Commentary Magazine


Topic: U.S.-Israel relations

Pollard Parole Denial Is Unjust

Throughout the decades during which the fate of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard has been debated, those advocating for his freedom have been told that they need to follow the legal process rather than relying on political pressure, whether from sympathetic Israelis or Americans, to grant him clemency. In particular, once the time drew near for his first parole hearing, those who considered his life sentence disproportionate were warned to focus on that avenue rather than others that merely provoked the usual round of apoplectic responses from the U.S. security establishment. But now that the news has belatedly come out that Pollard was summarily denied parole in August after his first request for parole since his 1985 imprisonment on grounds that are inarguably false, the arguments for some sort of presidential intervention in the issue appear much stronger.

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Throughout the decades during which the fate of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard has been debated, those advocating for his freedom have been told that they need to follow the legal process rather than relying on political pressure, whether from sympathetic Israelis or Americans, to grant him clemency. In particular, once the time drew near for his first parole hearing, those who considered his life sentence disproportionate were warned to focus on that avenue rather than others that merely provoked the usual round of apoplectic responses from the U.S. security establishment. But now that the news has belatedly come out that Pollard was summarily denied parole in August after his first request for parole since his 1985 imprisonment on grounds that are inarguably false, the arguments for some sort of presidential intervention in the issue appear much stronger.

Let’s specify, as I wrote in a COMMENTARY magazine essay in 2011 after he had already spent 25 years in prison, that Jonathan Pollard is not the hero or the martyr some of his less reasonable supporters claim him to be. The former U.S. Navy analyst did great damage to the United States when he spied for Israel from 1984 to 1985. He also did great harm to the alliance between the two countries, the blame for which also belongs to his cynical Israeli handlers as well as the trio of leaders of the Jewish state at the time, of which only one, Shimon Peres, is still alive after the deaths of Yitzhak Rabin and Yitzhak Shamir. The spy also deserves opprobrium for lending credence to those anti-Semites and foes of Israel who have tried to cast a shadow on the service of the many loyal American Jews that work in the defense establishment.

But once we admit that, the argument for his continued incarceration is insubstantial. Pollard’s sentence was far greater than that given to anyone who has ever spied for a nation that is a close ally of the United States. Moreover, the claims made at the time of his arrest that he was somehow responsible for the penetration of U.S. intelligence by the Soviet Union was exploded in the years following his arrest when it was revealed that naval officer John Walker, national security analyst Ronald Pelton, and especially Aldrich Ames, a top CIA counterintelligence officer, were actually working for the Russians. Those facts now make the over-the-top claims that Pollard’s espionage was the worst in American history by then Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger look more like hyperbole than analysis. Even Weinberger subsequently backtracked from that assertion and admitted that the Pollard case was a relatively “minor matter.”

But if reports of the Parole Board’s deliberations are correct, Weinberger’s outdated claims were precisely what led to Pollard being denied parole.

That’s why a group of eight former top U.S. defense officials have signed a letter denouncing the decision and calling for clemency for Pollard.

It should be understood that although what Pollard did was wrong and deserved harsh punishment, there is simply no rationale for keeping him in prison. Considering that other spies for friendly foreign powers have been routinely deported, exchanged, or given far less harsh sentences, the treatment meted out to Pollard is disproportionate and therefore unjust. Nor, despite the hysteria in the defense establishment about keeping him in prison, is there any reason to keep him there for security purposes. There is literally nothing secret that he might still remember from his days at the Navy Department that is of the least utility to anyone 30 years later.

One doesn’t have to think well of Pollard or even of some of his vocal supporters to understand that there is something egregious about the desire of some in the government to see him die in prison after so much time served. As I documented in my magazine article, Pollard has suffered from bad legal representation and just as inept efforts by some who have worked on his behalf in the public sphere. But for the Parole Commission to buy into the old Weinberger myths about the fantastic nature of his crime presented by the government at the hearing was wrong.

The Obama administration, which is the least friendly to Israel since that of Dwight Eisenhower, would seem an unlikely candidate to free Pollard and it is doubtful that anyone in the White House is seriously considering his fate. But if the president is interested in a cost-free way to lower tensions with Jerusalem caused by the egregious “chickensh*t” controversy as well as the debate about nuclear negotiations with Iran, they might consider putting an end to the travesty of his continued imprisonment. Pollard constitutes a permanent irritant to the alliance. That is especially true because of the predilection on the part of some in both the Clinton and Obama administrations for spreading loose talk about using his freedom as a bargaining chip in Middle East negotiations even though it is doubtful than any Israeli government would give up on its security interests for the sake of the spy.

Keeping Pollard in prison on the basis of old and inaccurate accusations is just wrong. What he did was bad enough and for that all associated with the incident should hang their heads in shame. But it is time for someone in the U.S. government to put an end to this mockery of justice and let him go.

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State Department’s War on Israel Exposed

Last week, General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, exposed the hypocrisy of Obama administration officials who criticized Israel for taking insufficient care to avoid harming civilians during the war in Gaza this past summer. But the State Department isn’t backing down. Despite Dempsey’s statement that Israel gone to “extraordinary lengths” and had done what they could to spare innocents, when asked about the issue on Friday at the daily State Department press briefing, spokesperson Jen Psaki simply dismissed Dempsey’s avowal as irrelevant to the administration’s agenda.

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Last week, General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, exposed the hypocrisy of Obama administration officials who criticized Israel for taking insufficient care to avoid harming civilians during the war in Gaza this past summer. But the State Department isn’t backing down. Despite Dempsey’s statement that Israel gone to “extraordinary lengths” and had done what they could to spare innocents, when asked about the issue on Friday at the daily State Department press briefing, spokesperson Jen Psaki simply dismissed Dempsey’s avowal as irrelevant to the administration’s agenda.

Here’s the full exchange with Matt Lee of the Associated Press:

MATT LEE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yesterday, the ICC made its decision that there was no case to prosecute for war crimes in Gaza. But also yesterday – and you spoke about that very briefly here. But also yesterday, General Dempsey, who is no slouch when it comes to military things, told an audience in New York that the Israelis went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage during the Gaza war. And I’m puzzled, because I thought it was the position of the Administration – or maybe it was just the position of the State Department and the White House – that Israel was not doing enough to live up to its – what you called its own high standards. Back on August 3rd, there was the statement you put out after the UNRWA school incident, saying that the U.S. “is appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling.” And that was some pretty fierce criticism. How do you reconcile these two apparent divergent points of view? When this statement came out, the United States was appalled? Did that just mean the State Department was appalled?

JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT: No, that is the position of the Administration; it remains the position of the Administration. As we made clear throughout the summer’s conflict, we supported Israel’s right to self-defense and strongly condemned Hamas’s rocket attacks that deliberately targeted civilians, and the use of tunnels, of course, of attacks into Israel. However, we also expressed deep concern and heartbreak for the civilian death toll in Gaza and made clear, as you noted in the statement you pointed to, that we believed that Israel could have done more to prevent civilian casualties, and it was important that they held their selves to a high standard. So that remains our view and position about this summer’s events.

LEE: Okay. But I’m still confused as to how you can reconcile the fact that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – who knows a bit about how military operations work, I would venture to guess; I don’t know him, but I assume that he wouldn’t be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff if he was – if he didn’t –

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

LEE: — says that the Israelis essentially did the best that they could and lived up to – by extension lived up to their high standards by taking – by going to, quote, “extraordinary lengths” to limit the collateral damage.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would point you to the chairman’s team for his – more specifics on his comments. But it remains the broad view of the entire Administration that they could have done more and they should have taken more – all feasible precautions to prevent civilian casualties.

This stand tells us two things about the Obama administration.

The first is that facts played no part in its attacks on Israel at a time when thousands of rockets were raining down on Israeli cities and terrorists were using tunnels to cross the border to attempt kidnappings and murders of Jews. Hamas did its best to hide behind civilians in Gaza, something that was aided and abetted by an international press corps that was either too intimidated by the Islamists to report on their activities or to shoot videos of photos of armed terrorists or missile launches. But, as Dempsey rightly concluded, the Israelis were cautious about firing at positions embedded among civilians and adopted various strategies to keep collateral damage to a minimum. The fact that the U.S. Armed Forces sent a delegation to learn about the Israel Defense Forces’ policies so as to help Americans to improve their own record speaks volumes about the Pentagon’s views about criticisms of the Israelis.

Yet the State Department and the White House both sought to hammer the Israelis for every incident in which civilians were killed. The fact that the Israelis were every bit if not more scrupulous about this concern than American forces operating in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, or Syria is not in dispute, certainly not by their U.S. commander.

The reason for these criticisms, which continue despite being contradicted by Dempsey, has to do with politics, not the ethics of war. The president and his foreign-policy team are determined to besmirch Israel and undermine its democratically elected government no matter what the circumstances. If the allegations are not supported by the facts, that doesn’t deter Psaki and her masters from continuing their broadsides since the objective is not to actually change the policies of the Israel Defense Forces. It is to pressure the Jewish state’s government to forgo the right of self-defense that she says the U.S. supports and to make concessions to the Palestinians that would make another round of even deadlier violence even more likely.

The second thing this bizarre clinging to discredited positions tells us is that there is little respect for military realities or the opinions of the country’s military professionals within the Obama administration. This has been reflected in the president consistently ignoring their advice in abandoning Iraq and planning to accelerate the withdrawal from Afghanistan as well as to his insistence on the idea that scattered bombing will stop ISIS.

Such a disconnect between the military and the administration is forgivable in peacetime. Though he has sought to flee from it, Obama is a wartime president. But, as this episode reveals, the war he prefers to fight is the political one against Israel, not the real one Islamists are waging against the United States and its allies.

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An Unbalanced View of the Zivotofsky Case

In today’s Wall Street Journal, David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey – who served in the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s office during the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations – propose a “balancing” test to resolve the Zivotofsky passport case. They acknowledge Congress can regulate passports and has given Jerusalem-born Americans the right, if they request it, to have “Israel” on their passports as their place of birth. They argue, however, that (1) the “harm” to Congress would be “small” if its statute were declared unconstitutional, while (2) presidential “recognition authority” would be “severely undercut” if the law were implemented. Both assertions are demonstrably wrong, as Monday’s oral argument made clear.

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In today’s Wall Street Journal, David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey – who served in the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s office during the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations – propose a “balancing” test to resolve the Zivotofsky passport case. They acknowledge Congress can regulate passports and has given Jerusalem-born Americans the right, if they request it, to have “Israel” on their passports as their place of birth. They argue, however, that (1) the “harm” to Congress would be “small” if its statute were declared unconstitutional, while (2) presidential “recognition authority” would be “severely undercut” if the law were implemented. Both assertions are demonstrably wrong, as Monday’s oral argument made clear.

Chief Justice Roberts, in an exchange with Solicitor General Verrelli, demonstrated that there is no principled way of applying such a test, and that the “harm” would be either ceding unreviewable power to the president or requiring case-by-case litigation as the Court “balances” each case:

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Let’s say … that passports are printed in Country A, not the United States, and there’s a printing plant there, and Congress passes a law saying, no, you must have the passports printed in Country B because we don’t think you should recognize Country A. Does that interfere with the President’s recognition power?

How do you “balance” that one? And who decides (“balances”) it – the President, the Congress, or the Court? Verrelli responded to Roberts that the hypothetical was a harder case than Zivotofsky’s, but Verrelli did not venture a judgment on it, nor declare which of the three branches of government should make the decision. The Roberts hypothetical shows that while a “balancing test” may sound reasonable, “balance” is in the eye of the beholder: one could just as easily argue that Congressional authority would be “severely undercut” if the president can ignore it whenever he thinks foreigners won’t like it.

Justice Alito’s questioning also demonstrated that the president’s power would not be “severely undercut” if the law were enforced, because the U.S. already effectively recognizes Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem — for purposes directly bearing on Zivotofsky’s passport:

JUSTICE ALITO: May I ask you another factual question? When Menachem [Zivotofsky] was born, was he issued a birth certificate by the Israeli authorities?

MS. LEWIN: Yes.

JUSTICE ALITO: And the United States recognizes that as a lawful exercise of Israeli authority, to issue a birth certificate for a child born in Jerusalem?

