US President Barack Obama delivers his final State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in Washington January 12, 2016. .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
For me the Limmud FSU festivals are always a source for self-learning.
The fact that I attend in the role of a presenter is immaterial as I always find myself learning something new from the participants.
During a fascinating week in Parsippany, New Jersey, attended by over 1,000 predominantly young Russian- speaking Jews, I gave a talk on the relationship between the US administration during the past seven years of Barak Obama as president and Israel.
I chose to start with what is always a loaded issue for Israelis; Obama’s famous speech in Cairo in 2009. Israeli critics (most of whom had not actually heard the speech) maintain that he had ignored Israel already during his first visit to the Middle East.
They chose to disregard his clear and unequivocal statements that the covenant between Israel and the United States is unbreakable. A leader who chooses to speak in such terms cannot be considered as anything else but a friend and not an enemy.
I began with a story from the 1960s.
Shortly after his election as president, John F. Kennedy met with David Ben-Gurion. Kennedy asked B-G what he should do in order to be seen as a good president with regard to Israel.
Ben-Gurion replied, “Be a good president for the United States, and you will be a good president for the whole world and that includes us.”
An examination of various economic determinants dating from Obama’s entrance to office in 2009 to today, proves this principal. For example the Dow Jones average rose from 7,949 points in 2009 to 17,511 today. Unemployment dropped from 7.8 percent to 5.6%, representing a very significant drop of 28%. The budget deficit dropped from 9.8% to only 2.9% of GDP. These figures and many others bear witness to the great success of Obama’s presidency. As Ben-Gurion said, “Be a good president for the United States.”
If we disregard for the moment Obama’s success in terms of the United States, he should be saluted for his and his administration’s support for military aid to Israel. The United States under Obama gave access to intelligence information and agreed to the sale of the most advanced weaponry that had never been available to Israel before. The administration made available a billion dollars of American taxpayer’s money (something which is far from simple in the United States) for the development of the Iron Dome and for the IDF development of the Arrow and David’s Sling defense systems.
Despite the attitude of all American administrations that the West Bank and east Jerusalem are occupied territory and that the Jewish settlements are illegal, and admitting that the Obama government was perhaps more outspoken than its predecessors on the subject, did not change by one iota the position of the US in the international arena. On several occasions, the Obama administration found itself alone when it imposed a veto on anti-Israel motions in the UN Security Council and in splendid isolation (together with Israel and Micronesia) in the General Assembly.
The same Obama administration knew how to exert pressure on European nations in an effort to block anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian tendencies.
It is true that there is the agreement with Iran. Both in Israel and the United States there are many voices, some of them extremely strident, who oppose the Iran agreement on the nuclear issue. This subject is equally contentious in Israel. At the end of the day it would appear that the attitude of the American president is identical to that of many who have served as IDF chief of staff, as head of Military Intelligence, as head of the Mossad and of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) – and even to that of a past president of the state (Shimon Peres) who had been prime minister and minister of defense.
One thing is clear; all the sides to the argument, both those who agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and those like me who think that the agreement was the best that could be obtained under the circumstances, pray that those that think as I do are right.
The truth is that I had doubts about expressing my opinions to an audience of young Jews, several wearing kippot, who seemed to me to be supporters of the Israeli right wing. To my surprise, I learned (remembering that Limmud is all about learning from one another) that I was wrong. Most of my listeners nodded in agreement and it seemed to me (as supported by conversations in the corridors afterward) that the young American Jewish public both knows and appreciates the contribution of Obama to Israel , and that stridently expressed antagonism does not always represent the true feelings of the public, neither here nor abroad.
The writer is a member of the governing body of Limmud FSU and has been a senior adviser to Shimon Peres since 1990.
Translated by Asher Weill.