The Iranian-spearheaded battle to delegitimize Israel is enjoying dramatic success. Having played a damaging part in this process, however inadvertently, the Obama administration can now play a vital role in braking it.
The presidential campaign is over. The Republicans lost and the Democrats won. Barack Obama is safely installed at the White House.
But Mitt Romney is plainly going to give the new president no respite. At AIPAC's National Conference in San Diego on Monday, the former Massachusetts governor, who lost to John McCain in the battle for the Republican nomination last time, delivered a blistering assault on the Obama administration that, although it went unsaid, emphatically underlined his ambition to run again for the White House in 2012. And the focus of his attack was Obama's ostensible mistreatment of Israel.
Romney said he had identified "a drift" in the US government's relationship with Israel. He found it inexplicable that the administration had been exerting "substantial pressure on Israel while putting almost no pressure on the Palestinians and the Arab world." He wondered why Washington didn't seem to be treating Israel as the peerless ally it is.
He castigated Obama for his handling of the Iran nuclear crisis, ridiculing as "naive" the notion that the United States and the "ruthless and fanatical" rulers of Iran shared common interests and goals. "Stop thinking that a charm offensive will talk the Iranians out of their pursuit of nuclear weapons," he urged the president. "It will not."
Why had the military option been taken off the table, Romney demanded? How could that be, he surged on, when Israel was facing an existential threat?
Worse, he added, "Once an outstretched hand is met with a clenched fist, it becomes a symbol of weakness and impotence."
Romney spoke with such energy and zest - praising Israel for putting the well-being of its own people above what he called "the approbation of foreign diplomats," and warning the White House not to cede its commitment to Israel to the "reckless" United Nations - that at one point he had to stop himself. "I'm not giving you time to applaud, am I?" he said, holding up his hands in half-apology.
But the thousand or so AIPAC delegates had got their applause in almost every time Romney drew breath. And they gave him a standing ovation at the end.
OBAMA'S NATIONAL Security Adviser James Jones, the next speaker, was not in the hall to hear the assault. He spoke, instead, via satellite from the West Wing, reading his address from a teleprompter with a striking absence of passion.
In stark contrast to the reception afforded Romney, there was only one, rather half-hearted attempt to applaud Jones in mid-speech, and fairly mild, seated clapping at the end of a presentation. This, even though Jones had taken care to speak of America's "unbreakable" bond with the "Jewish state," stressed Israel's right to self-defense, and insisted that "nothing is off the table" if engagement with Iran were to fail.
Jones may not have heard Romney, and certainly wasn't responding to him. But the administration's emphasis on the "Jewish state" of Israel, along with the signs of an emerging Israel-US middle ground on settlements, the demand that the Palestinian Authority come back to the peace table without preconditions, and gestures like Obama's unexpected message of greeting for President Shimon Peres's Facing Tomorrow conference this week - all these would indicate that the Obama presidency is attempting to slightly reset its relationship to Israel.
It is a minor shift - and not, it should be stressed, an ideological change - doubtless precipitated in part by Obama's dismal approval ratings in Israel. It is a consequence, too, of the belated realization that trying to corner Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu over a settlement freeze, extending to Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, was simultaneously alienating mainstream Israel while pushing Mahmoud Abbas ever higher up a tree; how could the PA president agree to talk with Israel when Netanyahu wasn't even meeting Washington's demands? And it may also be no coincidence that the subtly more supportive stance has taken shape since veteran Middle East expert Dennis Ross moved into a White House role more proximate to the president.
"The administration has stumbled, no doubt about it," a senior AIPAC figure who strongly supports Obama told me this week. "The ferocity of the settlement freeze demand, most especially as stated by Secretary of State Clinton, and the failure to highlight Israel's historical territorial legitimacy in Obama's Cairo speech in June - these were mistakes. And now they're recalibrating."
That it will take quite some time for any such shift to win over the more hawkish members of AIPAC, some of whom are loudly but misguidedly upset that the lobby group is not overtly confronting the administration, is only a relatively small concern, however.
The wider worry is that, in so publicly pressuring and expressing its dissatisfaction with Israel, and insufficiently stressing the millennia of Jewish ties to this land, our vital ally in Washington has helped contribute to the now-dramatically rising international tide of demonization and delegitimization of our very existence.
HAVING FAILED to wipe out Israel on the conventional battlefield, our regional enemies changed tack in recent years. A strategic onslaught of terrorism, led by waves of suicide bombers, failed to have the desired effect. But the triple Iranian-spearheaded campaign - missile attacks on civilians, assaults on our morality, and the misrepresentation of our history - is proving much more effective.
The IDF's attempt to pulverize Hizbullah and end its missile threat in 2006 was a fiasco. Militarily, the offensive against Hamas last winter was more effective. But Israel emerged from both of those conflicts with its image and moral standing badly harmed.
In both cases, Israel had failed to effectively prepare the international diplomatic community for the inevitable resort to force to protect its civilians. It underestimated the potential international legal storm and thus had made no plans to offset the fallout. In Gaza, it also barred foreign journalists from seeing exactly what was going on. And it provided inadequate information on who was being killed - allowing Hamas, during Operation Cast Lead, a complete monopoly on information as to whether combatants or noncombatants were dying, a monopoly that Hamas naturally abused.