MS. LEWIN: I believe they do, Your Honor.

JUSTICE ALITO: So this is a question I would ask the Solicitor General, but I don’t completely understand what the position of the United States is regarding Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem. I understand it is the position of the United States that Israel does not exercise full sovereignty over Jerusalem, but that in this instance, the issuance of a birth certificate, I suspect the United States recognizes that Israel is lawfully exercising attributes of sovereignty over the territory of Jerusalem.

In other words, to qualify for a U.S. passport, one must prove one is a U.S. citizen; and the U.S. accepts the birth certificate issued by Israel for an American born in Israel’s capital. But it would supposedly “severely undercut” the president’s power if that individual has the right, at his request, to have “Israel” put on his own passport as his place of birth?

Later in the oral argument, Justice Alito directed his question to Solicitor General Verrilli:

JUSTICE ALITO: Can I ask you the question I asked Ms. Lewin. What exactly is the position of the executive regarding Israel’s exercise of sovereign powers in Jerusalem? Is it the case that it is the position of the executive that Israel cannot lawfully exercise any sovereign powers within Jerusalem?

GENERAL VERRILLI: The position of the executive is that we recognize, as a practical matter, the authority of Israel over West Jerusalem. With respect to the rest of Jerusalem, the issue is far more complicated. It might well be, as a practical matter … we would accept [the birth certificate] as evidence of birth …

JUSTICE ALITO: Well, it must have been accepted as evidence of birth or the passport would never have been issued.

Zivotofsky was born in Shaare Zekek Hospital in West Jerusalem. Thus as a “practical matter,” as even the Solicitor General conceded, he was born in Israel. Would it really “severely undercut” the president’s power if Zivotofsky’s passport, like his birth certificate, recognized that fact — while reserving presidential authority to declare it does not affect U.S. recognition policy, just as President Clinton did in connection with the passports of Taiwan-born Americans?

It is a strange “balancing test” that sees no harm in preventing Congress from exercising its admitted Constitutional authority, when – as Justice Kennedy’s questions skillfully showed – the president’s own authority is easily preserved. This case could have been resolved years ago by adhering to the Taiwan precedent, rather than litigating for a decade to preserve the pretense that the “peace process” depends on the place of birth in Zivotofsky’s passport.

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Dempsey Debunks U.S. Attacks on Israel

Over the course of this past summer’s war between Hamas and Israel, the Jewish state was subjected to bitter criticism from both the U.S. State Department and the White House. The Obama administration made it clear that it believed Israel’s counter-attack against Hamas missile attacks and terror tunnels was disproportionate. Civilian casualty figures were frequently cited to chide the Israelis for killing and wounding Palestinians. Some of us pointed out that Israel’s efforts to avoid civilian casualties not only gave the lie to these accusations but also actually compared favorably to that of the U.S. military in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. But don’t take my word for it. According to Reuters, earlier this week General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a New York audience that Israel went to “extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilians casualties” in Gaza.

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Over the course of this past summer’s war between Hamas and Israel, the Jewish state was subjected to bitter criticism from both the U.S. State Department and the White House. The Obama administration made it clear that it believed Israel’s counter-attack against Hamas missile attacks and terror tunnels was disproportionate. Civilian casualty figures were frequently cited to chide the Israelis for killing and wounding Palestinians. Some of us pointed out that Israel’s efforts to avoid civilian casualties not only gave the lie to these accusations but also actually compared favorably to that of the U.S. military in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. But don’t take my word for it. According to Reuters, earlier this week General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a New York audience that Israel went to “extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilians casualties” in Gaza.

The contradiction between Dempsey’s remarks and the blistering criticisms of Israeli behavior uttered by the State Department and White House is instructive. Dempsey not only undermined the credibility of anything said by the U.S. during the war. He also exposed the president’s political agenda against the Jewish state and its government, a point that was made clear in the recent controversy about “senior administration officials” telling The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg that Prime Minister Netanyahu was a “coward” and a “chickenshit.”

Dempsey told the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York that the Israelis “did what they could” to avoid civilian casualties. In a war fought with a ruthless terrorist enemy that deliberately hid behind civilians and operating out of mosques, hospitals, schools, and public shelters, there is simply no way to prevent civilians from getting hurt. That’s a point the U.S. military readily understood even if the Obama administration chose to use the pictures of dead civilians as an opportunity to score points at the expense of the Israelis.

But Dempsey went further than sympathizing with his Israeli counterparts:

Dempsey said the Pentagon three months ago sent a “lessons-learned team” of senior officers and non-commissioned officers to work with the IDF to see what could be learned from the Gaza operation, “to include the measures they took to prevent civilian casualties and what they did with tunneling.”

The general said civilian casualties during the conflict were “tragic, but I think the IDF did what they could” to avoid them.

He said he thought his Israeli counterpart would look at lessons learned from the conflict to see what more could be done to avoid civilian deaths in future operations.

“The IDF is not interested in creating civilian casualties. They’re interested in stopping the shooting of rockets and missiles out of the Gaza Strip and into Israel,” Dempsey said.

The subtext to the administration’s attacks on the Israelis about Gaza is that the president has been deeply involved in ordering air strikes on terrorist targets throughout the Middle East. While there’s no doubt that the American military is as interested in avoiding harm to civilians as the Israelis, they know very well that many are killed or wounded when bombs are dropped on those responsible for terrorism. The only difference between the two conflicts is not in the character of the targets. There isn’t much difference between the Islamist killers of Hamas and those of al-Qaeda or ISIS. But the international media doesn’t pay nearly as much attention to such attacks when Israelis aren’t involved. Moreover, the media’s coverage of Gaza was incredibly one-sided as no pictures of Hamas fighters or missile launches were published or broadcast despite the army of journalists roaming the strip during the conflict.

But the issue is not merely the falsity of the American carping about Israeli actions. There’s little doubt the White House and the State Department were well aware of the U.S. military’s opinion of what was going on in Gaza or the fact that American actions ordered by Obama produce much the same results.

The American military is right to seek to learn the lessons of Gaza and to do what they can to emulate Israeli actions. But the real agenda at play in Washington on this issue has been a concerted effort by the Obama administration to undermine Israel’s right of self-defense in order to weaken its ability to stand up to U.S. pressure. Seen in that light, the real lesson to be culled from this episode is that everything that comes out of the mouths of the president’s foreign-policy team with respect to Israel should be considered false until proven otherwise.

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Obama’s Iran Promises Ring Hollow

At yesterday’s post-midterm elections news conference President Obama was also asked about the nuclear negotiations with Iran. His reply was consistent with the rhetoric he has been using about this subject since he first was running for president in 2008. He told the country his goal was to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and that no deal with Tehran was better than a bad deal. As with most everything else he has said on the subject during his presidency, this is an exemplary statement of what America’s policy should be. The only problem is that his actions flatly contradict this pronouncement. While that fact was already no secret, today’s revelations about the president carrying on a correspondence with Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei further undermines his narrative about being tough with the Islamist regime.

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At yesterday’s post-midterm elections news conference President Obama was also asked about the nuclear negotiations with Iran. His reply was consistent with the rhetoric he has been using about this subject since he first was running for president in 2008. He told the country his goal was to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and that no deal with Tehran was better than a bad deal. As with most everything else he has said on the subject during his presidency, this is an exemplary statement of what America’s policy should be. The only problem is that his actions flatly contradict this pronouncement. While that fact was already no secret, today’s revelations about the president carrying on a correspondence with Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei further undermines his narrative about being tough with the Islamist regime.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Obama wrote to the Iranian leader in the context of the campaign against ISIS in Iraq, a common enemy of both the U.S. and the Islamist regime. The content of the letters as reported by the Journal is not as much a concern as the fact that the administration has kept its key allies in the Middle East, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates out of the loop on the correspondence much as it did last year when the U.S. conducted secret talks with Tehran in order to facilitate the interim nuclear accord signed last November. President Obama apparently is far more interested in ingratiating himself with Khamenei than with Israel.

This news casts a shadow over the president’s assurances given in his press conference yesterday about Iran. The president said that the U.S. would learn whether a deal could be obtained with Iran sometime in the “next several weeks.” But what Iran has already learned about U.S. policy in the last two years is that the best thing they have going for them in the talks is that the president’s obsession with creating a new détente with the regime always outweighs his supposed commitment to stopping them. Though he boasted of how tough he has been on them—taking credit for economic sanctions that he opposed tooth and nail prior to their adoption—the record of the past six years is quite different. The president jettisoned America’s considerable economic and military leverage over Iran last year when he agreed to tacitly recognize Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and allowed them to keep their nuclear infrastructure.

In the follow-up talks conducted this year, which have predictably gone into overtime far past the original timeline and may well extend beyond the new November 24 deadline, he has offered even more concessions, including absurd proposals about disconnecting the pipes that link the centrifuges spinning the nuclear fuel. He continues to buy into the lie that Iran seeks nuclear power for its “peaceful energy needs”—a joke considering its oil reserves—and seems more interested in reintegrating the brutal, anti-Semitic regime back into the international economy than in halting their support of terrorism or forcing them to stop building missiles that couldn’t threaten the West as well as Israel and moderate Arabs.

The president has continued to frame opponents of his weak diplomacy as seeking war, a point he alluded to in his remarks. But the real alternative to Obama’s campaign of appeasement was the tougher sanctions proposed by a bipartisan congressional coalition that he expended considerable political capital to defeat last year.

The problem isn’t whether the Iranians will sign a deal either before November 24 or after it. It is, rather, why the U.S. has abandoned the stance the president enunciated in his 2012 foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney when he said any agreement must result in the end of Iran’s nuclear program. Last year’s interim agreement ensured that its nuclear program would survive. If the leaks coming out of the current talks are right, there’s little doubt that the sanctions will be lifted (by Obama simply ordering them not to be enforced rather than by congressional vote as required by law) in exchange for measures that will do nothing to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear threshold state. But, as he did last year, the president will claim victory and count on his press cheerleaders to back up his assertions that critics are warmongers.

As troubling as the letters to Khamenei may be, it is Obama’s diplomatic initiative that is the real threat to America’s Middle East allies as well as to the long-term security interests of the West. What those worried about this threat need are not more hollow promises from the president but transparency about an appeasement strategy.

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Is There a Tacit Obama-Iran Alliance?

One of the most important sidebars to the furor over the decision of two “senior administration officials” to tell columnist Jeffrey Goldberg that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a “chickenshit” coward was their boast that he had missed his chance to prevent them from making a weak deal allowing Iran to become a threshold nuclear state. Aside from the general discussion about an administration that is diffident about criticizing actual enemies of the United States choosing to lob outrageous insults at America’s sole democratic ally is the question whether this was a part of an effort to pre-empt Israeli criticism of a weak Iran nuclear deal or was merely just another instance of the Obama foreign policy team’s lack of discipline and incompetence. The Washington Post editorial page has weighed in on behalf of the latter point of view. But unfortunately there is good reason to think this latest administration attack on Israel was part of a calculated strategy on Iran.

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One of the most important sidebars to the furor over the decision of two “senior administration officials” to tell columnist Jeffrey Goldberg that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a “chickenshit” coward was their boast that he had missed his chance to prevent them from making a weak deal allowing Iran to become a threshold nuclear state. Aside from the general discussion about an administration that is diffident about criticizing actual enemies of the United States choosing to lob outrageous insults at America’s sole democratic ally is the question whether this was a part of an effort to pre-empt Israeli criticism of a weak Iran nuclear deal or was merely just another instance of the Obama foreign policy team’s lack of discipline and incompetence. The Washington Post editorial page has weighed in on behalf of the latter point of view. But unfortunately there is good reason to think this latest administration attack on Israel was part of a calculated strategy on Iran.

That President Obama has considered engagement with Iran as one of his foreign-policy priorities since coming to office is no secret. But that assumption was given further credence on Friday when the Washington Free Beacon reported on a tape of a talk given by Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes (one of those suspected of being one of the sources for Goldberg’s infamous column) in which he declared that an Iran deal would be the most important objective of the president’s second term and the moral equivalent of ObamaCare as an administration priority.

