US President Barack Obama (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – “Political forces” in Washington seek to provide the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a rubber stamp for its policies, US President Barack Obama said this week in an interview with The Atlantic magazine.
The interview, with the magazine’s Jeffrey Goldberg, was published one day before the president is scheduled to address Congregation Adas Israel in Washington, where he is expected to outline his administration’s plans to combat a rising tide of anti-Semitism across Europe.
The discussion ranged from the US-led campaign against Islamic State to the president’s attitude toward the new Israeli government. Obama also discussed the emerging nuclear against Israel’s Arab community.
But “there has been a very concerted effort on the part of some political forces to equate being pro-Israel, and hence being supportive of the Jewish people, with a rubber stamp on a particular set of policies coming out of the Israeli government,” Obama said.
“So 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,” he continued.
“But what I did say is that, when going into an election, Prime Minister Netanyahu said a Palestinian state would not happen under his watch, or there [was] discussion in which it appeared that Arab-Israeli citizens were somehow portrayed as an invading force that might vote, and that this should be guarded against. This is contrary to 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. When something like that happens, that has foreign-policy consequences, and precisely because we’re so close to Israel, for us to simply stand there and say nothing would have meant that this office, the Oval Office, lost credibility when it came to speaking out on these issues.”
While his devotion to Israel’s security and its right to exist was a repeated theme in the interview, he rejected that dealing with Iran’s Islamic Republic undermines that commitment, questioning instead the alternatives proposed by the Netanyahu government.
Obama also rejected the notion that anti-Semitism at the highest levels of Iran’s leadership proves that their government is irrational.
“The fact that you are anti-Semitic, or racist, doesn’t preclude you from being interested in survival,” Obama said, speaking of Tehran’s leadership. “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.”
He said that, historically, anti-Semitic policies have been executed by governments across Europe and the Middle East at a “low cost.”
His policy is to make clear to the Iranians that the cost is high, he said.