The New York Times noted today that the “White House said Mr. Obama had no second thoughts” about honoring Mary Robinson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Indeed, the ceremony bestowing on the former Irish president the nation’s highest civilian award went off without a hitch and nary a discouraging word as Robinson and 15 other recipients received their medals amid a blizzard of presidential praise.
Obama lauded Robinson, the woman who presided over the United Nation’s anti-Semitic hatefest at the 2001 Durban Conference on racism, as “an advocate for the hungry and the hunted, the forgotten and the ignored,” and neglected the widespread criticism of the honoree from a wide range of Jewish groups as well as from some members of Congress. Robinson is a longtime foe of the Jewish state and even today holds the post of honorary president of Oxfam, an NGO that gained publicity last week for firing actress Kristin Davis of Sex and the City fame from her position as their spokeswoman because she also represents Ahava, whose Dead Sea cosmetics are considered off-limits by Israel-haters.
Though the dustup over Robinson cast something of a shadow on an event that is almost always noncontroversial (because presidential vetting teams generally eliminate questionable candidates), the dispute did not generate a great deal of publicity. Even Obama’s most virulent critics on the Right were too preoccupied with the debate on health-care reform for Robinson’s award to register much of an impact on the nation’s Richter scale. That’s understandable given the stakes involved in the administration’s push to expand government’s control of the health-care sector.
But friends of Israel, especially those Jewish Democrats who have been doing their best to ignore the White House’s increasingly belligerent tone toward the Jewish state, would do well to note what happened this week. Obama honored one of the most virulent enemies of Israel—someone who bears a great deal of responsibility for Durban, one of the most disgraceful episodes in the history of an institution—the UN—which is no stranger to disgrace. He has gotten away with it with hardly a scratch on his reputation. Though some will dismiss this incident as a mere blunder that will soon be forgotten, I doubt that Obama and his advisers will forget how easily they were able to dismiss a nearly universal Jewish dismay.
The president and his foreign-policy team are preparing what we are told is a new Middle East peace plan and a peace conference that will attempt again to bludgeon Israel into making concessions to Palestinians that are uninterested in peace. The administration is also still committed to “engagement” with Iran’s despotic Islamist regime and continues to appear uninterested in any serious effort to stop Tehran from gaining nuclear capability.
If anyone thinks the administration can be deterred from taking future stances that are clearly invidious to the security of Israel, the Robinson episode may well have taught Obama that he can get away with anything when it comes to Jewish Democrats. There were some who may have thought Robinson’s award would prove to be Obama’s Bitburg moment—a symbolic episode that forever tarnished Ronald Reagan’s reputation even among his most ardent Jewish supporters. Instead, it may turn out to be a trial run for far worse outrages yet to come.