But we didn’t need Rhodes to tell us that. In signing an interim nuclear deal last year with Tehran that did nothing to force it to give up its nuclear infrastructure or long-term hopes of a weapon, he threw away the West’s considerable economic and military leverage and began a process of unraveling sanctions. But in order to seal a final deal with Iran—assuming, that is, that the Islamist regime deigns to sign one rather than merely keep running out the clock as Obama vainly pursues them—he must do two things: overcome considerable bipartisan opposition from Congress and make sure that Israel and/or moderate Arab regimes equally scared by the Iranians aren’t able to scuttle an agreement.

The president’s formula for achieving this dubious goal is clear.

On the one hand, he will try to forge an agreement that will not require congressional approval. That will be no easy task as the Constitution requires the Senate to approve any treaty with a foreign power and only Congress can repeal the economic sanctions it passed in recent years. But as we already know this isn’t a president that is troubled much by having to tread on the Constitution or violate the law. He will, as has already been reported, attempt to portray an Iran deal as something other than a new treaty. He will also use his executive power to suspend enforcement of sanctions, perhaps indefinitely, in order to render existing laws null and void.

As for Israel, as Goldberg’s column indicated, the administration thinks they’ve already won since Netanyahu failed to order an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities during the president’s first term.

So where does this leave us?

According to the Washington Post editorial, Goldberg’s column was merely an indication of the loose tongues that operate in the West Wing. Assuming that the assault on Netanyahu’s character and the gloating about Israel’s inability to stop U.S. efforts to appease Iran was, in its view, giving the “White House too much credit for calculation” since the insults would make it harder for the U.S. to “reach an accommodation with Israel on Iran and settlements.”

But as the record of the last six years and Rhodes’s indiscreet talk verifies, this administration isn’t interested in an accommodation with Israel on key issues. Rather it seeks to crush Israel’s efforts to resist détente with Iran as well as to muscle it on the peace process with the Palestinians even though the latter have frustrated the administration by steadfastly refusing to make peace on even the most favorable of terms on a diplomatic playing field tilted in their direction by the White House.

Goals often dictate not only tactics employed but also the character of the conflict. Having set reconciliation with Iran as one of his chief objectives—something that was made clear in the president’s first inaugural address and reaffirmed by his subsequent decisions on the long running diplomatic engagement he has pursued—Obama has determined that achieving it is worth sacrificing the United States’ close relations with Israel as well as enraging Arab states that have, to their surprise, found themselves aligned with Israel on this issue rather than the Americans.

Though the administration has been rightly criticized for its habit of equivocation on foreign-policy crises, its single-minded determination to outmaneuver the Israelis on Iran while never giving up on efforts to appease the Islamist regime has been impressive. Having thrown away its previous positions on stopping Iran’s nuclear enrichment or dismantling its nuclear program (as President Obama vowed in his foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney in 2012), it will clearly stop at nothing to get a deal if one is to be had.

Rather than a reset with Israel as the Post advises, Obama has something else in mind. While it may be going too far to say that the administration thinks of itself as entering into an alliance with the Iranians, the bottom line here is that the new Middle East that it envisions after an Iran deal is one in which traditional U.S. allies will be marginalized and endangered while Tehran and its terrorist allies will be immeasurably strengthened. The administration can only achieve that dubious goal by working assiduously against Israel and the bipartisan coalition that backs the alliance with the Jewish state in Congress.

It remains to be seen whether the next Congress will sit back and allow the administration to achieve a détente with the Islamic Republic that will amount to a new tacit U.S.-Iran alliance at the expense of the Jewish state. But whether Congress acts or not (and if the Senate is controlled by the Republicans it is far more likely to be able to thwart the president’s objectives), let no one say that we haven’t been warned about what was about to unfold.

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Disconnect From Reality? Obama, Not Bibi

Atlantic columnist Jeffrey Goldberg made quite a splash with his column earlier this week in which he enticed some of his buddies in the Obama administration to dish on the world leader they most love to hate. Goldberg’s piece might not have added the term “chickenshit” to the American or international political lexicon but he gave it new meaning as some of the president’s minions trashed Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as a coward. We all knew the Obami despised Netanyahu and aren’t exactly in love with his country. But the brazen and childish nature of the insults exposed the nature of this unraveling alliance in a way that few other stories have. Yet instead of following up by concentrating on getting to the bottom of the administration’s anti-Netanyahu mania, Goldberg has chosen to act as its lawyer both in the original article and in a follow-up piece published today in which he seeks to justify the attack on the Israeli. In doing so, he shows that not only does he share the White House’s foolish obsession but also misses a larger point about the collapse of American foreign policy under Barack Obama.

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Atlantic columnist Jeffrey Goldberg made quite a splash with his column earlier this week in which he enticed some of his buddies in the Obama administration to dish on the world leader they most love to hate. Goldberg’s piece might not have added the term “chickenshit” to the American or international political lexicon but he gave it new meaning as some of the president’s minions trashed Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as a coward. We all knew the Obami despised Netanyahu and aren’t exactly in love with his country. But the brazen and childish nature of the insults exposed the nature of this unraveling alliance in a way that few other stories have. Yet instead of following up by concentrating on getting to the bottom of the administration’s anti-Netanyahu mania, Goldberg has chosen to act as its lawyer both in the original article and in a follow-up piece published today in which he seeks to justify the attack on the Israeli. In doing so, he shows that not only does he share the White House’s foolish obsession but also misses a larger point about the collapse of American foreign policy under Barack Obama.

Goldberg’s argument is that whatever one may think of the astonishing slurs slung at the prime minister, it is Israel that is to blame because Netanyahu’s politics are “disconnecting from reality.” Citing an editorial in the New York Jewish Week by Gary Rosenblatt, Goldberg claims that American Jews are abandoning their traditional support for Israel because of its government’s counterproductive policies. His point is that if the U.S.-Israel relationship is coming apart it’s not because of the clear personal animus of everyone in this administration from the very top down toward Netanyahu but because Israel’s moves in Jerusalem and the West Bank are making peace harder to envision and lowering its standing in the international community. Rather than focus on what the “senior administration officials” think about Israel, he thinks we should be concentrating our attention on just how out of touch Netanyahu is with both international opinion and that of American Jews.

There is a lot to unwrap here, but let’s start with Goldberg’s assumption that the widening divide between many American Jews and Israel is somehow the fault of the latter’s current government. This is a fallacy that, to be fair, Rosenblatt, whose editorial in the weekly’s current edition was clearly written before Goldberg’s chickensh*t hit the fan on Tuesday afternoon, isn’t trying to promote. Goldberg argues that Israel is making a mistake by asking American Jews to choose between a liberal Democratic president and policies that are viewed as “illiberal.” But the crackup of American Jewry has far more to do with demographic issues stemming from soaring intermarriage rates and assimilation that have led to a diminution of a sense of Jewish peoplehood, not a serious critique of the specific policies of an Israeli government.

Last year’s Pew Survey on American Jewry amply illustrated that the disconnect between American Jews and Israel had everything to do with the changes in the way non-Orthodox viewed issues of identity. If most American Jews have been disinclined to withdraw their support from the president despite his predilection for picking pointless fights with Israel, it has to do primarily with their lack of affection for his domestic opponents and increasing lack of interest in all parochial Jewish topics of which Israel is just one that has fallen by the wayside. The survey showed that the unaffiliated and Jews who no longer choose to label themselves as Jewish by religion are increasingly unsupportive of Israel, but that has more to do with them than anything Israel might be doing. As Anti-Defamation League head Abe Foxman noted at the time, the Jews who care about Israel still support it; those that don’t fall into a different category. Moreover, at a time when international attacks on Israel are being driven by what even the U.S. State Department has acknowledged is a rising tide of anti-Semitism, to claim that Netanyahu or settlements are the key issues is particularly obtuse.

But whatever problems Israel may be having in retaining Jewish support here (and I’ll go out on a limb and say that I doubt even most Jewish Democrats were particularly happy with the way Obama cut off arms supplies to Israel during the war with Hamas last summer or think his aides should be calling Netanyahu chickensh*t while hiding behind Goldberg’s pledge to protect anonymity), any discussion about the U.S.-Israel divide needs to start with the fact that most Israelis remain on their prime minister’s side in this fight. They may not love Netanyahu or be right-wing zealots but the majority understands that there is no Palestinian peace partner and that pressure from the international community on their government to make more concessions seems to stem from prejudice against Israel, not a sober assessment of the situation.

As Goldberg himself again acknowledges, a push to withdraw from the West Bank would be insane under the current circumstances since doing so would open up the possibility of replicating the Hamas terror state in Gaza in the larger and more strategic territory adjoining Israel’s main population centers. Nor do they think much of strictures on Jewish life in Jerusalem or even in the West Bank settlement blocs that everyone—even President Obama—agrees would remain within Israel in the event of a peace treaty. Goldberg’s rejoinder to this salient point is to claim that, “the Palestinians haven’t agreed to this” (the italics are Goldberg’s). Of course, they haven’t because even the so-called moderates like Mahmoud Abbas, whom Goldberg extols as the best hope for peace, have never agreed to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn and have either turned down every peace offer of a Palestinian state that would include almost all of the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem or fled the negotiating table anytime peace might be in the offing.

Like President Obama and the rest of his crew that provide him with juicy quotes, Goldberg reiterates the left’s mantra that “the status quo is unsustainable” without providing a coherent alternative that also includes Israel’s survival. But as much as they don’t like the current situation, the majority of Israelis believe it is preferable to more trading land for terror as was the case with the Oslo Accords and Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza. That’s why Netanyahu, with all his faults, is almost certain to win a third consecutive term in office the next time Israelis go to the polls and will likely have a better relationship with whomever it is that succeeds Obama, whether it is a Democrat or a Republican. Israel has shown it can sustain itself in the absence of a peace deal that Palestinians are not interested in.

Even more important, by joining his sources’ gang tackle of Netanyahu, Goldberg is ignoring the fact that it is the policies of Obama, and not the Israeli, that have led to chaos, instability, and violence in the Middle East. As he well knows, moderate Arab countries are far more worried about Obama’s appeasement of Iran and apparent desire to withdraw from the region than they are about Israeli settlements. That’s why they find themselves agreeing more with Netanyahu about Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the threat from ISIS than the president. They are deeply concerned about an administration that is more interested in stopping Israel from attacking Iran than in preventing Tehran from becoming a nuclear threshold state.

If the “chickensh*t” affair played so badly for the president, it’s because most Americans (the vast majority of whom are deeply supportive of Israel and critical of the Palestinians) think there is something off-putting about an administration that is angrier at its sole democratic ally in the Middle East than at an international terror sponsor like Iran. With polls showing the president’s disastrous conduct of foreign policy being one of his party’s distinct liabilities this fall, it is obvious that if anyone is disconnecting from reality, it is the lame duck Obama and his petulant aides, not Netanyahu.

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The Consequences of a “Chickensh*t” Policy

No doubt the gang in the Obama administration have been congratulating themselves for planting some juicy insults aimed at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jeffrey Goldberg’s latest column in The Atlantic. But now that the wiseacres in the West Wing and/or the State Department have done their dirty work the question remains what will be the consequences of the decision to widen as well as to embitter the breach between the two countries. While most of those writing on this subject, including Goldberg, have emphasized the real possibility that the U.S. will sandbag Israel at the United Nations and otherwise undermine the Jewish state’s diplomatic position in the last years of Obama’s term in office, that won’t be the only blowback from the administration’s “chickenshit” diplomacy. Rather than harm Netanyahu, this ploy, like previous attacks on the prime minister, will strengthen him while making mischief for the president’s party in both this year’s midterms and in 2016.

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No doubt the gang in the Obama administration have been congratulating themselves for planting some juicy insults aimed at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jeffrey Goldberg’s latest column in The Atlantic. But now that the wiseacres in the West Wing and/or the State Department have done their dirty work the question remains what will be the consequences of the decision to widen as well as to embitter the breach between the two countries. While most of those writing on this subject, including Goldberg, have emphasized the real possibility that the U.S. will sandbag Israel at the United Nations and otherwise undermine the Jewish state’s diplomatic position in the last years of Obama’s term in office, that won’t be the only blowback from the administration’s “chickenshit” diplomacy. Rather than harm Netanyahu, this ploy, like previous attacks on the prime minister, will strengthen him while making mischief for the president’s party in both this year’s midterms and in 2016.

