The Obami’s decision to go after Israel in harsh terms, so unbecoming toward an ally, is bringing in a storm of criticism. As I and others are reporting, the criticism is proving to be bipartisan. Pennsylvania Rep. Christopher Carney, a Democrat, and Illinois Republican Rep. Mark Kirk are sending a joint letter to Obama telling him to recommit to a number of principles, including “the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, [under which] official United States policy recognizes Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel.” Rep. Eliot Engel added his voice to those pro-Israel Democrats. (“We should not have a disproportionate response to Israel. We need to be careful and measured in our response, and I think we all have to take a step back.”) And Minority Whip Eric Cantor called Rahm Emanuel. Politico reports:
While he declined to quote Emanuel’s response, Cantor said he now believes the administration is capitalizing on a relatively minor diplomatic affront to redefine U.S. policy and force Israel to make new concessions about where it will build.
U.S. officials lambasted Israel for announcing the new construction of apartments for Jews in Jerusalem — without any warning — while Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel last week.
Israel apologized for the break in protocol but not for building. The White House has asked Israel to stop building in disputed East Jerusalem — a request that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected on Tuesday.
Cantor called the White House reaction a “disproportionate response” and said its call for a halt to the construction in East Jerusalem appears to be an “opportunistic move by an administration that wants to impose its view … onto our ally.”
These voices are welcome to those who wish to repair the U.S.-Israel relationship. But the problem is not simply the tone or the public nature of the criticism launched by the Obami. Former New York City Mayor and devout friend of Israel Ed Koch e-mails me: “It is very serious. I hope all Jews understand the unforgivable pressures being brought on Israel.” And let’s hope all Americans do as well. The problem here is not simply the uncivil tone and bullying techniques but also the entire mindset and policy that seek to extract the most concessions possible from the Israeli government — or even topple it — as a negotiaiting gambit. It is of course a 180-degree reversal from the rather successful policy under George W. Bush, who correctly appreciated the fact that a close and fulsome U.S.-Israel relationship was essential to the “peace process.” And of course it is in keeping with our own national-security interests and our historic ties to the Jewish state.
If the Obami are surprised by the push back, that is only one more indication as to how out of touch they are — with the American people, with the realities of the Middle East, and with the impact that all of this will have on relations with other nations. In an administration with plenty of them, this ranks among the worst foreign-policy debacles.