Special Relationships

President Obama has recently been attempting to reassure Israel by stating that America stands behind the Jewish state as well as with it in the face of serious security challenges, particularly Iran and its nuclear program.
In one such declaration, he told The Atlantic’sJeffrey Goldberg in an interview leading up to the AIPAC policy conference that, “we''ve got Israel''s back.”
When asked what that phrase meant at a press conference last week, however, Obama made clear that it wasn’t particular to Israel and its circumstances.
“What it means is that, historically, we have always cooperated with Israel with respect to the defense of Israel, just like we do with a whole range of other allies – just like we do with Great Britain, just like we do with Japan.”
The US relationship with Israel, of course, isn’t just like that of Britain’s. Though both countries pride themselves on having a “special relationship” with the US, that means very different things in each case, something on full display over the last two weeks, when Obama hosted Prime Minister Netanyahu and British Prime Minister David Cameron back to back.
In the case of Cameron, Obama whisked the leader to watch an NCAA basketball game in Ohio, feted him with a state dinner, and made not one but three rounds of public remarks by his side.
Netanyahu, in contrast, got one lunch, which aides from both countries were at pains to paint as friendly and warm, referring in particular detail to the fact that the assembled marked the birthday of a member of Netanyahu’s delegation. Ahead of time it was emphasized that Netanyahu would be staying at the official White House guest accommodations in Blair House, and Netanyahu began his Oval Office remarks by thanking the president for his hospitality. Of course, such messages were important because of the lingering perception that Obama was decidedly inhospitable to Netanyahu in the past.
While you wouldn’t expect Israel to get accorded the same reception as Britain for obvious reasons given the history, stature and bonds of the latter, the difference was still striking – particularly once the pomp and hoopla was removed.
Banter, easy asides, casual address don’t need a state dinner to occur at the White House. Yet while Cameron and Obama repeatedly referred to each other by their first names during their Rose Garden press conference, it was strictly “Mr. President” and “the Prime Minister” when Obama and Netanyahu read their statements in the Oval Office.
And for Netanyahu there were no laugh lines, no sports references, no gentle jabs. Nothing like the remarks Obama greeted Cameron with at his arrival ceremony, frequently punctuated with laughter from the crowd:  “It’s now been 200 years since the British came here to the White House -- under somewhat different circumstances. They made quite an impression. They really lit up the place,” Obama said, referring to the British burning of the White House during the War of 1812.
Later, Cameron noted the introduction to basketball he received from Obama and then promised to return the favor by tutoring him in cricket.
It’s no secret that Netanyahu and Obama don’t have the warmest personal rapport. But the answer Goldberg received when he questioned Obama about the leaders’ relationship was still revealing.
“Are you friends? Do you talk about things other than business?” he asked.
Obama responded, “You know, the truth of the matter is, both of us have so much on our plates that there''s not always a lot of time to have discussions beyond business.”
There’s nothing like a trip to a basketball game to give you time for some discussions beyond business.
- Hilary Leila Krieger