There is no doubt that Obama’s lame duck years will be stressful for Israel and its friends. As Seth noted earlier today, the administration’s full court press for détente with Iran is setting the table for a strategic blunder on their nuclear quest that will severely harm the balance of power in the Middle East as well as lay the groundwork for challenges to American national security for decades to come.

Nor should anyone discount the potential for severe damage to Israel’s diplomatic standing in the world should Obama decide to collude with the Palestinian Authority and to allow them to get a United Nations Security Council resolution on Palestinian statehood, borders, and Jerusalem. The Palestinians’ drive to annul Jewish rights and to bypass the peace process could, with Obama’s support, further isolate Israel and strengthen the efforts of those forces working to promote BDS—boycott, divest, sanction—campaigns that amount to an economic war on the Jewish people.

This is a dire prospect for a small, besieged country that still relieves heavily on U.S. security cooperation and defense aid. But for all the huffing and puffing on the part of Obama’s minions, the administration’s real objectives in all this plotting are not likely to be achieved. That’s because nothing published in a Goldberg column or leaked anywhere else will weaken Netanyahu’s hold on office or prompt the Palestinians to make peace or Iran to be more reasonable in the nuclear talks. The only people who will be hurt by the attacks on Israel are Obama’s fellow Democrats.

As I pointed out yesterday, Obama’s barbs aimed at Israel haven’t enticed the Palestinians to negotiate seriously in the past and won’t do so in the future. If the Palestinian Authority really wanted a state they would have accepted the one offered them in 2000, 2001, or 2008 or actually negotiated with Netanyahu in the last year after he indicated readiness to sign off on a two-state solution.

The boasts about having maneuvered Netanyahu into a position where he may not have a viable military option against Iran (actually, Israel may never have had much of an option since it can be argued that only U.S. possesses the forces required to conclusively knock out Iran’s nuclear facilities) is also nothing for the U.S. to be happy about since it will only strengthen the Iranians’ conviction that they have nothing to fear from Israel or a U.S. president that they think is too weak to stand up to them.

But Obama should have also already learned that challenging Netanyahu and insulting the Jewish state in this manner has one definite side effect: strengthening the prime minister’s political position at home. The same thing happened after Obama’s attacks on the status of Jerusalem in his first term. The administration thought it could topple Netanyahu soon after his election in February 2009 and failed, but even after his election to another term in 2013 as well as the absence of any viable alternative to him, they are still clinging to the delusion that the Israeli people will reject his policies. But that isn’t likely to happen for one reason. The overwhelming majority of Israelis may not love the prime minister but they share his belief that there is no Palestinian peace partner and that turning the West Bank into a sovereign state that could be controlled by Hamas and other terrorists just like Gaza would be madness. They also oppose efforts to divide their capital or to prohibit Jews from the right to live in some parts of the city.

Netanyahu won’t back down. In the wake of the summer war with Hamas that further undermined an Israeli left that was already in ruins after 20 years of failed peace processing, Netanyahu was clearly heading to early elections that would further strengthen the Likud. Obama’s attacks will only make that strategy more attractive to the prime minister. But whether he is reelected in 2015, 2016, or 2017, few believe Netanyahu won’t be returned to office by the voters for his third consecutive and fourth overall term as Israel’s leader. Though a lot of damage can be done to Israel in the next two years, that means Netanyahu is almost certain to be able to outlast Obama in office and to enjoy what will almost certainly be better relations with his successor whether it is a Democrat or a Republican. Waiting out Obama isn’t a good strategy for Israel but it may be the only one it has available to it and will likely be rewarded with a honeymoon with the next president.

But Netanyahu isn’t the only person who will profit politically from this astonishingly crude assault on the Jewish state’s democratically elected leader.

Foreign policy is rarely a decisive factor in U.S. elections but at a time when Democrats are suffering the ill effects of Obama’s inept response to the threat from ISIS, it won’t do the president’s party any good for the administration to pick a fight with it’s sole democratic ally in the Middle East. Americans have a right to ask why an administration that was slow to react to ISIS and is intent on appeasing a murderous Islamist regime in Iran is so intent on fighting with Israel. That won’t help embattled Democrats seeking reelection in red states where evangelicals regard backing for Israel as a key issue.

Nor will it help Democrats as they head toward 2016. Though Hillary Clinton will likely run away from Obama on his attacks on Netanyahu as she has done on other foreign-policy issues, running for what will in effect be Obama’s third term will still burden her with the need to either actively oppose the president’s anti-Israel actions in the UN or détente with Iran or accept the negative political fallout of silence. Any Republican, with the exception of an isolationist like Rand Paul, will be able to exploit this issue to their advantage.

Those who worry about the damage to Israel from a lame-duck Obama administration that is seething with hatred for Netanyahu and thinks it has nothing to lose are not wrong. But Democrats will be hurt politically by a crisis that was created by Obama, not Netanyahu. They won’t be grateful to the president for having put them in this fix while Netanyahu will probably emerge from this trial strengthened at home and in a good position to repair relations with Obama’s successor.

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Obama, Not Bibi, Created U.S.-Israel Crisis

Since Barack Obama became president, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has been a reliable indicator of administration opinion about foreign-policy issues. Like some other journalists who can be counted on to support the president, he has been the recipient of some juicy leaks, especially when the White House wants to trash Israel’s government. But Goldberg and his “senior administration sources” reached a new low today when he published a piece in which those anonymous figures labeled Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu a “chickenshit” and a “coward.” The remarks are clearly not so much a warning to the Israelis to stop complaining about the U.S. push for appeasement of a nuclear Iran and the administration’s clueless approach to the conflict with the Palestinians. Rather the story is, as Goldberg rightly characterizes it, a genuine crisis in the relationship. That much is plain but where Goldberg and the talkative administration members are wrong is their belief that this is all Netanyahu’s fault. Their attacks on him are not only plainly false but are motivated by a desire to find an excuse that will be used to justify a drastic turn in U.S. foreign policy against Israel.

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Since Barack Obama became president, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has been a reliable indicator of administration opinion about foreign-policy issues. Like some other journalists who can be counted on to support the president, he has been the recipient of some juicy leaks, especially when the White House wants to trash Israel’s government. But Goldberg and his “senior administration sources” reached a new low today when he published a piece in which those anonymous figures labeled Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu a “chickenshit” and a “coward.” The remarks are clearly not so much a warning to the Israelis to stop complaining about the U.S. push for appeasement of a nuclear Iran and the administration’s clueless approach to the conflict with the Palestinians. Rather the story is, as Goldberg rightly characterizes it, a genuine crisis in the relationship. That much is plain but where Goldberg and the talkative administration members are wrong is their belief that this is all Netanyahu’s fault. Their attacks on him are not only plainly false but are motivated by a desire to find an excuse that will be used to justify a drastic turn in U.S. foreign policy against Israel.

The administration critique of Netanyahu as a coward stems from its disgust with his failure to make peace with the Palestinians as well as their impatience with his criticisms of their zeal for a deal with Iran even if it means allowing the Islamist regime to become a threshold nuclear power. But this is about more than policy. The prickly Netanyahu is well known to be a tough guy to like personally even if you are one of his allies. But President Obama and his foreign-policy team aren’t just annoyed by the prime minister. They’ve come to view him as public enemy No. 1, using language about him and giving assessments of his policies that are far harsher than they have ever used against even avowed enemies of the United States, let alone one of its closest allies.

So rather than merely chide him for caution they call him a coward and taunt him for being reluctant to make war on Hamas and even to launch a strike on Iran. They don’t merely castigate him as a small-time politician without vision; they accuse him of putting his political survival above the interests of his nation.

It’s quite an indictment but once you get beyond the personal dislike of the individual on the part of the president, Secretary of State Kerry, and any other “senior officials” that speak without attribution on the subject of Israel’s prime minister, all you have is a thin veil of invective covering up six years of Obama administration failures in the Middle East that have the region more dangerous for both Israel and the United States. For all of his personal failings, it is not Netanyahu—a man who actually served as a combat soldier under fire in his country’s most elite commando unit—who is a coward or a small-minded failure. It is Obama and Kerry who have fecklessly sabotaged a special relationship, an act whose consequences have already led to disaster and bloodshed and may yet bring worse in their final two years of power.

It was, after all, Obama (and in the last two years, Kerry) who has spent his time in office picking pointless fights with Israel over issues like settlements and Jerusalem. They were pointless not because there aren’t genuine disagreements between the two countries on the ideal terms for peace. But rather because the Palestinians have never, despite the administration’s best efforts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their favor, seized the chance for peace. No matter how much Obama praises Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and slights Netanyahu, the former has never been willing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. They also chose to launch a peace process in spite of the fact that the Palestinians remain divided between Abbas’s Fatah and Hamas-ruled Gaza, a situation that makes it impossible for the PA to make peace even if it wanted to do so. The result of their heedless push for negotiations that were bound to fail was another round of violence this summer and the possibility of another terrorist intifada in the West Bank.

On Iran, it has not been Netanyahu’s bluffing about a strike that is the problem but Obama’s policies. Despite good rhetoric about stopping Tehran’s push for a nuke, the president has pursued a policy of appeasement that caused it to discard its significant military and economic leverage and accept a weak interim deal that began the process of unraveling the international sanctions that represented the best chance for a solution without the use of force.

Even faithful Obama supporter Goldberg understands that it would be madness for Israel to withdraw from more territory and replicate the Gaza terror experiment in the West Bank. He also worries that the administration is making a “weak” Iran deal even though he may be the only person on the planet who actually thinks Obama would use force to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon.

So why is the administration so angry with Netanyahu? It can’t be because Netanyahu is preventing peace with the Palestinians. After the failure of Kerry’s fool’s errand negotiations and the Hamas missile war on Israel, not even Obama can think peace is at hand. Nor does he really think Netanyahu can stop him from appeasing Iran if Tehran is willing to sign even a weak deal.

The real reason to target Netanyahu is that it is easier to scapegoat the Israelis than to own up to the administration’s mistakes. Rather than usher in a new era of good feelings with the Arab world in keeping with his 2009 Cairo speech, Obama has been the author of policies that have left an already messy Middle East far more dangerous. Rather than ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, his decision to withdraw U.S. troops and to dither over the crisis in Syria led to more conflict and the rise of ISIS. Instead of ending the Iranian nuclear threat, Obama is on the road to enabling it. And rather than manage an Israeli-Palestinian standoff that no serious person thought was on the verge of resolution, Obama made things worse with his and Kerry’s hubristic initiatives and constant bickering with Israel.

Despite the administration’s insults, it is not Netanyahu who is weak. He has shown great courage and good judgment in defending his country’s interests even as Obama has encouraged the Palestinians to believe they can hold out for even more unrealistic terms while denying Israel the ammunition it needed to fight Hamas terrorists. While we don’t know whether, as Goldberg believes, it is too late for Israel to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, it is Obama that Iran considers weak as it plays U.S. negotiators for suckers in the firm belief that the U.S. is a paper tiger that is not to be feared any longer.

If there is a crisis, it is one that was created by Obama’s failures and inability to grasp that his ideological prejudices were out of touch with Middle East realities.

The next two years may well see, as Goldberg ominously predicts, even more actions by the administration to downgrade the alliance with Israel. But the blame for this will belong to a president who has never been comfortable with Israel and who has, at every conceivable opportunity, sought conflict with it even though doing so did not advance U.S. interests or the cause of peace. No insult directed at Netanyahu, no matter how crude or pointless, can cover up the president’s record of failure.

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The Issue is Kerry’s Incompetence, Not Israeli Manners

On Friday, the U.S. State Department rejected criticisms from Israeli Economic Minister Naftali Bennett that Secretary of State John Kerry had sought to blame the rise of ISIS on Israel. Spokesperson Marie Harf said Kerry’s remarks a day earlier were “taken out of context” for “political reasons” by Bennett and other Israelis who cried foul. That in turn set off criticisms of Bennett by his Cabinet colleague and rival, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said the Jewish Home Party leader should keep his mouth shut about the United States. But while most observers seemed to focus on the Israeli political dimension of the controversy or the chances that the spat would worsen the already shaky relations between Israel and the U.S., what escaped notice was the fact that in claiming that the failure to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians was helping ISIS, Kerry was actually contradicting President Obama.

