No second thoughts

The Robinson award may give Obama license for future mischief on Israel.

By JONATHAN TOBIN
August 17, 2009 21:59
No second thoughts

robinson obama medal 248 88 ap. (photo credit: )

 
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When asked about whether US President Barack Obama was rethinking his decision to give Mary Robinson his nation's highest civilian award, a spokesman for the White House was quoted as saying that the president "had no second thoughts" about giving the former Irish president the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Indeed, the ceremony went off without a hitch and nary a discouraging word as Robinson and 15 other less controversial recipients got their medals amid a blizzard of presidential praise. Obama lauded Robinson, the woman who presided over the United Nation's anti-Semitic hate fest at the 2001 Durban Conference on racism, as "an advocate for the hungry and the hunted, the forgotten and the ignored," and ignored the widespread criticism of the honoree from a wide range of Jewish groups as well as some members of Congress. Robinson is a longtime foe of the Jewish state and even today holds the post of honorary president of Oxfam, an NGO that gained publicity last week for firing actress Kirstin Davis of Sex and the City fame as its spokeswoman because she also represents Ahava, whose Dead Sea cosmetics are considered off-limits by Israel-haters. Though the dustup over Robinson cast something of a shadow on an event that is almost always non-controversial (because the White House generally eliminates questionable candidates), the dispute did not generate a great deal of publicity. It was Robinson's good fortune that the weeks leading up to the ceremony were dominated by a divisive national debate over health care reform. Even Obama's most virulent critics on the right were too preoccupied with the debate over the president's massive expansion of government power for it to register much of an impact on the nation's political Richter scale. BUT FRIENDS of Israel, especially those Jewish Democrats who have been doing their best to ignore the White House's increasingly belligerent tone toward the Jewish state, would do well to note what happened with Robinson. Obama honored a virulent enemy of Israel, someone who bore a great deal of responsibility for Durban, one of the most disgraceful episodes in the history of an institution - the UN - that is no stranger to disgrace. And he has gotten away with it with hardly a scratch on his reputation. Though some will dismiss this incident as a minor mistake that will soon be forgotten, the main lesson to be learned here may not be the one about presidential award nominations needing to be more thoroughly vetted. Rather, it may be that as much as this was an unforced error on the part of the White House, what Obama and his advisers may take away from this incident is how easily they were able to dismiss a nearly universal Jewish dismay. In the weeks to come, the president and his foreign-policy team are said to be preparing what we are told is a new Middle East peace plan. The upshot of this exercise may be some sort of peace conference doomed to certain failure because neither of the two leading Palestinian factions - the supposedly more moderate Fatah that runs the Palestinian Authority and the Islamist terrorists of Hamas - have any real interest in a peace deal with Israel. As Robert Malley, the former Clinton administration staffer who is a prominent critic of Israel, wrote in The New York Times last week, for either group "to accept Israel as a Jewish state would legitimize the Zionist enterprise that brought about their tragedy. It would render the Palestinian national struggle at best meaningless, at worst criminal." Thus, the only possible purpose of the Obama initiative will be to attempt again to bludgeon Israel into making concessions to Palestinians that are uninterested in peace. THE ADMINISTRATION is also still committed to "engagement" with Iran's despotic Islamist regime and continues to appear uninterested in any serious effort to stop Teheran from gaining nuclear capability. Though both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have talked about giving the Iranians until after the General Assembly of the United Nations meets this fall before attempting to organize more stringent sanctions, this is not a credible stance since such efforts will not only be undermined by lackluster European support and open opposition from China and Russia, they will almost certainly be too late to stop Teheran's nuclear timetable. On both these issues, despite their hopes that Obama may ultimately step back from a full-throttle battle, the pro-Israel community may soon find itself looking into the business end of a White House propaganda machine that will feel confident about dismissing concerns about Israel's security in much the same way that they have trashed opponents of their health care plan. There are those who take the point of view that the willingness of mainstream groups such as the Anti-Defamation League and others to allow any daylight to be seen between themselves and the White House on the Robinson affair is a sign that Jewish spines are stiffening in response to Obama's attitude on Jewish security issues. But that strikes me as over-optimistic at best since left-wing groups with growing clout among administration circles, such as J Street, dutifully supported the president on the issue. So long as his leftist base sticks with him, it's doubtful that the president will worry about support from mainstream liberals who are loathe to make common cause with Obama's critics. Though they may have been surprised that any major Jewish groups had the chutzpah to oppose the president even on this issue, the nonchalance with which Obama and his apologists road roughshod over any opposition to the award may well have taught the White House that they can get away with anything. There may have been some who thought Robinson's award would prove to be Obama's Bitburg moment - a symbolic episode that forever tarnished Ronald Reagan's reputation even among his most ardent Jewish supporters. But while Reagan paid a heavy price for offending Jewish sensibilities by honoring dead SS members at a German cemetery, Obama escaped from the Robinson award with few scars and little media attention to the story. Far from serving as a warning to the White House to tread carefully in the future when it comes to Israel or the Jews, Mary Robinson's medal may turn out instead to be a trial run for far worse outrages yet to come from this president. The writer is executive editor of Commentary Magazine where he contributes to its blog Contentions at www.commentarymagazine.com

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