Commentary Magazine


Re: Obama Is Bringing People Together in Israel

From Moshe Arens in Ha’aretz:

It has been a long time since America last had a president as powerful as Obama, who controls both houses of Congress and is wildly popular among the American public. It is from this advantageous position that Obama has decided to confront Israel, and now the Israeli prime minister has to decide how to respond.

Meanwhile, the world’s troublemakers in Tehran, Damascus, and Pyongyang are getting away with murder. As for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Syrian President Bashar Assad, Obama has decided to sweet-talk them. Meanwhile Kim Jong-il is still waiting to see how the U.S. president will deal with him, as North Korea continues to threaten the world with its nuclear-tipped missiles. The exception to it all is Israel — Obama is telling Jerusalem in no uncertain terms what he expects from it. No doubt about it, the American leader has decided to use strong-arm tactics on America’s long-time ally.

[. . .]

Obama is playing hardball. While efforts to assuage the concerns of the Israeli public regarding relations with the U.S. — by saying that the settlement issue is negotiable — may leave an impression in Israel, they are falling on deaf ears in Washington…. Succumbing to the pressure that is being applied on the settlement issue will only result in additional pressure on other issues, and before long Israel’s position on matters of principle and substance will begin to crumble. This is not going to be easy, but Israel’s staunch supporters in the U.S. will stand by it. It will be a test for the American Jewish leadership — and for the people of Israel.

He is right; this is a test. But as far as the organized Jewish community in America is concerned, those “staunch supporters in the U.S.” are failing it. We have a growing existential threat to Israel paired with a U.S. president openly antagonistic to Israel. He denies or ignores the Iranian nuclear threat, and tries to warn Israel not to do much about it. We are told “No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons.” Hmm. Who might he have in mind?

Instead of addressing the greatest threat to Israel in a generation (or more), Obama engages in a public-pressure campaign against Israel, going as far as to deny past U.S. commitments and creating an exception to his “no dictates, no meddling” rule, solely applicable to the Jewish state.

Where is the outrage in the U.S. — especially among the 78% of Jews who voted for Obama? Where are the major Jewish institutions that in the past offered rhetorical and political support for a vibrant pro-Israel policy? Yes, Marty Peretz is pretty peeved these days, but an irate column or two from a previously enthusiastic Obama defender are less than what one would expect when Washington decides to launch this sort of policy. One wonders what those offering themselves as official representatives of the American Jewish community and friends of Israel think they are accomplishing by their relative silence.

The sliver of American Jewry originally wary of Obama who had warned of just this result is outraged, but not surprised. They however remain perplexed that their fellow Jews, who swore up and down that Obama would be “fine” on Israel, remain in denial about the person they helped put in the White House. Now is not a time for meekness. We are, as Arens says, being tested.