Why I Mistrust Criticism of Obama on Israel

A good friend of mine in Israel sent me an article this morning from Y-Net, Israel’s largest and most popular news site. Headline: “U.S. ‘disappointed’ with Israel, Palestinians.”

My first thought: Oy. This is not the way to improve relations with the Jewish state, and earn back the trust of the Jewish community.

The subdeck went from bad to worse: “National Security Advisor James Jones says peace could prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, but adds ‘it must be made by the parties and cannot be imposed from the outside.’ ”

Double oy, I thought. Peace preventing Iran from getting the bomb? It sounds foolishly naive: Obama, exactly as he is portrayed by his fiercest critics.

I read the article, an account of Jones’ remarks yesterday at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Curiously, nowhere in the article was Jones quoted expressing disappointment with Israel. And nowhere was he quoted saying anything close to to what the subdeck asserted, vis-a-vis Iran and nuclear weapons.

So I went to the transcript. Jones doesn’t say he’s disappointed with Israel. (He does say: “we are disappointed that the parties have not begun direct negotiations.” But presumably, so is Bibi Netanyahu, who has repeatedly stated his desire to open direct negotiations toward peace.) And Jones doesn’t say peace between Israel and the Palestinians will prevent Iran from getting nukes. (He does say: “Advancing this peace would also help prevent Iran from cynically shifting attention away from its failures to meet its obligations.” This isn’t warm and fuzzy hope; it’s shrewd Realpolitik that, whether you agree with it or not, highlights Iran’s corrupt core.)

For those who haven’t read it, you should; Jones’ talk is a virtual love note to Israel. You can read it here.

Jones was absolutely steadfast on the need to stop Iran from getting a bomb, asserting that if Iran continues on its current path, it “will face ever deepening isolation.”

Iran’s government must face real consequences for its continued defiance of the international community.  We hope that Iran will make the right choice and acts to restore the confidence of the international community in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program. However, should Iran’s leaders fail to make that choice, President Obama has been very clear, and I want to repeat it here: the United States is determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. 

He goes on to say there has been “a lot of distortion and misrepresentation” of U.S. policy regarding Israel. Though the two have had differences, he said, “we will always resolve them as allies.” Not once, but twice he referred to the absolute imperative for Israel to be a “secure, Jewish state.” Note the emphasis: Jewish.

As President Obama declared in Cairo, “America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known.  This bond is unbreakable.”  They are the bonds of history—two nations that earned our independence through the sacrifice of patriots.  They are the bonds of two people, bound together by shared values of freedom and individual opportunity.  They are the bonds of two democracies, where power resides in the people.  They are the bonds of pioneers in science, technology and so many fields where we cooperate every day.  They are the bonds of friendship, including the ties of so many families and friends.

 This week marked the 62nd anniversary of Israeli independence—a nation and a people who have survived in the face of overwhelming odds.  But even now, six decades since its founding, Israel continues to reside in a hostile neighborhood with adversaries who cling to the false hope that denying Israel’s legitimacy will ultimately make it disappear.  But those adversaries are wrong. 

 He goes on to criticize the Palestinians for refusing to recognize Israel’s legitimacy. “America’s commitment to Israel will endure,” the National Security Advisor said:

And everyone must know that there is no space—no space—between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel’s security.  Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakable.  It is as strong as ever.  This President and this Administration understands very well the environment—regionally and internationally—in which Israel and the United States must operate.  We understand very well that for peace and stability in the Middle East, Israel must be secure. 

 The United States will never waiver in defense of Israel’s security. 

The United States will never waiver in defense of Israel’s security.

That’s why, he explained, the U.S. spends billions of dollars annually in security assistance to Israel; consults with Israel to ensure its “qualitative military edge”; and undertakes joint military exercises, including one that involved more than 1,000 U.S. soldiers.

I can also say from long experience that our security relationship with Israel is important for America. Our military benefits from Israeli innovations in technology, from shared intelligence, from exercises that help our readiness and joint training that enhances our capabilities and from lessons learned in Israel’s own battles against terrorism and asymmetric threats. 

Over the years, and like so many Americans—like so many of you here tonight—I’ve spent a great deal of time with my Israeli partners, including my friends in the IDF.  These partnerships are deep and abiding.  They are personal relationships and friendships based on mutual trust and respect.  Every day, across the whole range of our bilateral relationship, we are working together for our shared security and prosperity.  And our partnership will only be strengthened in the months and years to come.

And yet Y-Net, the most popular news site in Israel, chooses to run with: “U.S. ‘disappointed’ with Israel, Palestinians”?

What bothers me most about this, is not only that it’s inaccurate, but destructive. And whether this particular headline was intentional or not, it fits a false narrative — purveyed by too many in the Jewish community — that goes back to before the election: Obama is a Muslim; he has anti-Israel advisors; he removed “Next year in Jerusalem” from the White House Passover seder; his State Department is denying visas to Israeli nuclear scientists; he snubbed Bibi Netanyahu; he “hates” Netanyahu; he hates Israel.

False. False. False. False. False. False. And false.

It’s dishonest. And it’s a big reason that, while I have specific concerns about how Obama’s handled Israel and the peace process, some of which I’ve blogged about, at the end of the day, my money’s on him.


6 Responses to “Why I Mistrust Criticism of Obama on Israel”

  1. Daniel says:

    Nice analysis, ND. Particularly nice to see that although headlines may distort, that the underlying truth is positive. I would like to see the ND ruminate on what he expected over a year into the Obama admin vs what has happened. i.e., How’s that hopey changey thing goin for ya? :) (had to throw that one in–of all Palin’s remarks, that is the one I like the best–it really got under my skin).

  2. Neurotic Dem says:

    Hey Daniel,
    Thanks for reading and posting.
    That’s a great question — what I expected, vs. where we are. In truth, one of the things I really liked about Obama — and this was true in the campaign, too — was his pragmatism. Even then, he didn’t rule out off-shore oil drilling, for instance. He said he would look for the best ideas, Republican and Democrat, try to find a consensus, and, ultimately, govern as a Progressive. He never shied away from that. He said it on the stump, he said it in “Audacity of Hope.” He also said he was going to try to pass something like universal health care. He won the election by 9 million votes, and then tried to do exactly that, and when he couldn’t, he tried to compromise — for instance, leaving out the public option. I truly feel like he has done — or has tried to do — much of what he said he would do.
    Where I sometimes have a complaint is on process, and even politics. His attempt at bipartisanship on health care very nearly cost him his presidency; his public feuding with Israel is counterproductive — and he’s losing support from a large segment of the Jewish community over it. Most frustratingly, his opponents have, effectively I think, been able to brand him as a Big Government spend and spender who has mortaged our future while too often appearing diminutive on the international stage. (Note the title of Mitt Romney’s new book: “No Apology: The Case For American Greatness.”) Obama has let people portray him as subservient — the bowing, the deference, etc. I happen to think this humble approach internationally is just the right approach after Bush — speak softly, but (as we’ve seen in Afghanistan, and Russia, and with that Piracy incident, when Obama gave the order to shoot the pirates) carry a big stick. Still — he hasn’t succeded politically if people can tag him as the Great Apologizer.
    Overall, I’m very happy with Obama a year and a half in. And he’s learning agile — he’ll only get better.
    Thanks for getting me started, Daniel. I think you’re right — I need to make this the subject of a post at some point soon …

  3. Gerry ?om?a says:

    It’s good page, I was looking for something like this

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