Presidential Conference: Measuring Obama's love

High profile panel delves into the Obama "kishka factor"; Martin Indyk: Israel should "get over" whether US president loves it.

Obama 311 reuters (photo credit: Reuters)
Obama 311 reuters
(photo credit: Reuters)
Israel needs to “get over” the question of whether US President Barack Obama loves it and focus on finding a solution to the Palestinian conflict, former ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk said on Wednesday.
Indyk took part in a highprofile panel discussing the state of Israeli-US ties at the Israeli Presidential Conference in Jerusalem, a discussion that was essentially boiled down to one question: Does Obama, in his kishkas, love Israel.
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“There is no great love in his heart for Israel,” said Elliott Abrams, former senior White House adviser in the George W. Bush administration, and currently a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
Despite the “propaganda” being disseminated by the White House, Abrams said, Obama does not share the same sympathetic view toward Israel as did Bush or even Bill Clinton.
Moreover, he said, the Democrats no longer have the same feeling for Israel that they once did.
Abrams said that while the Republican candidates in 2012 can be expected to compete with themselves over who will articulate more support for Israel, by contrast the Democratic party – according to what he said was poll data and votes in Congress – is “no longer as solid a base of support for Israel.”
The question he left hanging was why, and what could be done about it.
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Abrams contrasted positively, however, Israel’s overall standing in the US with its position in Europe, saying that while the campaign to delegitimize Israel is making headway on the Continent, it is not making an impact in the US.
“The reason,” he said, “is because America has one thing that Europe doesn’t have: Christians. Europe has former Christians. The European continent is full of gorgeous, empty churches filled with tourists from China, Japan and the US. America is very different – the seminal energy behind the pro-Israel lobby in the US is tens of millions of Christians, and they care enough to vote for candidates sometimes on the basis of whether they are pro- or anti- Israel.”
Abram’s words triggered a spirited reply from former Florida Democratic Congressman Robert Wexler, one of Obama’s first high profile supporters in the Jewish world when he launched his candidacy in 2008, and one of those who introduced Obama at the Democratic Convention in Denver.
Wexler said he didn’t know what love Obama had in his heart for Israel or what love he had on any topic, and for that matter he didn’t know the level of love Clinton or Bush had in their heart for Israel either.
“I can only judge statements, deeds and actions,” he said.
He then went through a checklist of actions Obama has taken for Israel: “unprecedented” security cooperation; dropping out of a Turkish military exercise in 2009 when Israel was “disinvited; approving an additional $200 million for the Iron Dome anti-rocket system; quashing the French idea of a peace summit in Paris after Israel made clear to the US it wasn’t interested.
“That is a lot of love,” Wexler said, adding that the quashing of the French idea, and Obama’s lobbying European leaders against recognizing a Palestinian state, came after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s’ recent trip to Washington and “a White House session not the easiest for an American president to get through in terms of blunt statements” by the prime minister.
“The notion that Obama does not have the requisite love, or cares in his kishkas, defies the facts,” said Wexler, today the president of the S.
Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace in Washington.
Former IDF spokesman Ruth Yaron countered that even with all that, Israelis want to feel the love, not just hear that the president has done a great deal for security cooperation.
“I’m not questioning his love,” she said. “I would say please make sure this love is not only felt, but also seen by countries around us.”
Without feeling secure in this love and a feeling that Israel will never be left to “walk alone,” the country would be less willing to take risks, Yaron said.
This dimension of the Israeli psyche – of wanting to feel, and not only hear, about the love – was dismissed as “neurosis” by Indyk, who today is vice president of the Brookings Institution.
Saying that Obama is not a “warm and cuddly guy,” and calling him “no drama Obama,” Indyk said that the only intimate relationship Obama has with any foreign leader is with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Calling Yaron’s description of Israel’s psyche the picture of a “neurotic nation,” Indyk said, “It’s time to grow up. We should get over the question of whether he loves me or he loves me not, and focus on question of finding a solution to conflict with the Palestinians.
When Israel decides by itself to solve that problem, it will have the overwhelmingly cuddly support of the US president.”