In defense of Barack Obama

In defense of Barack Oba

By
February 22, 2010 16:56
Obama the savior 248.88

Obama the savior 248.88. (photo credit: AP [file])

This week a senior respected Israeli analyst asked me to look back and decide, "Are we seeing the worst crisis in US-Israel relations? Is this the worst ever administration from Israel's perspective?" Also this week an Israeli minister termed President Obama's administration "awful," and an Israeli political activist was quoted in Israel's largest circulation paper as saying, "The Obama regime is anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic." To all, I respond with the strongest possible retorts: balderdash, tripe, silliness and stupidity! There are other serious ideological problems with this US administration which results in rock-bottom popularity for the US president in Israel but the labels of "anti-Semitic" or "the worst" are just bum raps. Just look at the history. IN 1957, the Eisenhower administration threatened to come down hard on the fledgling Israel, including removing UJA's tax-exempt status, as a way of pressuring Israel to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula. In 1970, Richard Nixon threatened to cut the supply of 50 F-4 Phantoms to Israel because of insults hurled at French Premier Georges Pompidou by Jewish-American activists in New York. The demonstrations led the notoriously anti-Israel columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak to bray, "More than any president since Dwight Eisenhower, Mr. Nixon has shown a tough realism in trying to stake out the correct US policy in the inflamed Middle East without kowtowing to the large and highly influential Jewish vote." [Note Evans and Novak beat by more than 35 years professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, the authors of the 2007 The Israel Lobby a distinctly unoriginal diatribe against Jewish influence on foreign policy. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose (the more things change, the more they stay the same.)] Observers feared the worst in US-Israel relations in 1975 when the Ford Administration weighed a "reassessment" of American policy in the Middle East, including cutting aid to Israel. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan earned a place in history as one of Israel's strongest friends, but his administration included strong critics of Israel such as vice president George H.W. Bush and defense secretary Caspar Weinberger. The sale of AWACS, just the tip of a massive arms sale and a realignment of US policy to embrace Saudi Arabia, took place under Reagan's watch, and the political war cry of "Reagan or Begin" was broadcast to suggest American Jews' dual loyalties. Arms to Israel were embargoed and delayed after the 1981 Osirak reactor bombing and the 1982 Lebanon War. And the Pollard affair pulled the US-Israel relationship to new lows. Could relations have been worse than when George Bush Sr. went on national TV to challenge 1000 Jewish lobbyists to block $10 billion in housing loan guarantees over the issue of settlements at a time when hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews were flowing into Israel? Actually, yes, they worsened when his secretary of state, James Baker, was quoted as saying, "F*** the Jews, they don't vote for us anyway." YOU GET the point: Anti-Semitism and crises in the US-Israel relationship have existed in the past, and there is simply nothing like it in the current US administration. Arms embargos and aid cut-offs then truly endangered Israel's security and gave Arab states tangible proof that American support for Israel was assailable. There is no such talk of cuts today. In fact, the strong support given to Israel by Congress and the unprecedented joint anti-missile exercise carried out by US and Israeli armed forces last month should put to rest the canard of an anti-Israel America. So why the pervasive malaise about the Obama administration - a distrust so deep that Obama's popularity in Israel is equal to the margin of error? Well, Obama's failure to visit Israel doesn't improve his popularity, nor does his repeated cold-shouldering of Israel's prime minister. Even the appointments of prominent Jews, Rahm Emanuel (chief of staff), David Axelrod (senior advisor), Mara Rudman (NSC/Mitchell's team), Hannah Rosenthal (envoy to monitor anti-Semitism), etc. don't make a difference. They arranged the first ever Seder in the White House, and sent the president to visit a concentration camp. How can anyone accuse these individuals of being "self-hating Jews," when they are members of synagogues, observe Jewish holidays, have relatives in Israel and send their children to Jewish Day Schools? Because they are "Newest Testament" Jews; Jews who have embraced the new American Jewish religion of tikkun olam [fix the world] liberalism. Tikkun olam is the new overarching mitzva that guides them, even though it was never one of the 613 precepts of the Torah. The founding of Israel and the creation of Palestinian refugees may not have been the Original Sin in their theology as it is to others on the Left, but the settling of the West Bank following Israel's victory in 1967 is definitely viewed by them as Israel's Golden Calf The translation of Newest Testament universalism into action can be seen in the words and policies of the modern day shaliach tzibbur [leader of the service], J Street. The policies of J Street - the self-proclaimed "blocking back for Obama" - hold open the option of negotiations with Hamas, oppose Iran sanctions, and embrace the Saudi Plan, now called the Arab Peace Initiative, which demands a return to the 1967 lines, dividing Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. "There will be no peace if the settlements remain in place," wrote one of the Newest Testament prophets, MJ Rosenberg. "Pre-1967 Israel was not terrible at all. In fact it was pretty wonderful," he also wrote. "The secular areas [of Jerusalem] are charming but much of the rest is Jewish Taliban country... No humor, no aesthetics, just lunatics in black." The Obama administration certainly has committed its share of questionable activities, such as ignoring George W. Bush's assurances on Israeli population centers in the West Bank, being over-confident in the ability of Palestinian security forces, attempting to appointment Chas Freeman to a high intelligence post, and abysmally executing its campaign against Israeli settlements and building in Jerusalem. Perhaps the biggest mistake of all, however, was the advice given by Obama advisors that the rules of tikkun olam have a place in the compassionless Middle East. The diplomatic failures led the New York Times editorial board to conclude on November 28, "We don't know exactly what happened but we are told that Mr. Obama relied more on the judgment of his political advisers - specifically his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel - than of his Mideast specialists." Misguided, perhaps. But to declare the Obama administration to be anti-Semitic is just wrong. Let's keep the debate in the area of policy. Unfortunately, there'll be no shortage of topics to discuss. The writer served as a senior diplomat in the Israeli Embassy in Washington and a member of AIPAC's staff in Washington and Jerusalem from 1972 to 1997. Today he is a public affairs consultant. He blogs at www.lennybendavid.com


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