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On Friday, the U.S. State Department rejected criticisms from Israeli Economic Minister Naftali Bennett that Secretary of State John Kerry had sought to blame the rise of ISIS on Israel. Spokesperson Marie Harf said Kerry’s remarks a day earlier were “taken out of context” for “political reasons” by Bennett and other Israelis who cried foul. That in turn set off criticisms of Bennett by his Cabinet colleague and rival, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said the Jewish Home Party leader should keep his mouth shut about the United States. But while most observers seemed to focus on the Israeli political dimension of the controversy or the chances that the spat would worsen the already shaky relations between Israel and the U.S., what escaped notice was the fact that in claiming that the failure to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians was helping ISIS, Kerry was actually contradicting President Obama.

On September 24, in his speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations, Obama said the following:

Leadership will also be necessary to address the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. As bleak as the landscape appears, America will never give up the pursuit of peace. The situation in Iraq, Syria and Libya should cure anyone of the illusion that this conflict is the main source of problems in the region; for far too long; it has been used in part as a way to distract people from problems at home. And the violence engulfing the region today has made too many Israelis ready to abandon the hard work of peace.

Leaving aside Obama’s willingness to blame Israel for not working for peace when, in fact, all they are reacting to is the consistent refusal of their supposed Palestinian peace partners to accept repeated offers of independence and peace, this statement represented genuine progress in the president’s thinking. Obama had in the past repeatedly embraced the notion that ending the Arab-Israeli conflict would solve all the problems in the region but the rise of ISIS had sobered him up a bit. The willingness of many Arab regimes to make common cause with Israel against both ISIS and radical Islamists such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood illustrated the obvious fact that conflict within the Arab world is a function of the division among Muslims, not discontent about Israel’s existence or the failure of peace negotiations.

This was a remarkable departure for a president who had spoken of Western and Israeli guilt for Muslim grievances in his address to the Muslim world in Cairo in June 2009, seemingly having finally woken up to the fact that no amount of apologizing or engagement will make radical Islam go away. But for some reason Kerry is still sticking to the old playbook in which Israelis can be scapegoated for the existence of bloody conflicts in which Jews play no part.

Kerry was, no doubt, playing to his audience of Muslims when he told a State Department ceremony honoring the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha that resentment about the Arab-Israeli conflict was fueling recruitment for ISIS. Since Kerry has consistently and wrongly blamed Israel for the collapse of his peace initiative, it didn’t take much imagination to see that what he was doing was blaming the Jewish state for the fact that ISIS terrorists have overrun much of Syria and Iraq while beheading Westerners. But while the Arab leaders he cited may pay lip service to anti-Israel sentiment by referencing the alleged “humiliation and denial and lack of human dignity” suffered by the Palestinians, ISIS’s popularity is based on promoting hatred of all Westerners and non-Muslims, not just Israelis. Which is to say that Bennett wasn’t off target or taking things out of context when he said, “When a British Muslim decapitates a British Christian, there will always be someone to blame the Jew.”

Yet while Obama called on Muslims to unite against ISIS and to recognize their responsibility to combat radical Islamists, Kerry is still using the same tired clichés about Israel and the Palestinians that even many Arabs are shelving and then looking to pick a fight with Israelis over their umbrage about his lack of perspective.

Israel’s government is probably better off not making much of an issue about Kerry’s latest vile assertion, but there should be no illusions about the attitudes his comments illustrated. If even after the outbreak of a war in Syria in which Muslims have slaughtered Muslims without a mention of Israelis Kerry is capable of sticking to the notion that the grievances of Palestinians who have repeatedly refused to make peace is the reason for ISIS, then his intellectual bankruptcy could not be more obvious.

The point here isn’t that Kerry is foolishly picking quarrels with Israel but that he has demonstrated his unfitness for office at a time when the United States is once again engaging in a conflict with a dangerous Islamist foe. President Obama has allowed Kerry to embark on a futile effort to revive the dead-in-the-water peace process thinking that there would be few consequences for another failure. But Kerry’s incapacity to focus on the ISIS threat presents a bigger problem for the president. If he is truly serious about building a coalition against ISIS, the president needs to stop letting his administration pick pointless fights with Israel. Kerry needs to be fired.

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Jew-Free Jerusalem Neighborhoods Won’t Bring Peace

At first it seemed as if Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu escaped his meeting in the White House with President Obama yesterday without a renewal of their long running feud. But before the day was over, it was clear that the administration’s predilection for picking pointless fights with the Israelis hasn’t faded away even as the president appears to be more interested in fighting ISIS than in brokering Middle East peace. By focusing once again on Jewish building in Jerusalem and representing Israel’s actions as an obstacle, the U.S. was not only allowing itself to be distracted from the real problems in the Middle East. By reaffirming its opposition to Jews living in part of their capital, the Americans are also adopting a standard that will make real peace impossible.

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At first it seemed as if Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu escaped his meeting in the White House with President Obama yesterday without a renewal of their long running feud. But before the day was over, it was clear that the administration’s predilection for picking pointless fights with the Israelis hasn’t faded away even as the president appears to be more interested in fighting ISIS than in brokering Middle East peace. By focusing once again on Jewish building in Jerusalem and representing Israel’s actions as an obstacle, the U.S. was not only allowing itself to be distracted from the real problems in the Middle East. By reaffirming its opposition to Jews living in part of their capital, the Americans are also adopting a standard that will make real peace impossible.

As Eugene Kontorovich wrote earlier today, the willingness of the Obama administration to use the essentially deceptive terminology of marginal Israeli left-wing groups about settlements distorts the discussion. If you count every apartment built as a “new settlement” you get the impression that Israel is building hundreds, if not thousands of new neighborhoods and towns every year. In fact all they are doing is building homes in existing Jewish communities, the vast majority of which are located in areas that would, even under the parameters that have been suggested by the Obama administration, remain inside Israel even in the event of a peace treaty with the Palestinians.

But the arguments raised yesterday by the administration about new Jewish homes in Jerusalem—which echoed widespread condemnation of these projects by most of the international community—is troubling for more than just the usual reasons. If President Obama and his State Department truly believe that the presence of Jews in some neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem is an obstacle to peace that must be removed in order for an accord to be reached, then what they are doing is tacitly endorsing an Arab demand for Jew-free zones in the ancient capital as well as a Judenrein Palestine.

As Netanyahu pointed out, the notion that it is immoral for Jews to buy property or build homes in parts of the city but that there is nothing wrong with Arabs doing the same in neighborhoods that are predominantly Jewish is inherently prejudicial. The double standard here is appalling. Arabs build (often illegally) throughout the Arab majority neighborhoods of the city and no one thinks twice about it even though, if we were to use the same standard by which Israel is judged, that, too, could be construed as an obstacle to peace.

But the real problem is that treating Jewish building in the territories and especially in Jerusalem as offensive almost by definition confirms the Arab belief that there is something inherently illegitimate about the Jewish presence in the country. It is that concept and not Israeli actions that still constitutes the primary obstacle to peace.

After all, if the Palestinians’ main priority was in establishing an independent state alongside Israel they could have accepted peace offers from Israel that would have given them almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a large share of Jerusalem. But they turned those offers down in 2000, 2001, and 2008 and refused to negotiate seriously with Israel again this year even though Netanyahu had already signaled a willingness to compromise on territory. It wasn’t settlements that stopped them from grabbing independence but the fact that recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish no matter where its borders are drawn was still anathema in their political culture. Indeed, when Hamas, which commands the support of the majority of Palestinians and far more than the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas, speaks of the “occupation,” they are not referring to the West Bank but to all of pre-1967 Israel.

While the majority of Israelis have drawn the appropriate conclusions from Palestinian rejectionism and understand that peace is nowhere in sight, most still hope that someday this will change. But there is no chance that the political culture of the Palestinians will one day make it possible for compromise over the land until the West stops giving moral support to demands for Jew-free zones.

Netanyahu does well to ignore these latest complaints just as he has done in the past, to the applause of the vast majority of Israelis, when the U.S. attacked the right of Jews to live in Jerusalem. If the Palestinians someday make peace and Jerusalem is split, does President Obama really think it can be done on the basis that both Jews and Arabs would populate the Israeli parts but that the Palestinian areas will be ethnically cleansed of all Jews? If so, then their bitter criticism of Jews moving into Silwan or the mixed neighborhood of Givat Hamatos makes sense. But if the goal is to have an open city in which coexistence prevails, then these arguments are counter-productive.

There are reasons why Israelis are wary about the idea of leaving behind Jews in areas that will, at least in theory, become a Palestinian state. Most revolve around the fact that such holdouts will become immediate targets for terrorist murderers. But if the Palestinians are told by the United States that it is perfectly OK for them to demand that no Jew is allowed to live in areas that they might control, including in Jerusalem, then there is no incentive for them to make peace on any terms.

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Obama’s Conflict with Israel Is Sidelined, Not Resolved

President Obama gritted his teeth yesterday and sat down for a meeting in the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Even at the best of times, the president isn’t good at faking bonhomie and there was little evidence of the usual pretense of good fellowship during the media portion of the session. He doesn’t like Netanyahu, but given his current emphasis on the war against ISIS and the utter collapse of the peace process with the Palestinians, Obama had little choice but to try and downplay his difference with the prime minister. Yet as a scathing State Department statement about Jerusalem issued later in the day revealed, the administration’s conflict with Israel has been sidelined but is far from finished.

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President Obama gritted his teeth yesterday and sat down for a meeting in the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Even at the best of times, the president isn’t good at faking bonhomie and there was little evidence of the usual pretense of good fellowship during the media portion of the session. He doesn’t like Netanyahu, but given his current emphasis on the war against ISIS and the utter collapse of the peace process with the Palestinians, Obama had little choice but to try and downplay his difference with the prime minister. Yet as a scathing State Department statement about Jerusalem issued later in the day revealed, the administration’s conflict with Israel has been sidelined but is far from finished.

As always, Netanyahu’s statement was a bit closer to reality than that of the president. He highlighted, as he did in his United Nations speech earlier this week, the prospect that the path to peace might come through the good offices of moderate Arab nations in the region rather than relying solely on direct talks with a reluctant Palestinian Authority. Obama pointedly ignored this possibility even though Secretary of State John Kerry is reportedly trying to revive his failed peace initiative using this very same strategy.

This ought to have been a moment for some reconciliation between the two feuding leaders. After nearly six years of non-stop bickering, the president had at least one moment of clarity last week when he told the UN General Assembly that the rise of ISIS and the conflicts in Iraq and Syria proved that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict wasn’t the cause of all the trouble in the region. That’s a basic truth that it took him years to learn since he has acted and spoken for most of his time in the White House as if Israeli-Palestinian peace would magically transform the Middle East despite the myriad conflicts between Arabs and Muslims that would go on even if Israel disappeared.

The collapse of Kerry’s peace initiative after Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas signed a unity pact with Hamas rather than a deal with Israel also should have signaled a course change for the administration. The 50-day war between Israel and Hamas illustrated both Abbas’s irrelevance and his inability to make peace even if he wanted to do it. Hamas’s increased popularity and its determination to use any territory under its control as a terror base also renders the U.S. pressure on Israel to surrender the West Bank, which might well become after such a move another stronghold of radical Islamists like Gaza, a mad scheme that is neither in the interests of the Jewish state or its superpower ally. Whatever the differences between the two governments, this was a good moment for stepping back and emphasizing their shared agenda against Islamist terror.

But this president can’t let go of his obsessions and no one in the Israeli government, least of all its leader, should be under the impression that the changed circumstances that forced Obama to alter his approach will mean smooth sailing until January 2017.

The chief source of tension is obviously Iran. Though Netanyahu tried to make the analogy between the threat from ISIS and that of the Islamist regime and Hamas, the U.S. is not buying it. Both Obama and Kerry are determined to make some sort of nuclear deal with Tehran. If the interim accord they signed last year is any indication, if they get their wish it will be a weak and unenforceable agreement that will do little to stop the Iranians from realizing their ambition. Nor is there any U.S. inducement that can or should cause the Israelis to cease to worry that such a strategy puts them and the West in mortal peril.

