and by encouraging those at risk of becoming “enemies” to think critically, taking time to get information from all sides and evaluating the sources, before letting a supposed friend or an item they’ve heard or read convince them to alienate their heritage, family and Klal Yisrael. A solid political education is key. The importance of keeping a finger on the political pulse remains crucial for netzach Yisrael, the continuity of Israel and the Jewish people.

Hopefully, a more politically seasoned Jewry will come to better understand the precarious survival mechanisms for overcoming the daunting challenges that lie ahead.

Sections of this article are based on the postscript chapter of A Jewish Professor’s Political Punditry: 50-Plus Years of Published Commentary by Ron Rubin [Peri Devaney, ed. Syracuse University Press, 2013]. Reproduced with permission from the publisher. Peri Devaney is an editorial consultant based in Los Angeles, California. Ron Rubin, PhD, is a political science professor at CUNY’s Borough of Manhattan Community College and the author of five books and more than 100 published pieces.

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