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False Charges of Israeli Racism Are No Defense of Obama’s Bias

Roger Cohen’s decision to join the crowd piling on Israel with a column that seeks to fan the flames of anger at Israel over the building of Jewish homes in Jerusalem was to be expected. Just about everything the Times columnist has written in the last year, including his shameful apologia for Iran’s dictators, has been related to his animus for Israel. Cohen’s bile is nothing new. Nor is his absurd characterization of a housing project in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem as an example of “the steady Israeli appropriation of the physical space for Palestine” or the “cynical scattering of the Palestinian people into enclaves that make a farce of statehood.” If the Palestinians wanted their own sovereign state with its capital in part of Jerusalem, they could have had it in 2000 or in 2008 when the Israelis offered it to them. They don’t, but rather than focus on the fact that the conflict isn’t about borders or settlements but about Israel’s existence, Israel-bashers like Cohen pretend that it’s all the fault of the Jews for insisting on their right to live in Jerusalem.

But Cohen’s column concludes with a new slur: the idea that the hostility with which most Israelis view Barack Obama is the result of racism. He writes that a cartoon in Ma’ariv depicts “Obama cooking Netanyahu in a pot.” But this is, he helpfully points out, not a symbol of an American trying to put an Israeli politician in hot water but “the image — a black man cooking a white man over an open fire — also said something about the way Israel views its critics.”

Israel’s liberal critics in this country are flummoxed by the fact that Obama is the least-liked American president by Israelis since Jimmy Carter. But rather than admit that this is the result of the administration’s conscious decision to distance itself from the Jewish state, writers like Cohen spin this understandable antagonism as being somehow the result of an Israeli character flaw. This is not the first time that the notion of Israeli racism has been claimed as the source of Obama’s unpopularity. On March 8, on MSNBC’s Hardball, Chris Matthews and New York Times reporter Ethan Bronner made the same claim when they discussed Obama’s low standing in Israel, though Bronner tried to put in some sort of context:

MATTHEWS: OK, that tells you a lot. So tell me why the president of the United States is so far at the bottom? Is it his middle name, Hussein?

BRONNER: I would say that there is some level of prejudice about the fact that he had some Islamic background through his stepfather. But I think it has to do more with the fact that when he came into office a year ago, he wanted to recalibrate the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world. And the easiest and clearest way of doing that was to put some distance between the United States and Israel, and he did that. And that made people nervous. I think there‘s also some sense here that—some degree of racism, to be perfectly honest.

MATTHEWS: Yes. They—because they see it as a black man—you know.

But had Barack Hussein Obama come into office ready to make good on his campaign pledges of support for Israel and not chosen to pick pointless fights with Israel’s government or downplay the threat from Iran, his poll numbers would be very different. George W. Bush also came into office with low Israeli popularity ratings, but he proved his friendship for the Jewish state with actions that eventually overshadowed the hostility most Jews felt for his father. Had Obama not sought to downgrade the alliance with Jerusalem, no one would be talking about the color of his skin having any impact on the way Israelis think of him. The attempt to blame the justified skepticism of Israelis about Obama’s intentions toward their country on Jewish racism is nothing but a contemptible slur.


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