It was also deplorably ill-served by superficial media coverage, and has proved to be even more vulnerable than it had imagined to the automatic anti-Israel majorities in the UN forums that sit in international judgment on the actions of nations.
Thus Israel today finds itself under legal and diplomatic attack, courtesy of the Goldstone panel - a body that, risibly, proved unable to establish that Hamas was fighting out of uniform, unable to establish that Hamas was using mosques as military bases; a body whose "findings" are being wielded as facts to condemn Israel even as its authors acknowledge that those findings would not constitute sufficient evidence in a court of law.
Israel's military chiefs risk arrest when travelling abroad. Israel faces growing boycott calls and is bracing for renewed efforts at divestment. It is even under escalating cultural attack - with the screening of Israeli films at overseas festivals a matter of controversy and international musicians aware that they will have to defend themselves from critics of "apartheid Israel" if they play here.
And it is fast running out of allies. Turkey is slipping inexorably away. The UK and France, the latest nations to mislay their moral compasses, could not bring themselves to vote against the Goldstone Report in the UN Human Rights Council last week. And India - India! - which a year ago felt the shattering impact of a terrorist assault hatched in neighboring Pakistan on Mumbai, and where private Israeli security teams now protect the fabled Taj Mahal Palace hotel that the Islamist gunmen so ruthlessly violated - actually voted with Pakistan to endorse Goldstone, as did our Arab peace partners Jordan and Egypt, along with China and Russia.
With frankly dizzying pace, and to the certain delight of our fervent enemies, Israel is being malevolently isolated before our very eyes - with the Goldstone vote last week a depressing barometer. This week's new spy drama in the US, meanwhile, can only further damage Israel's standing with the American public.
Disturbingly, meanwhile, even Israel's prominent ostensible supporters in the US are divided in their purported solidarity. J Street's new activism, and its disproportionate access to key players in the administration, mean AIPAC no longer has the field to itself.
J Street insists its positions can best advance Israel's well-being. But its guiding philosophy - playing out in its equivocal stance on Operation Cast Lead, its backing for a settlement freeze including east Jerusalem and its opposition to more stringent sanctions on Iran - led Ambassador Michael Oren to reject an invitation to attend its upcoming conference and saw the embassy issuing a devastating statement asserting that certain J Street policies "may impair the interests of Israel."
J Street would have the world believe that Israel needs saving from itself; unsurprisingly, official Israel - representing a government that speaks for the overwhelming center-right to center-left Israeli consensus - wants no part of it.
The irony is that here in Israel, where mainstream politicians who agree on far more than they differ are nonetheless accustomed to attacking each other at every opportunity, our various leaders are speaking in greater unison than at any time in recent memory. Now that Netanyahu has set out his "vision" of a two-state solution, there is comparatively little substantive daylight between the Likud, Kadima and Labor. But that wouldn't ordinarily prevent the traditional partisan sniping. Today's relative rhetorical unity is more a case of crisis-imposed patriotism - a rally-round-the-flag reflection of how parlous our international standing has become.
THE OBAMA administration would doubtless take issue with Mitt Romney's assertion of a "drift" in the US-Israel relationship. But along with a robust stance in Iran, there are two areas in which it could very usefully rebut that accusation and make plain the extent of its commitment to our long-term security.
It can use its clout, and its veto at the UN Security Council, to try to reduce the international ripples of Goldstone - as US officials have indicated they intend to do - while stressing, as Jones did in his AIPAC address, America's confidence in Israel's moral integrity and in its determined ability to investigate and draw whatever conclusions may be necessary about the policies and performance of its armed forces.
And it could take pains to emphasize, in the speeches of President Obama and other top officials, the historic legitimacy of the Jewish state in the biblical land of Israel - our ancient link to this land.
When our leaders accepted the division of Palestine six decades ago, when they accepted the belated revival of Jewish sovereignty in these parts, they were reluctantly consenting to share this tiny, contested area with an Arab entity. Now, led by Iran, an underinformed world is being bluffed into thinking that our claim to legitimacy here, rather than stemming from a physical tie dating back through millennia, derives primarily from the Jewish people's suffering in the Holocaust. And that underinformed world is asking why the Palestinians should have to pay for Europe's crimes by ceding territory to the Jews.
However inadvertently, Obama gave weight to this misrepresentation in his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, by linking America's support for Israel with the persecution of the Jews in exile down the centuries, culminating in the Holocaust, and failing to mention our connection to this land. Now, more than at any time in recent years, Israel looks to what has starkly become its only mighty ally, and especially to Obama, to help correct the damage - to highlight Israel's fundamental legitimacy.
Obama's comments to Peres's Facing Tomorrow conference included the declaration that the "bond" between our two countries "is much more than a strategic alliance."
This would be a fine moment to demonstrate the point. And this president, with his articulate insistence on an ethical, decent, fair-minded America, is especially suited to lead the moral campaign for Israel. Look at the impact the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, Richard Kemp, has made with his impassioned defense of the morality of the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza. And imagine what Obama, emphasizing Israel's historic basis and its abiding values, could do.
Only if the Arab world internalizes Israel's right to be precisely here will it even begin to move toward viable compromise. And only if the rest of the world recognizes the true depth of America's commitment to Israel, and reaffirms its own lapsed moral commitment to a Jewish state of peerless legitimacy, will the Iranian-led delegitimization campaign that is currently being waged so successfully against us begin to falter.