John Heilemann’s New York magazine piece on why President Obama is actually a great friend of Israel who has been misunderstood works very hard to clear Obama’s name among American Jews. But Heilemann unwittingly gets to one root of the animus between the president and Benjamin Netanyahu: Obama’s acceptance before his presidency of the left’s dispiriting and intellectually lazy tactic of trying to turn “Likud” into a dirty word.
“There is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you’re anti-Israel,” Obama said during his campaign for the presidency, and which Heilemann reproduces early on in the piece. Aside from the obvious implication of dual loyalty, this use of the term is also meaningless–which is much more troubling, because it reveals a staggering lack of knowledge for a president to have, much less brag about as openly as Obama did.
It’s worth asking the president the following question: What does it mean to be pro-Likud? If it means pro-settlement, then it doesn’t make any sense, since vigorous settlement expansion took place under Labor governments, and more settlements have been dissolved and disbanded under right-wing leaders than others. (It was Netanyahu, remember, who agreed to withdraw Jews and troops from Hebron–over Labor’s objections–in his first stint as prime minister. Anyone who doesn’t understand the significance of that doesn’t know the first thing about the Middle East, its history, or its people.)
Does pro-Likud, in the president’s opinion, mean unwilling to sign peace deals? Because Netanyahu signed peace deals last time around, after which the Clinton administration sent its campaign strategists to Israel to get Netanyahu voted out of office. (This proved, by the way, that it wasn’t that the Clinton administration doubted Bibi could make peace, it was simply that they didn’t like him. So they had to get rid of him.) Additionally, Netanyahu was willing to negotiate without preconditions; the Obama administration wouldn’t let negotiations take place without preconditions.
Does pro-Likud mean hawkish on national security and Iran? It couldn’t, because longtime Labor leader Ehud Barak has been the architect of many successful targeted assassination missions, and his eagerness to attack Iran far exceeds Netanyahu’s. (While meeting with George W. Bush during Bush’s 2008 trip to Israel, Ehud Barak reportedly pressed the case for bombing Iran to the point where Bush later privately remarked, “That fellow really frightens me.”)
If President Obama understands anything about diplomacy, he will stop advertising his deep dislike for a prime minister and a political party about which he knows close to nothing.