Commentary Magazine


Why Obama Won’t Be Going to Israel

Jen’s post on the White House rabbinical meetings contained this summary of the rabbis’ input:

[Rabbi Jack] Moline said the major responses from the rabbis were to urge Obama to visit Israel, to express some concern of there being a double standard for Israel and to tell Obama that they were not “confident from the President himself that he feels Israel in his kishkes.”

The rabbis thus echoed the request that 37 Jewish Democratic lawmakers made in their own meeting with Obama last week: go to Israel and give a speech (“Message: I care”). It is the same request that liberal Israeli and American columnists made last year. It will be ignored again, for at least four reasons.

First, Obama cannot give the speech without changing the underlying policy that necessitated it in the first place. He has adopted a foreign policy that relies on putting daylight between the U.S. and Israel to “reset” our relations with the Arab and Muslim world. There cannot be a Jerusalem speech to offset the Cairo one — because one of the principal purposes of the latter was precisely to demonstrate that Israel no longer enjoys its former position in American foreign policy.

Second, Obama is unlikely to risk a less-than-admiring reception from the Knesset, which often — as does the British Parliament — features simultaneous rebuttals from the floor. These days, Obama does not even risk prime-time press conferences in the United States. His last interview was with Bono.

Third, a Knesset speech would invite comparisons with George W. Bush’s Knesset address — which, Seth Lipsky correctly observed, “will stand as a measure for those who follow him” and which captured an extraordinary moment in history. Speaking on Israel Independence Day, Bush began as follows:

We gather to mark a momentous occasion. Sixty years ago in Tel Aviv, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s independence, founded on the “natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate.” What followed was more than the establishment of a new country. It was the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David — a homeland for the chosen people, Eretz Yisrael.

Obama cannot approximate Bush’s address, because he does not share Bush’s perspective.

Fourth, even if Obama gave a comparable speech, it would not be believed. His actions — reneging on his pledge of an undivided Jerusalem; failing to honor U.S. understandings regarding settlements; ignoring the commitments in the 2004 Bush letter, given in exchange for the Gaza withdrawal; failing to visit Israel when he visited Turkey, failing again when he visited Egypt, and failing again over the past 12 months; slurring Israel in his Cairo speech; telling U.S. Jewish groups that closeness to Israel had resulted in “no progress” in the peace process; attempting to attend the Durban II conference; awarding a presidential medal to Durban I’s Mary Robinson; granting legitimacy to the anti-Semitic UN Human Rights Council; demanding compliance with Palestinian preconditions for peace negotiations; repeatedly humiliating Israel’s prime minister during his U.S. visits; castigating Israel for planning Jewish homes in the Jewish area of the Jewish capital; endless patience with Iran combined with public impatience with Israel; etc. — represent a record that cannot be corrected merely with a speech, even if it begins with “Let me be clear.”

The rabbis hope for a speech in Israel to show how Obama feels in his kishkes, but it is not going to happen. In any event, we already know how Obama feels, and the gently-phrased response of the rabbis (they are not “confident” about him) suggests that, despite their reluctance to admit it, they know it too.