As for the Palestinians, though Obama will have his own reasons for thwarting any end run around the peace process by Abbas to get the UN to enact new anti-Israel measures, the administration looks as if it is determined to resume hounding Israel on settlements even though the Hamas war demonstrated anew that the Palestinian impulse to conflict has nothing to do with the location of a future border or the presence of Jews in any particular place. Moreover, even if talks with the Arab states do proceed, it should be clear even to the dullest staffer in the West Wing or Foggy Bottom that moderate Arab states want Israel’s help in fighting Islamists and have little interest in risking their own popularity trying to broker a deal that the Palestinians don’t want no matter how much the Israelis are prepared to give.

If there is anything we have learned about Barack Obama in the last six years it is that he is not a man prepared to admit mistakes (just ask Jim Clapper). For relations between Israel and the United States to really improve—as opposed to the arguments just cooling down every now and then—it will require the president to admit that his idée fixe about settlements won’t bring peace or help the U.S. rally allies in the fight against genuine threats to American security. He will also need to realize that his never-flagging desire for engagement with Iran is bringing the world closer to the nuclear brink, not averting that danger.

For now, Obama’s feud with Netanyahu is on his back burner as he tries to avoid disaster in Iraq and Syria and his party is poised to be beaten in the midterm elections. But it will be back soon. Israelis should be prepared for being back in his cross hairs sooner rather than later.

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Obama’s Irrational Animus for Israel

According to the Jerusalem Post,

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According to the Jerusalem Post,

Speaking extensively on US relations with Jerusalem since the end of the latest round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians last April, and throughout Operation Protective Edge, a candid [former US special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations Martin] Indyk said at times US President Barack Obama has become “enraged” at the Israeli government, both for its actions and for its treatment of his chief diplomat, US Secretary of State John Kerry… Gaza has had “very negative impact” on US-Israel relations, he continued. “The personal relationship between the president and the prime minister has been fraught for some time and it’s become more complicated by recent events.”

Think about this for a moment. In a neighborhood featuring Hamas, ISIS, Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran, just to name a few of the actors, President Obama was “enraged” at … Israel. That’s right, Israel–our stalwart ally, a lighthouse of liberty, lawfulness, and human rights in a region characterized by despotism, and a nation filled with people who long for peace and have done so much for so long to sacrifice for it (including repeatedly returning and offering to return its land in exchange for peace).

Yet Mr. Obama–a man renowned for his lack of strong feelings, his emotional equanimity, his disengagement and distance from events, who New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd refers to as “Spock” for his Vulcan-like detachment–is not just upset but “enraged” at Israel.

Add to this the fact that the conflict with Hamas in Gaza–a conflict started and escalated by Hamas, and in which Hamas used innocent Palestinians as human shields–had a very negative impact on America’s relationship with Israel. To show you just how absurd this has become, other Arab nations were siding with Israel in its conflict with Hamas. But not America under Obama. He was constantly applying pressure on Israel. Apparently if you’re a nation defending yourself and, in doing so, you wage a war with exquisite care in order to prevent civilian death, it is reason to earn the fury of Mr. Obama.

It’s clear to me, and by now it should be to others, that there is something sinister in Barack Obama’s constant anger aimed at Israel. No previous American president has carried in his heart this degree of hostility for Israel. We can only hope that no future president ever does again. It is a shameful thing to watch this ugliness and irrationality play itself out.

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Israeli Liberals’ Advice to Diaspora Jewish Counterparts: Grow Up

Carlo Strenger, an Israeli psychology professor, regular Haaretz columnist, and dedicated leftist, offered some useful advice yesterday to all the Diaspora Jewish liberals now bemoaning the end of their love affair with Israel: Grow up. Or as he put it, “only adolescents demand ideal objects for their loves.”

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Carlo Strenger, an Israeli psychology professor, regular Haaretz columnist, and dedicated leftist, offered some useful advice yesterday to all the Diaspora Jewish liberals now bemoaning the end of their love affair with Israel: Grow up. Or as he put it, “only adolescents demand ideal objects for their loves.”

“Jewish liberals … need to realize that the time has come to stop mourning Israel’s idealized image,” Strenger wrote. “Israel is an impressive achievement in many ways, but it was never an ideal society.” Rather, it’s a real country with real problems, just like any other country, and deserves to be treated that way.

American Jewish liberals, for instance, didn’t stop loving America because they loathed George Bush, Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin, and Rush Limbaugh, “So how come we Jews have such problems with the fact that in Israel we have our own Limbaughs, Palins and Cheneys?” Nor did they stop loving America because it has yet to achieve perfect racial harmony (as witness the recent police shooting of an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri), so “How come we cannot accept that Israel is a multiethnic society that still hasn’t worked out a modus vivendi” among its numerous religious and ethnic subgroups?

In short, if you care about a country, you can obviously criticize its shortcomings and work to ameliorate them. But you don’t wash your hands of it just because it fails to meet the “completely unrealistic” expectation that “our state must be a beacon of light unto the nations”–an expectation, he noted wryly, that exists in the first place because liberal Diaspora Jews “never quite got rid of” what most would publicly dismiss as a highly illiberal notion: “that Jews are chosen.”

Diaspora Jewish liberals’ expectations are all the more unrealistic, Strenger noted, because they completely disregard the real-world problems Israel faces:

The Arab world’s initial rejection of Israel’s existence, and the scars of war and the constant security threats from groups like Hamas, have left an indelible mark on Israel’s mentality, one that will take many decades to mitigate. The profound rifts between its ethnicities, its religious conflicts, its inability to integrate its Arab citizens, have shaped Israel’s political culture, and are unlikely to disappear anytime soon.

Moreover, in their disappointment at Israel’s failure to live up to their ideal, they are ignoring the fact that “there is much to love and admire about Israel for Jewish liberals, even if we profoundly dislike, and sometimes hate, other aspects of it.”

While Strenger didn’t elaborate, another Israeli professor and dedicated leftist, Michael Gross, did exactly that in a guest column for Haaretz two days earlier. Rhetorically asking what standard Diaspora Jewish liberals use to evaluate Israel’s liberalism or lack thereof, he continued, “Do they mean a well-functioning public health care system, expansive reproductive rights, gun control, a ban on the death penalty or inexpensive higher education?”

Gross obviously knows the big issue for most liberal Diaspora Jews is “the occupation.” His point is that like any real country, Israel is multi-faceted. And if you examine the real Israel in all its complexity, rather than treating it as a cartoon character with no existence beyond the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, then on many trademark issues to which liberal Jews accord great weight in their own countries, Israel is actually closer to the liberal ideal than America is.

Essentially, both men were making the same argument: If liberal Diaspora Jews would look at Israel as a real country, rather than as a projection of their fantasies, they would see it was neither as perfectly good as they once imagined it nor as irredeemably evil as they imagine it today. Like any other country, it has real problems, and like any other country, it deals with some problems better than others, but its positive qualities are no less real than its flaws.

And if Diaspora Jewish liberals are incapable of seeing the real Israel through the cloud of their adolescent fantasies, then that isn’t Israel’s fault. It’s their own.

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Why AIPAC Matters and Its Critics Don’t

Critiques of AIPAC that predict the end of the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus in Congress and the nation are old hat. After the Walt-Mearsheimer Israel Lobby smear campaign and the subsequent media offensive seeking to prop up the left-wing J Street alternative, one would have thought the well had run dry in this genre. But the editors at The New Yorker thought otherwise and commissioned Connie Bruck to rehash some of the same tired material about an out-of-touch Jewish establishment in service to an extremist Israeli government in a lengthy new article. But the bad timing of the publication of the piece illustrates exactly why Bruck’s thesis about AIPAC’s loss of influence is wrong.

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Critiques of AIPAC that predict the end of the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus in Congress and the nation are old hat. After the Walt-Mearsheimer Israel Lobby smear campaign and the subsequent media offensive seeking to prop up the left-wing J Street alternative, one would have thought the well had run dry in this genre. But the editors at The New Yorker thought otherwise and commissioned Connie Bruck to rehash some of the same tired material about an out-of-touch Jewish establishment in service to an extremist Israeli government in a lengthy new article. But the bad timing of the publication of the piece illustrates exactly why Bruck’s thesis about AIPAC’s loss of influence is wrong.

The pro-Israel lobby has had its ups and downs and as Bruck’s article, which devotes a great deal of space to the history of the organization, demonstrates. The problems generally occur when Israel’s friends run into confrontations with sitting presidents and those stories always end the same way. Whether it was Ronald Reagan and his decision to sell AWACS radar planes to Saudi Arabia or Barack Obama’s attempts to head off plans for tough sanctions on Iran, no matter how much support AIPAC can amass on Capitol Hill, no lobbying group can beat the occupant of the mansion at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue if they go all in on a specific issue.

But even an attempt to write a critical history of AIPAC must acknowledge that it has helped forge a U.S.-Israel alliance whose enduring strength transcends party loyalties as well as the changing names of presidents and cabinet secretaries. As Bruck is forced to acknowledge in the lede of her piece, this summer’s congressional action to give Israel more funding for its Iron Dome missile defense system in the midst of the ongoing war in Gaza was a triumph for the lobby. It as also a timely rebuke from the leadership of both congressional caucuses to an Obama administration that had gone out of its way to try and delay the delivery of ammunition supplies to the Israel Defense Forces as part of its strategy to pressure the Jewish state into halting its counterattack on Hamas in Gaza and agreeing to unsatisfactory cease-fire terms. That two bitter foes like Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell who normally couldn’t agree to back a resolution saying the sky was blue would unite on behalf of Israel in this manner, with the Senate agreeing to delay its summer recess in order to get the measure passed, shows that AIPAC’s clout is undiminished. The fact that this is so despite the fact that, for all of its reputation as the most powerful lobby in Washington, AIPAC hasn’t nearly the money or the influence of other lobbies such as that of the oil or pharmaceutical industries only makes their achievement even more amazing.

But Bruck’s main point in a piece where she tries hard to work in quotes from the organization’s critics is not so much as to try and make a weak case about it losing ground on Capitol Hill. Rather it is to claim that AIPAC is out of touch with liberal American Jews who are increasingly distancing themselves from the Jewish state and who view Israel’s center-right government with distaste.

This is the same argument put forward over and over again by people like author Peter Beinart, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, and was rehashed in the same newspaper on Sunday in another lengthy rant by British analyst Antony Lerman. They believe Israel’s refusal to make peace and insistence on occupation and rough treatment of the Palestinians disgusts most liberal Jews in the Diaspora, especially the youth that has grown up in an era in which the Jewish state is seen as a regional superpower rather than as the one small, besieged nation in the midst of Arab enemies determined to destroy it.

But the problem with this argument is that no matter how many times liberal critics of Israel tell us how disillusioned they are with the reality of a Jewish state at war, they invariably neglect, as did Lerman and Bruck, to discuss why it is that the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews see things differently. The point is, no matter how unsatisfactory the status quo may seem to most Israelis, unlike their Diaspora critics, they have been paying attention to events in the Middle East during the last 20 years since the Oslo Accords ushered in an era of peace negotiations. They know that Israel has repeatedly offered the Palestinian Authority peace deals that would have given them an independent Palestinian state in virtually all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem and that it has been turned down flat every time.

Rather than Israel needing to finally take risks for peace, as liberal critics keep insisting, the Jewish state has done so repeatedly. It brought Yasir Arafat and the PLO back into the territories and empowered them and rather than trading land for peace, it got the terrorism and horror of the second intifada. It withdrew every last soldier, settler, and settlement from Gaza in 2005 and instead of creating space for a productive and peaceful Palestinian state, it got a Hamas-run Islamist state that has rained down thousands of rockets on Israeli cities and used international aid funds and materials to build tunnels to facilitate terrorism.

This cruel reality has destroyed the once dominant left-wing Israeli political parties, but American liberals haven’t paid much attention to it or anything the Palestinians do or say. This is especially instructive this summer as Hamas launched a terror war that illustrated even for those not paying close attention that when it says it wants to end the “occupation,” it is not discussing the future of the West Bank but reasserting its goal to eradicate Israel and slaughter and/or evict its Jewish population.

