Joining the jackals

The reality of the Obama policy of distancing and pressure is reaching Jerusalem, where UN votes are understood as a barometer of the White House.

Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe 311 (photo credit: AP)
Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe 311
(photo credit: AP)
At the United Nations, a lynch mob for Israel is always just a moment away. The Islamic countries are a reliable source of venom, led by the Arab bloc; what we used to call the “nonaligned” are all aligned against Israel and happy to join the fun; and the Europeans can be counted on for hand-wringing rather than staunch resistance. Only the United States, and a few brave allies like Canada and Australia, can be counted upon to oppose diplomatic lynchings year after year; and only the US can stop them in the Security Council.
In the American government, it is never the State Department bureaucracy that wishes to brave the endless assaults at the UN. Normally the resistance comes not from the various regional bureaus or from the international organizations bureau, where Israel is so often viewed as a giant pain, but from the White House and sometimes (example: George Shultz) the secretary of state.
Last week the mob formed again, instantly, after the Gaza flotilla disaster, reinforced this time by the leadership of Turkey, whose language at the UN was more vicious than that used by the Arabs. As usual there was really only one question once the mob began to gather. It is the question that arose repeatedly in the Bush years – when the Hamas leaders Sheik Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi were killed by Israel, when it acted in Gaza, when it put down the intifada in the West Bank and during the 2006 war in Lebanon and the late 2008 fighting in Gaza: Would Israel stand alone, or would the US stand with it and prevent the lynching? Would the US, in Jeane Kirkpatrick’s memorable phrase, “join the jackals?”
Last week the Obama administration answered the question: Yes we would, and Israel would stand alone. It is simple to block the kind of attack issued as a “president’s statement” on behalf of the Security Council, for such a statement requires unanimity. The US can just say “no,” and make it clear that orders have come from the White House and will not be changed. Then negotiations begin on a serious statement – or, there can be no statement at all.
The killing of dozens of South Korean sailors by North Korea in an action that truly threatens the peace did not evoke the kind of action the Security Council took against Israel, proving that the UN does not always act, or act in the same way, when news flashes hit. Whether Israel is slammed depends on whether the US is willing to take a stand.
ON THE Gaza flotilla, the Obama administration waffled and straddled. It agreed to a statement in which the UN condemned the “acts” that led to loss of life but did not say, “We condemn Israel.”
Presumably the White House congratulated itself on this elision, but no one is fooled: The world media keep repeating that the Security Council condemned Israel, and in this case it is hard to argue.
Yet it would have been simple to stop the mob had the White House wanted to. The facts were not in yet and indeed are still not in. The videos suggest that dozens of people (all Turks, it appears, but that too is not fully clear) on the boats were armed and dangerous. Reports are circulating that some of those “peace activists” had gas masks and night-vision devices, carried no identification papers, wore bulletproof vests and carried large amounts of cash.
The background, the Hamas coup in Gaza and more than 3,000 rockets into Israel from Gaza, is clear. The fact that Egypt has for three years (until the pressure mounted this week) refused to open its border to Gaza is understood at the UN. So the material was at hand to block the lynch mob and say we would accept only a statement that mourned the loss of life. We did not have to accept the word “condemn” or join in the call for another Goldstone report.
No doubt the administration will claim it avoided a worse result, a council resolution condemning Israel. To which the answer is “not good enough.”
The US has the power to block all anti-Israel moves in the Security Council, not just some of them, and to do so without agreeing to unfair, damaging compromises.
So why did we agree to the presidential statement? The White House did not wish to stand with Israel against this mob because it does not have a policy of solidarity with Israel. Rather, its policy is one of distancing and pressure. This was evident last month at the NPT conference as well, where a final statement that singled out Israel while ignoring Iran – precisely what the Bush administration blocked in 2005 – was permitted by the US.
From this perspective, it is just as well that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did not make it to Washington last week, where a phony love fest would have pictured him in the Obama embrace. The entire purpose of the invitation was to “change the atmosphere” and reverse the damage done during his last visit, where photos of Netanyahu with Obama were not permitted. There were no doubt many rabbis, Jewish leaders and Democratic Party pols prepared to beam and conclude that all the troubles are behind us.
But the events at the UN last week showed that they are not, because Obama policy has not changed. This reality is sinking in fast in Jerusalem, where the UN is understood as an excellent barometer of the White House – in any administration. Does the White House accept, indeed relish, the need to defend Israel against all comers – Pakistan, Turkey, the Arabs, weak-kneed Euro-dips, UN bureaucrats? Is this understood as a chance to show what America really stands for? Or is Israel seen by the president as a burden, an albatross, a complication in his grand struggle to reposition the US as a more “progressive” power?
We got the answer, again, last week, and so did Israelis.
IN ISRAEL, the press reporting on the Gaza flotilla is straightforward:There were probably intelligence and operational failures; why did wenot know how many armed men there were on board, and come prepared; theMinistry of Defense and the IDF must investigate. But the moralequation is clear. This flotilla was an act of solidarity and supportfor terrorism, and 30 or 40 armed men lay in wait for the commandos.Had the commandos not fired to save themselves, this would have beenIsrael’s very own “Blackhawk Down” incident.
Israelis see clearly the problems they face when the US is calling foranother international investigation and will not defend Israel. Theyunderstand that no one is going to investigate Turkey and its role, norinvestigate the pro-terror groups on board those ships – not if the USfails to insist on it. They realize that, thanks to the Obama policies,it is now open season on Israel in Europe and at the UN. They speakcandidly (Israelis of the left, center and right, not just Likudsupporters) in private about all these problems, but they cannot speakopenly about them, not when they may have the Obama administration todeal with for six and a half more years. They wonder most about whethertheir friends see their predicament, and will speak up for them evenwhen they must – to retain a working relationship with the White House– remain silent or speak very carefully.
So this crisis is not only a test for Israel, which faces difficultweeks ahead, and for the Obama administration, which in fact hasalready failed. It is a test for Israel’s supporters, facing thecombined onslaught of the news media (from BBC coverage to NewYork Times editorials), scores of governments, UN bureaucratsand a White House that views excessive solidarity with Israel as adiplomatic inconvenience. The US abandoned Israel in the UN and in theNPT conference in the course of one week. Israel’s friends in the USshould say so, say it was shameful and gear up for a long fight.
The writer is a senior fellow for Middle East studies at theCouncil on Foreign Relations. This article first appeared as a post onthe Weekly Standard Blog.