Opinion: Obama is not 'bad for Israel'

What's "pro-Israel" and who appointed anyone to cast judgment on the issue?

barack obama 298 88 (photo credit: obama.senate.gov)
barack obama 298 88
(photo credit: obama.senate.gov)
A dumb, misinformed, misguided and vicious accusation is circulating lately in cyberspace. According to anonymous commentators, Barack Obama is "bad for Israel". He has an Islamic chapter in his biography ("radical" says one expert on both Obama and fundamentalist Islam), he called for talks with Iran, Syria and whomever else the US defines as an enemy and has never expounded what are commonly regarded as "Pro Israel" comments. So troubling and critical were the accusations and their implications, that one Israeli newspaper, Maariv, took this lunacy one step further and sprinted to announce in a page-one headline that there are "Concerns in Jerusalem about an Obama Presidency". Quoting "officials in Jerusalem", the paper explained that Obama's foreign policy inexperience (compared to George W. Bush's extensive experience in managing relations between Texas and Oklahoma prior to his presidency) and calls for a diplomatic dialogue with Iran may result in policies inconsistent with Israeli security interests, hence the "concern". I used to be an "Official in Jerusalem". There is no way in the world that anyone remotely involved in foreign policy or US policy ever expressed any concerns. At worst, Obama may have been described as a question mark we know little about as were, before him, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in 1992 and 2000 respectively. The paper fell just short of recommending that Israel withhold the $2.6 billion military grant it provides the US with annually or refrain from vetoing anti-American resolutions in the UN Security Council. For due diligence, I am not an American citizen and therefore I cannot vote in US elections. In fact, despite having friends who both work for and support Senator Obama, I'm not sure I would have necessarily voted for him had I had the right to vote. I can vote in elections in Israel every 18 months for patently pro-Israeli candidates, so I probably just don't have the urge. Trying to refute the ridiculous allegations on their merits is relatively easy: Obama's voting record on issues pertaining to Israel is impeccable. Amongst his supporters and contributors are prominent Chicago and New York Jewish community and civic leaders, and I assume there are many more in Los Angeles, Miami and elsewhere. He has never outlined a policy that Israelis may find incompatible with what they believe a pro-Israeli Mid-East policy should be. In fact, Sen. Obama's essay in Foreign Affairs is balanced and contains absolutely no policy prescriptions anyone in their right mind can define as "anti-Israeli". This leads me to question the very premise of the argument. What constitutes "Pro-Israel", and who appointed or commissioned anyone to cast a judgment on the issue? Does it constitute being "Pro-Israel" to support settlements? Is it pro-Israeli to pressure Israel into signing some peace agreement and dismantle settlements? An American presidential candidate repeatedly pledges his eternal love for and belief that a united Jerusalem should and will remain Israel's capital. He then proceeds, as president to refuse to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. Is he then considered pro-Israeli or just a pandering politician? (Answer: when he said it, he was genuinely pro-Israeli and of course he meant it, as he said in Boca Raton to Cohen and Levy during the campaign. When he didn't move the embassy, it was because of the Arab-loving pencil pushers at the State Department and the corrupt Saudis who control Washington). But the issue deserves a more elaborate answer. So let's take a brief, broad-brush look at several past presidents who are case studies. Richard Nixon for example. His background, education, early years in Congress, loathing of the northeast liberal establishment, borderline anti-Semitic remarks made while in the White House hardly made him a prime candidate for centerfold in "Pro-Israel Monthly' magazine. 85% of US Jews voted for Humphrey and McGovern. So was Nixon "Anti-Israeli"? No. History will judge him as the president who rehabilitated the Israeli Defense Forces after the 1973 Yom Kippur war, launched the annual military grant to Israel and pulled Egypt away from Soviet orbit. Jimmy Carter, now there is a real anti-Israel president. Oh really? His involvement in the Camp David negotiations was critical and indispensable in enabling Israel and Egypt to sign a peace agreement that has ever since been a pillar of stability (not much "peace" though) and part of Israel's national security posture. Ronald Reagan, now there is a true Zionist, a man who embodies and defines pro-Israelness. No kidding. Who sold F-15 jets and AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia? Who consolidated the US-Saudi alliance which in turn contributed to the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism and Wahabi extremism? It sure wasn't Barack Obama. Yet Jews voted for Reagan in unprecedented numbers for a Republican (35%). So Carter facilitates a peace deal between Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, and Jews vote for Reagan. They did so for perfectly legitimate reasons. They did so for "American" reasons because they thought he'd be a better president than Carter was. Ah, you say, then came George H.W. Bush, AKA "41". He really hated us. Didn't his secretary of State, James Baker say: "F**k the Jews, they don't vote for us anyway." And didn't he complain about the pro-Israel lobby? And didn't he impede the loan guarantees? But Bush 41 presided over the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the elimination of Iraq as a viable threat against Israel from the east and invaluably assisted Israel (and never asked for credit) in bringing Ethiopian Jews to Israel. Bill Clinton was the greatest friend Israel ever had. Until he involved himself in the Israeli-Palestinian process which included recognizing the PLO, establishing a Palestinian Authority and would have entailed, had Camp David in July 2000 produced an agreement major territorial concessions. Then he was somewhat less pro-Israeli in the eyes of some. And then there is the new greatest friend Israel ever had, the big W. himself. Contrary to all presidents before him since Truman, he called for the establishment of a Palestinian state, an end to Israeli occupation (his words, last week in Jerusalem) and further strengthened ties to the Saudis. He also attacked the wrong menace in the region. Iraq instead of Iran. Of course it's Colin Powel's fault, then Condi Rice's infatuation with Palestinian "suffering". The point is, an American president is "Pro-Israel" when he profoundly appreciates the basic friendship with Israel, when he respects Israel as a democracy, when he truly believes in Israel as an idea and an enterprise. When his core value system and strategic outlook is similar to that of Israelis. In this respect, if Barack Obama is not "pro-Israel", then neither are most Israelis.