It is true that American Jewry is changing in ways that may eventually cripple its ability to be a coherent force on behalf of Israel as well as its other vital interests. But, contrary to the liberal critics, that has little to do with the policies of Israeli governments and everything to do with statistics about assimilation and intermarriage that speak to a demographic collapse of non-Orthodox Jewry.

That’s a serious problem as is the ongoing tension with an Obama administration whose barely concealed hostility to the Netanyahu government is making mischief on several fronts, including negotiations for a nuclear deal with Iran that seems headed toward appeasement of the ayatollahs rather than a fulfillment of the president’s campaign pledges to prevent Tehran from acquiring a weapon.

But it doesn’t point toward the irrelevance of AIPAC, let alone the ascendance of J Street, its left-wing rival that has gained virtually no ground on Capitol Hill or anywhere else during an administration that should have been their ally.

AIPAC counts because it is connected to the reality of a Middle East where Israel remains the sole democracy and a vital American ally while the Palestinians continue to embrace terror and reject peace. So long as that is the case, Congress and the overwhelming majority of the American people will remain firmly on Israel’s side and, by extension, AIPAC. Though we should expect that its critics will continue to carp away on the sidelines and predict its doom, so long as they ignore what the Palestinians do or say, they will remain irrelevant or sink into the same kind of conspiratorial anti-Semitism that sank Walt and Mearsheimer.

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Parsing Paul’s ‘Evolution’ on Aid to Israel

Has Senator Rand Paul’s “evolution” on support for Israel and aid to the Jewish state gone far enough? That’s the question the pro-Israel community is asking these days as the 2016 Republican presidential contender attempts to navigate a changed foreign-policy environment in the wake of recent events in the Middle East. But while some credible voices think he should be given credit for moving closer to Israel, skeptics about both his position shifts as well as his ability to bring vast numbers of young voters to his party still have the better argument.

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Has Senator Rand Paul’s “evolution” on support for Israel and aid to the Jewish state gone far enough? That’s the question the pro-Israel community is asking these days as the 2016 Republican presidential contender attempts to navigate a changed foreign-policy environment in the wake of recent events in the Middle East. But while some credible voices think he should be given credit for moving closer to Israel, skeptics about both his position shifts as well as his ability to bring vast numbers of young voters to his party still have the better argument.

One voice raised on behalf of giving Paul a chance to prove himself is Abby W. Shachter, the author of Acculturated, the indispensable cultural blog, who writes in the Pittsburgh Tribune that both left- and right-wing critics of Paul on Israel are mistaken. While acknowledging the doubts about Paul’s sincerity about being a friend of Israel, she thinks friends of Israel shouldn’t consider his longstanding opposition to foreign aid a disqualifying factor. As Shachter notes, his position on aid to Israel has evolved since he began public life as a supporter of his extremist libertarian father’s presidential candidacies. Paul now claims he’s never really advocated ending assistance to Israel and says that even if all foreign aid is eliminated, Israel should be last on the list to be cut and even voted this summer for additional funding for the Iron Dome missile defense system that has saved countless lives from death at the hands of Hamas missiles.

Even more significantly, the recent controversy over President Obama’s willingness to use aid as a lever to pressure Israel may make Paul’s position on the question more defensible. Many Israelis believe the president’s decision to halt ammunition sales and transfers to Israel at the height of the fighting in Gaza so as to force the Jewish state to buckle to his demands about a cease-fire should force their country to ponder whether the price of this aid is too high in terms of their independence and security. If so, then maybe Paul’s position should be regarded as actually one that is helping Israel rather than a threat to its well-being.

Shachter goes even further and cautions conservative friends of Israel to think long and hard about labeling the libertarian senator as a foe of the Jewish state. She believes his ability to bring more young voters to the GOP has caused Democrats to fear him more than other Republicans. If Paul is spurned, she fears Republicans will rue the day they repelled the youth/libertarian voters that support the Kentucky senator, especially if they back libertarian or fringe candidates in November 2016.

But I’m afraid Shachter is giving Paul too much credit for both his “evolution” on the Middle East and his ability to help Republicans win in 2016.

Let’s first understand that Paul’s attempt to spin his record on Israel is blatantly insincere. If the senator has moved far closer to mainstream views on Israel since his presidential ambitions became manifest, that also illustrates just how far he has had to come from his starting point as a supporter of his father’s hostile attitude toward the Jewish state and the need for a strong American position on the Middle East. While he never explicitly singled out Israel for aid cutoffs, it’s also true that he has always opposed any assistance, a position that he still maintains to a large degree.

It is also true that many friends of Israel are rethinking the value of aid since Obama has used the assistance to pressure Israel to adopt policies that are against its interests. Paul is right when he says Israel would be better off if it were not dependent on the United States for military aid. But the problem is that even after the disheartening spectacle of Washington betraying its sole democratic ally in the Middle East in this manner, Israel doesn’t really have an alternative to this aid, no matter how many strings come with it.

The plain fact is that while Israel has a thriving arms industry of its own, if it is to maintain its qualitative edge over its Arab and Muslim foes, it’s going to need continued help from the United States. Without U.S. funding (started under the George W. Bush administration and continued under Obama), the Iron Dome system would not have been deployed as quickly or in the numbers needed to stop Hamas’s rocket offensive this year. Iron Dome might be the most prominent example of the utility of U.S. military assistance, but it is not the only one. Like it or not, Israel needs U.S. weapons and ammunition, especially when it is forced into shooting wars where resupply of stocks becomes necessary. Seen in that context, Paul’s rhetoric about aid cutoffs being to Israel’s benefit is beside the point, if not completely insincere.

Nor does Paul’s opposition to aid make sense even from a strictly American viewpoint. The U.S. has always gained nearly as much from security cooperation with Israel as the recipients. The U.S. not only benefits from Israeli technology and intelligence but the money is almost entirely spent in the United States. The assistance given is as much aid to the U.S. arms industry as it is to Israel.

As for Paul’s ability to bring in hordes of youthful libertarians who can tip the balance in 2016, that may be more of a myth than anything else. As Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog noted earlier this week, polls give us no evidence of any potential for such a massive swing vote. Young liberals may like Paul’s foreign policy, but not much else about the libertarian. But that shouldn’t recommend him to Republicans because the only reason they do like him is that his views are actually to the left of President Obama’s generally weak posture on foreign and defense issues. Even so, there is little evidence that liberals will back a conservative libertarian for president. Nor is it likely that any defection of libertarians, who have been hostile to every GOP presidential nominee for a generation, would be enough to cost Republicans the presidency.

Thus, while Paul should be encouraged to continue to evolve, his position on Israel is still unsatisfactory. More to the point, his position on aid reflects an even greater desire for an American retreat from the Middle East than that of Obama. In the unlikely event that his views truly change, pro-Israel conservatives should give him a chance. Until then, they would do well to seek an alternative that will both support Israel and have a better chance of being elected president.

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Why Is Hamas Still Shooting?

Earlier today and not long after Israel had agreed to extend the temporary cease-fire that existed in Gaza, a new barrage of rockets was fired from the Hamas-run strip into Israel. Hamas’s latest rupture of a cease-fire caused Israel to pull its negotiators out of the talks in Cairo where Egyptian and American interlocutors have attempted to craft a compromise solution that would allow an agreement to end the shooting. But before the U.S. starts pressuring Israel to send its diplomats back to the table, Americans should realize that the reason why Hamas is still firing missiles has not a little to do with their expectations about the international reaction to their behavior that have been confirmed by the Obama administration.

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Earlier today and not long after Israel had agreed to extend the temporary cease-fire that existed in Gaza, a new barrage of rockets was fired from the Hamas-run strip into Israel. Hamas’s latest rupture of a cease-fire caused Israel to pull its negotiators out of the talks in Cairo where Egyptian and American interlocutors have attempted to craft a compromise solution that would allow an agreement to end the shooting. But before the U.S. starts pressuring Israel to send its diplomats back to the table, Americans should realize that the reason why Hamas is still firing missiles has not a little to do with their expectations about the international reaction to their behavior that have been confirmed by the Obama administration.

Like the thousands launched in the last month as the latest fighting raged, those fired today were either shot down by Iron Dome or exploded harmlessly in empty fields. But the massive nature of this provocation makes it clear that the rockets were not the act of isolated or rogue groups in Gaza but a concerted effort by Hamas to pressure both Israel and the other parties to the talks to give in to their demands to lift the blockade of the strip without the Islamists agreeing to any real limits on their ability to re-arm.

Some observers, like reporters from the New York Times, think the back and forth between Hamas and Israel is some kind of pantomime show with no real purpose. As the Times piece noted, both sides know they won’t get what they want in the talks. But it needs to be understood that so long as Hamas believes the international community will be so concerned about the plight of the people of Gaza–whose lives have been devastated by the war the terror group launched–that they will eventually be able to corner the Israelis and force them and the Egyptians to loosen the blockade, the violence will continue.

The willingness of Hamas to keep firing despite their complete military defeat at the hands of the Israelis illustrates a key point about the asymmetrical warfare in which the two sides have been engaged.

Hamas rocket barrages have been a fiasco as almost none of the thousands of rockets fired have found their targets. Their enormous investment in building dozens of tunnels aimed at facilitating cross-border terror attacks has been thrown away. Indeed, their decision to launch an ill-timed war this summer not only undid years of work before the tunnels could be exploited, it also led to their planning for a coup in the West Bank against Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to be discovered in advance of that plot being set in motion.

And yet the reality that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must face is that despite the victories won by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system and the Israel Defense Forces’ successful incursion into Gaza, Hamas is not only undeterred from launching more rockets; it also doesn’t consider itself to have been defeated.

By understandably halting that offensive without toppling Hamas because of the great cost such a battle would exact from his country, Netanyahu has tacitly accepted that this last month would not be the last battle fought with Hamas. But the question before Israel is not whether Netanyahu will order an all-out offensive designed to rid the strip of its Hamas tyrants once and for all. That decision has already been made and Netanyahu has already made clear that Israel won’t or can’t pay such a price in blood and international pressure that a re-occupation of the strip would entail.

Instead, the question yet to be answered is whether international pressure—and in particular pressure from the United States—will force the Israelis to allow a loosening of the blockade so as to help Gaza rebuild and Hamas to re-arm. By keeping the rocket barrages going even though it knows that they will do little or no damage to Israel, Hamas is counting on that pressure being increased. More rockets will force more Israeli counter-strikes and those will, without doubt, worsen the situation of the Palestinians in Gaza and therefore increase the agitation going on around the globe against Israel’s measures of self-defense.

That is why if the Obama administration is serious about crafting a cease-fire that means anything, it must signal to Hamas that it must abandon its hopes for a political victory in Cairo that will overshadow its military defeat. Yet while still insisting that it disdains Hamas, the administration’s determination to pick fights with Israel and to force it to back down on demands for the demilitarization of the strip have unintended consequences. By pushing for Israel to halt the fighting and for it to give in to some of Hamas’s demands, the U.S. has once again set in motion a series of events that will only lead to more violence.

Netanyahu is determined not to unnecessarily exacerbate the relationship with the U.S. and President Obama’s brutal attempts to force it to stop fighting by halting weapon shipments have reduced Israel’s room to maneuver. But he should resist pressure to return to Cairo. As bad as Hamas’s intermittent missile barrages may be, agreeing to a formal cease-fire that would open up the floodgates for the resupply of the group’s arsenal via shipments from Iran would be far worse. Hamas is still firing in no small part to convince Obama to crack down even harder on Israel. The president should refuse to play along. But if he does, Israel must not agree to a deal that will make the next round of fighting with Hamas just as bad, if not worse, than the last one.

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What Message Is Obama Sending to Israel?

Last week, the Wall Street Journal dropped a bombshell by reporting that the U.S. had withheld a shipment of Hellfire missiles from Israel during wartime and that the Obama administration “tightened its control on arms transfers to Israel.” In response, I wrote that the administration could no longer resort to its favorite defense on Israel: that no matter how poorly President Obama and his appointees treated Israel in the diplomatic arena, at least he had Israel’s back on security.

