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by David Isaac
“Trying to portray Obama as pro-Israel is not a simple task. From the outset of his tenure in office, Obama has distinguished himself as the most anti-Israel president ever,” Caroline Glick writes in a September op-ed for The Jerusalem Post.
After providing a laundry list of historic presidential firsts against Israel, Glick adds: “Given Obama’s record – to which can be added his fervent support for Turkish Prime Minister and virulent anti-Semite Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his courtship of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and his massive weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and Egypt – it is obvious that any attempt to argue that Obama is pro-Israel cannot be based on substance, or even on tone.”
So it takes one aback to hear Obama last Friday, before a conference of the Union for Reform Judaism, declaring, “I am proud to say that no U.S. administration has done more in support of Israel’s security than ours. None. Don’t let anybody else tell you otherwise. It is a fact.”
This echoed earlier statements he made on November 30 at a New York fundraiser attended by wealthy Jewish campaign contributors. “I try not to pat myself too much on the back – but this administration has done more in terms of the security of the state of Israel than any previous administration.” He added: “And that’s not just our opinion, that’s the opinion of the Israeli government.”
Which raises an interesting question: Does Israel’s government share Obama’s high opinion of his administration?
On Dec. 2, Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, had the chance to answer that question. CNN Host John King asked Oren: “You speak for the Israeli government. Is that true? Has Barack Obama been better for the security of Israel than any other previous American president?”
Anyone who anticipated a hard hitting reply was disappointed. Oren responded: “President Obama has made immense contributions to Israel’s security. … We’ve developed anti-missile technology that is absolutely ground-breaking. We’ve stood together in the face of terror, in the face of Iranian nuclearization – truly an excellent relationship.”
No one is disputing the technological cooperation. Israel and the U.S. work together and have no doubt come up with ground-breaking advances such as Oren describes. It’s worth pointing out this is not a one-way street. America benefits greatly from Israeli technological innovation.
Shmuel Katz, in “The Big Lie On U.S. Aid” (The Jerusalem Post, March 20, 1992), describes how Joseph Sisco, a former assistant secretary of State, came up to him during a symposium of the International Security Council in February 1989. Sisco said:
“I want to assure you, Mr. Katz, that if we were not getting full value for our money, you would not get a cent from us.”
As Caroline Glick points out, even the technological cooperation is not as rosy as Ambassador Oren makes it seem: “[T]he truth is less sanguine,” Glick writes. “While jointly developing defensive systems, the administration has placed unprecedented restrictions on the export of offensive military platforms and technologies to Israel. Under Gates, Pentagon constraints on Israeli technology additions to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters nearly forced Israel to cancel its plans to purchase the aircraft.”
But the real problem with the Israeli government’s approach is that it focuses on what goes on behind the scenes as opposed to what’s happening on the world stage.
What we see, and what the Arabs see, isn’t the secret cooperation, which, as Glick points out, isn’t that cooperative, and as Mr. Sisco points out, isn’t all that beneficent. Instead, the world sees a president who tells Israel to get back to the 1949 Armistice lines and tells the Palestinian Arabs that they have the right to a “sovereign and contiguous state,” a proposal that would split Israel in two.
From the start of his presidency, Obama has sent a clear message, starting with his first major policy address on the Middle East in Cairo, where he speechified about how Palestinian Arabs “endure the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.”
It’s odd that that a president ‘who has done more for Israel than any other’ should have nothing to say about the suffering of Israelis at the hands of the Arabs. Yet, the Israeli government wants us to believe that relations are excellent – albeit secretly excellent.
It is a political error that Jewish leaders have made before and with predictably awful results. The prime example of this approach is Dr. Chaim Weizmann’s leadership of the Zionist movement during the inter-war years. From the start of the British conquest of Palestine, there began a deterioration of British-Jewish relations. Dr. Weizmann chose to support the British publicly and deal with any problems privately. Vladimir Jabotinsky, who would eventually establish a rival Zionist movement, warned him repeatedly to take the matter to the court of public opinion.
In a letter dated Jan. 22, 1919, Jabotinsky wrote: “…Arab impudence is growing daily. No forty-eight hours pass but some inciting speech is heard in Ramleh, concluding in a call to the ‘Arab sword’… [I]f all this exceeds certain limits I shall be forced either to resign altogether or to see to it that the cry of Palestine shall be heard in Europe.”
Weizmann, however, only expressed satisfaction with the British in public. As Shmuel writes in “Lone Wolf: A biography of Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky” (Barricade Books, 1996):
[The British military administrators] having assured themselves of an accommodating attitude from the outstanding Zionist leader Weizmann, they were able without major effort also to manipulate their pro-Zionist masters in London into broad acquiescence, or resignation, to their anti-Zionist actions.
Weizmann did from time to time, in letters and private conversations, complain bitterly about their behavior, but was careful not to cause them public embarrassment.
Weizmann had many opportunities to change course. In ” “Lone Wolf” “, Shmuel writes that, following the 1929 Arab riots:
No moment could have been more propitious for the Zionists, even while mourning the dead, to launch a supreme effort, visible equally to the Jewish people, to the British public and to the world at large, to translate the agonies and pent-up bitterness of the Yishuv into a political offensive for exposing British encouragement as the prime cause of Arab violence; and for demanding a full reinstatement of Britain’s obligations to the Jewish people under the mandate.
Unfortunately, the Zionist leadership had for so long remained silent about the problems with the British that it couldn’t announce its dissatisfaction. As Shmuel writes:
It was morally impossible for the incumbent Zionist leadership suddenly to challenge the British government. It was itself too vulnerable. It could, of course, correctly blame the government for not foreseeing the campaign of Arab violence; but had it itself warned the government and aroused public opinion to the danger? Had it not repeatedly pronounced itself “satisfied” with the situation in Palestine and its relations with the government as “excellent”?
Just like the Zionist leadership of the past, Netanyahu’s government is too timid to make waves and, thus, lets things go from bad to worse.
Oren said the Israeli government wants to preserve bipartisan support. If so, it has a strange way of going about it. Expressing satisfaction when an administration pursues policies that undermine Israel’s moral authority isn’t going to make that administration stop what it’s doing. It doesn’t encourage Israel’s friends to go out of their way either. What’s the upside to supporting Israel, when there may be political risk for doing so, but none for not doing so? After all, Israel’s government is going to say you’re wonderful no matter what you do.
A far better approach would be for Israel to express public disapproval when it is publicly attacked. The administration in question would then suffer a loss in American Jewish electoral and financial support. This would send a clear message: If you take an anti-Israel stance there is a price to be paid. It’s a simple problem in political math the Netanyahu government hasn’t solved, although Jabotinsky gave them the answer nearly 100 years ago.
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FESSING UP TO FOREIGN (POLICY) FAILURE IS FIRST STEP TO PREVENTING MORE DANGEROUS DISASTERS, PROTECTING WEST
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