Obama is not to be feared

No Holds Barred: Large number of commentators who warn that in defying president on 1967 borders, Netanyahu provoked his wrath and Israel will now suffer consequences.

Obama funk face_311 DO NOT USE ANYMORE (photo credit: Reuters)
Obama funk face_311 DO NOT USE ANYMORE
(photo credit: Reuters)
I have no beef with those who feel President Barack Obama did nothing wrong by slipping in a reference to Israel returning to the 1967 borders, albeit with land swaps, in his major address on the Arab pro-democracy movement. To be sure, I believe it ruined the president’s otherwise impassioned insistence that America would support the Arab yearning to be free of their tyrannical dictators by inserting a highly controversial distraction that dominated the headlines. Still, the president is entitled to his view, even as it remains to be seen if pressuring Israel can ever lead to a lasting peace. What I do have a problem with is the large number of commentators – most of them Jewish – who warn that in defying Obama on the ’67 borders, Netanyahu has provoked the president’s wrath, and Israel will now suffer the consequences.
As an American, I dislike anyone arguing that we ought to fear our government or our president. I do not live in Russia. I do not live in Syria.
Obama is the elected representative of the American people. He has absolutely no power other than that which we, the American people, grant him. He is not a king. He is not an emperor. He cannot pursue his grudges and he cannot avenge his personal honor.
The idea that Israel, as a sovereign nation and most trusted ally of the US, ought to fear the American president for not kowtowing to his every foreign policy whim is distasteful in the extreme.
Worse, it is an incalculable insult to Obama. What these commentators are implying is that Obama is so petty and immature that as pay-back to Netanyahu and Israel for defying him, he will throw both under a bus. I do not believe this about Obama. I believe him to be a mature and dignified leader, even as I disagree with him profoundly on many substantive issues.
But there were some of America’s top writers arguing that Bibi had pissed off Obama, and now Israel would pay. Leading the charge was Time magazine’s Joe Klein, who titled his attack “Bibi Provokes Obama,” and ended his column with these words: “Given his congressional support, Netanyahu may be able to get away with playing so bold a hand – but it is inappropriate behavior for an American ally, and you can bet that Obama won’t forget it.”
Won’t forget what? That an Israeli prime minister actually had the courage to tell an American president – finally! – that the sovereign State of Israel will never be pushed into compromising its security? And what is Klein suggesting Obama will do? Spitefully take the position of the Palestinians? Does he really believe Obama to be that frivolous? I do not.
The Bibi-undermined-Israel’s-security-by-getting-on- Obama’s-bad-side argument continued with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic – normally one of my favorite writers – who titled his piece, “Dear Mr. Netanyahu, Please Don’t Speak to My President That Way.”
Goldberg wrote: “And if President Obama doesn’t walk back the speech, what will Netanyahu do? Will he cut off Israeli military aid to the US?”
IT IS the American people who, in their overwhelming support of the Middle East’s sole democracy, repeatedly elect leaders who share their pro-Israel posture, and who in turn vote to continue foreign aid to Israel. Whatever the tension between Bibi and Obama, the American people are not now questioning why we give our most-trusted ally $3 billion a year in military aid, but why we gave Pakistan (where Bin Laden was hiding) a total of $20.7 billion from 2002 through fiscal 2011.
Goldberg continues: “Prime Minister Netanyahu needs the support of President Obama in order to confront the greatest danger Israel has ever faced: the potential of a nuclear-armed Iran. And yet he seems to go out of his way to alienate the president.” The inference is that because Netanyahu threw what Goldberg called a hissy fit, Obama may withdraw his support for Israel on Iran. This is an unjust criticism of our president, who knows darn well that a nuclear-armed Iran is as big a threat to the US as it is to Israel. Last time I checked, “the Great Satan” label bandied about by the Iranians was a reference, not to Israel, but to America.
But the charge that Bibi was foolish in “provoking” Obama was heard even in major Jewish publications. New York Jewish Week publisher Gary Rosenblatt, one of the most erudite of all writers on the Jewish scene, said: “This is more than a personal grudge match; it can affect strategic policy and the very future of the Jewish state. Israel, of course, has a lot more to lose here than the US, so the onus is on Bibi to make the relationship better... Bibi has chosen confronting Obama rather than working at restoring their relationship. I hope it’s not a permanent mistake.”
I respectfully disagree. It was Obama who gratuitously threw in the provocative reference to Israel’s 1967 borders without even calling on the Palestinians to withdraw the utterly unrealistic “right of return.” And it was Obama who was forced at AIPAC to dilute his ’67 border comment to the point of meaninglessness. American Jewry is one of his most important financial and electoral constituencies.
I mean no disrespect, but it seems to me it’s high time we reject the traditional court-Jew mentality that says we must shimmy-up to powerful leaders in order to gain their protection. America does not support Israel because Jews are subservient. It does not respect Israel because it is deferential. Rather, America, in its righteous, majestic might supports Israel because its cause is just. Any insinuation to the contrary is an insult both to our president and the American people.
The writer is founder of This World: The Values Network, which promotes universal Jewish values in the mainstream media. His most recent book is Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.