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Obama’s “Pro-Israel” Defenders

What timing. Not 24 hours after the Democratic National Committee issued a platform backtracking from its pro-Israel positions in 2008, billionaire entertainment mogul and formerly disgruntled Obama donor Haim Saban took up arms for the administration’s Israel record in the New York Times:

In July, he provided an additional $70 million to extend the Iron Dome system across southern Israel. That’s in addition to the $3 billion in annual military assistance to Israel that the president requests and that Congress routinely approves, assistance for which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed deep personal appreciation. …

In contrast, through painstaking diplomacy, Mr. Obama persuaded Russia and China to support harsh sanctions on Iran, including an arms embargo and the cancellation of a Russian sale of advanced antiaircraft missiles that would have severely complicated any military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Mr. Obama secured European support for what even Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called “the most severe and strictest sanctions ever imposed on a country.” …

Finally, Mr. Obama has been steadfast against efforts to delegitimize Israel in international forums. He has blocked Palestinian attempts to bypass negotiations and achieve United Nations recognition as a member state, a move that would have opened the way to efforts by Israel’s foes to sanction and criminalize its policies. As a sign of its support, the Obama administration even vetoed a Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements, a resolution that mirrored the president’s position and that of every American administration since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Apparently that’s all it takes to convince Saban that the president is pro-Israel: providing military assistance, sanctioning Iran, and blocking Palestinian attempts to delegitimize Israel at the UN. That isn’t nothing, but it’s certainly the bare minimum. What would Obama’s other options have been? Cut off military aid? Veto Iranian sanctions legislation passed by congress? Forgo his power to block a Palestinian statehood bid at the UN?

Obama checked the boxes. He did what he had to do in these instances, and not an iota more. Even the Iron Dome funding that Saban touts in the column was one of those “bare minimum” obligations. Financial backing for Iron Dome was part of a deal struck by President Bush in 2007, and Obama fulfilled it. What else was he going to do? Break the promise? Oppose additional funding efforts from congress?

Saban goes on to set up a straw man that the only real grievance Obama critics have is that he hasn’t visited Israel yet:

So what’s the case against Mr. Obama? That he hasn’t visited Israel since he was a candidate in 2008? Perhaps these critics have forgotten that George W. Bush, that great friend of Israel, didn’t visit Jerusalem until his seventh year in office.

It was actually Saban who complained that Obama hadn’t visited Israel back in May 2011, when he indicated he might not contribute to Obama’s reelection campaign. That apparently changed after Saban had a personal meeting with Obama earlier this year, and donated $1 million to Democratic super PACs over the summer, as David Frum points out.

A common complaint from Israel supporters is that Obama doesn’t do enough to show his feelings for the Jewish state. But that seems far less important than what he does behind the scenes. Out of the public glare, the administration has tried to water down Iranian sanctions efforts in congress. They’ve also reportedly pressured Israel against taking action on Iran. Obama backtracked on agreements between Bush and Sharon on the 1967 lines — and then adamantly denied this was a policy change. His administration quietly scrubbed mentions of Jerusalem as an Israeli city from its websites, and — when caught — frantically tried to scrub them from Bush-era documents while claiming this had always been the policy. Obama expanded the standard interpretation of a settlement freeze, providing yet another excuse for Palestinian intransigence. And the Democratic National Committee weakened the pro-Israel language in its platform this year, in order to conform to Obama’s policies.

Pro-Israel Democrats have plenty of reasons to support Obama — but none that have anything to do with his Israel policy. They can try to spin Obama’s record as much as they want, but at the end of the day they’re just lowering the bar for what it means to be pro-Israel in the Democratic Party.