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Last week, the Wall Street Journal dropped a bombshell by reporting that the U.S. had withheld a shipment of Hellfire missiles from Israel during wartime and that the Obama administration “tightened its control on arms transfers to Israel.” In response, I wrote that the administration could no longer resort to its favorite defense on Israel: that no matter how poorly President Obama and his appointees treated Israel in the diplomatic arena, at least he had Israel’s back on security.

Yesterday Shmuel Rosner wrote a very smart response. He disagrees with me on how much of a lesson we can draw from this one incident, but has his own incisive take on it. I think it’s worth clarifying part of my original point and also drawing attention to Rosner’s own analysis of the dustup, which has important implications.

I wrote that “now we know that the president is not fully committed to Israel’s security.” Rosner quotes that line and then writes: “a halt of one, or even five, shipments of arms, when Israel can clearly do without them for now, is not yet a clear statement of carelessness regarding Israel’s security.”

That’s true, but I didn’t write that the president cares nothing for Israel’s security; I wrote that he’s “not fully committed to Israel’s security.” I think that’s an important distinction. And the reason I wrote that is not just about stopping one (“or even five”) arms shipments, but the key point that the resupply process has generally been on autopilot and takes place below Obama’s pay grade.

It’s not as though Obama were transferring all that weaponry to Israel and then decided to hold one shipment to apply pressure to Prime Minister Netanyahu. It’s that, if the Journal story has it right, Obama was unaware of the arms transfers in that program, and when he became aware he put a stop to one shipment and the fast-track process and took a key component of U.S.-Israel mutual defense off of autopilot. While Israel was at war, no less.

In other words, Obama deserves less credit than he’s received for supporting Israel’s security over the last six years, not that Obama has suddenly changed course (though that’s true in a way too).

But Rosner’s conclusion is worth contemplating as well. He writes:

But I do see something else that is quite disturbing: Obama no longer cares if people say that he doesn’t care about Israel’s security.

Let me explain: for six years it was important for the administration to separate “security relations” from “diplomatic relations”, because the separation enabled it to keep wrapping itself in a ‘supportive of Israel’ garment even as it was having bitter fights with the Israeli government. When relations were very tense, the pretense of them being still very strong was important for the Obama administration to maintain. Of course, part of it is because it is true: the relations are still strong. The US and Israel have ties strong enough to sustain a period of tension between the two governments. But there were also other reasons for the Obama team to insist on the viability of the “security” relations. Possibly, some of this was for political reasons – Obama did not wish to pick a fight with political supporters over Israel. And some of it probably had psychological motivations – it enabled people within the administration that are basically supportive of Israel to compartmentalize their own feelings about the policies of the administration in which they serve.

Enter the latest report, which ruins it for Obama, or at least significantly damages it. Suddenly, the Obama administration decided to send a blow in the one area that was supposedly a no-entry-zone.

If Obama no longer cares to be seen as supportive of Israel, Rosner writes, then that would be “a change that is much more significant than one shipment of Hellfire missiles.”

There have been a lot of jokes about the president already enjoying his retirement, but the kernel of truth at the center of them has been his disregard for pretending he cares about any number of issues. He’s disengaged and, frankly, appears overwhelmed by the task at hand.

But he’s still president, and he’s still the most visible representative of his party. The Democrats already have an “Israel problem,” in that the base of the party continues their own reassessment of the special relationship. Obama only reinforces that at a time when Israeli civilians are being forced into bomb shelters.

And it matters for another reason, and this is a point on which Rosner and I agree. American diplomatic support for Israel cannot so easily be separated from support for Israel’s security. Diplomatic pressure from the U.S. can attempt to force Israel’s government to take positions that weaken its security, regardless of its supply of arms and ammunition.

Israel’s enemies react according to its perceived strength, and that in turn relies on the fairly significant factor of whether the Jewish state has the world’s only superpower standing behind it. Obama is quite aware of the impression he’s giving, and it will almost certainly have real-world consequences.

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Israel Should Ignore Obama’s Tantrum

Last month as the fighting raged in Gaza, news about the United States resupplying the ammunition stocks of the Israel Defense Forces balanced other, more troubling stories about arguments between the two countries over diplomacy. But it turns out the arguments between the Obama administration and the Israelis were even angrier than we thought. As the Wall Street Journal reports today, the White House has been having a full-fledged temper tantrum over Israel’s unwillingness to take orders from Washington and doesn’t care who knows it. But the best advice friends of Israel can give Prime Minister Netanyahu is to stick to his positions despite the insults being flung in his direction.

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Last month as the fighting raged in Gaza, news about the United States resupplying the ammunition stocks of the Israel Defense Forces balanced other, more troubling stories about arguments between the two countries over diplomacy. But it turns out the arguments between the Obama administration and the Israelis were even angrier than we thought. As the Wall Street Journal reports today, the White House has been having a full-fledged temper tantrum over Israel’s unwillingness to take orders from Washington and doesn’t care who knows it. But the best advice friends of Israel can give Prime Minister Netanyahu is to stick to his positions despite the insults being flung in his direction.

The article, which appears to be based on leaks from high-ranking U.S. officials, revolves around the notion that the administration is furious with Israel. The anger emanating from the White House is, at its core, the function of policy differences about the peace process. It also revolves around Israel’s decision to attempt to reduce Hamas’s arsenal rather than merely shoot down the rockets aimed at its cities. But what really seems to have gotten the president’s goat is the ease with which Jerusalem has been able to circumvent his desire to pressure it to make concessions via the strong support of Congress and the close ties that have been established between Israel’s defense establishment and the Pentagon.

As Seth noted earlier, rather than speeding the necessary ammunition supplies to the IDF, the administration was doing the opposite. But the ammunition transfers were just the last straw for a White House that regards Israel’s government and the wall-to-wall bipartisan pro-Israel consensus that backs it up as a source of unending frustration.

It bears remembering that this administration came into office in January 2009 determined to create more daylight between the positions of the two countries, and that’s exactly what it did. Obama picked pointless fights with Netanyahu over settlements and Jerusalem throughout his first term, culminating in a calculated ambush of the prime minister on a trip to Washington in May 2011 when the president sought to impose the 1967 lines as the starting point for future peace talks. But Netanyahu, who had sought to downplay differences until that point, was having none of it and made clear his resistance. Instead of humiliating the Israeli, Obama was forced to watch as Netanyahu was endlessly cheered before a joint meeting of Congress as if he was Winston Churchill visiting the U.S. during World War Two.

That might have led to a further escalation of the fight between the two governments, but the president’s looming reelection campaign intervened. What followed instead was an administration charm offensive aimed at pro-Israel voters in which all was seemingly forgotten and forgiven even if anger still lingered beneath the surface.

Those tensions have now resurfaced in Obama’s second term. The trigger for much of it was Secretary of State John Kerry’s decision to waste much of the last year on an effort to revive peace talks with the Palestinians that no one with any sense thought had a chance of success. Predictably, his failure (which was unfairly blamed by both the secretary and the president on Israel rather than on a Palestinian Authority that remains unable and/or unwilling to make peace) exacerbated the situation and led, albeit indirectly, to this summer’s fighting. Yet rather than learn from this mistake, the administration’s reaction to Gaza has been mostly motivated by pique against the Israelis and an incoherent impulse to frustrate Netanyahu.

But now that the dust appears to have settled in Gaza at least for the moment, where does that leave U.S.-Israel relations? It is true, as John noted earlier, that the alliance seems to have sunk to a point that is roughly comparable to that experienced during the administration of the elder George Bush. Administration officials are openly saying that Netanyahu doesn’t know his place and making implicit threats of retaliation.

But, as was the case in 2011, it’s not clear that Obama and his minions in the West Wing can do anything but complain about Netanyahu to their friends in the press. But the Journal story highlights an important fact. No matter how angry Obama may be about Netanyahu’s refusal to do his bidding and make concessions that make even less sense today than they did a few years ago, there are limits as to how far he can go and what he may do to take revenge for this.

The thing that is driving Obama crazy is not so much Netanyahu’s willingness to say no to him but the fact that Congress and most Americans seem to think there is nothing wrong with it. The president may be, as Aaron David Miller famously said, someone who is “not in love with the idea of Israel” as his recent predecessors have been. But the alliance he inherited from George W. Bush and Bill Clinton is one that is so strong and so deeply entrenched within the U.S. political and defense establishments that there isn’t all that much he can’t do about it.

Try as he might, Obama can’t persuade any Israeli government to endanger its people by repeating the Gaza experiment in the West Bank. Nor will he persuade them to refrain from hitting Hamas hard and opposing negotiations that further empower it. Netanyahu has a relatively united Israeli nation behind him that rightly distrusts Obama. He also can count on the support of a bipartisan consensus in Congress that sees no reason to back an increasingly unpopular and ineffective lame duck president against the country’s only democratic ally in the Middle East.

This administration can still undermine the alliance and America’s own interests by perpetuating this personal feud with the prime minister and exacerbating it by further appeasement of Iran in the nuclear talks. But if Obama couldn’t break Netanyahu in his first term, he won’t do so now. As difficult as it may be to ignore the brickbats flying from Washington, the Israelis can stand their ground against this president sure in the knowledge that most Americans back them and that the next occupant of the Oval Office, whether a Democrat or a Republican, is likely to be far more supportive of this special alliance that Obama disdains.

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What Does It Mean to Support Israel?

Joe Scarborough, the host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe Program, is pretty good at getting publicity even if his stunts or the silly talk about the former congressman running for president hasn’t helped his show’s or his network’s sinking ratings. But Scarborough’s antics this week do give us an excuse to puncture some myths about what it means to be pro-Israel.

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Joe Scarborough, the host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe Program, is pretty good at getting publicity even if his stunts or the silly talk about the former congressman running for president hasn’t helped his show’s or his network’s sinking ratings. But Scarborough’s antics this week do give us an excuse to puncture some myths about what it means to be pro-Israel.

Scarborough has been tearing into Israel all week for its tactics during its counter-terrorist operations in Gaza. According to Scarborough, the increasing toll of Palestinian casualties was proof that what Israel was doing was damaging to its cause. But, as is his usual practice, as the week went on, he raised the temperature on his rhetoric saying yesterday that what Israel was doing was “asinine.” When conservatives and others roundly criticized him for these denunciations, he again upped the ante today by claiming that those who didn’t agree with him were “simpleminded” and that he knew better than anyone else what it meant to be a friend of Israel.

As Politico reported:

“The prolonged killing of children and women in Palestinian territories will only serve to weaken Israel and strengthen Hamas,” he said.

Scarborough concluded by saying that U.S. supporters of Israel should not necessarily endorse all its actions. “Blindly supporting Israel and Israeli politicians — when their actions may action be strengthening their enemies and our enemies, like Hamas — is no way to show your support and no way to show your friendship,” he said.

Scarborough began each of his rants about Israel this week by claiming that everyone knew that he was always a great champion of Israel. We’ll take that assertion at face value, but whatever help the TV personality gave the pro-Israel cause during his brief and erratic congressional career doesn’t give him the right to lecture the rest of us or Israel’s government or its people as to what is in their best interests.

The argument that the gruesome pictures of Palestinian casualties don’t help Israel isn’t terribly controversial. But to claim, as Scarborough does, that these pictures should dictate a halt to military operations against Hamas terrorists, doesn’t necessarily follow.

Ironically, Scarborough’s interpretation of friendship for Israel seems to fall under the theory most often promoted by left-wing critics of the Jewish state, not its supporters. Namely, that the best way to be a friend of Israel is to criticize it and to try and prevent it from defending itself or refusing to take actions that would endanger its security.

The problem with Scarborough’s position is that those, like him, who say they are friends of Israel and support its right of self-defense and that they condemn Hamas but then go on to say that Israel should not resist Hamas terrorism or seek to take out rocket launchers or terrorist tunnels are contradicting themselves.

Responsibility for the casualties in Gaza belongs to Hamas and Hamas alone. The context of this debate is a situation in which Hamas uses Palestinian civilians as human shields, shelters its leaders, fighters, and munitions in United Nations schools and facilities as well as mosques and hospitals. To assert that Israel is forbidden from firing on any target where a civilian might be is to grant Hamas complete impunity.

Its fighters have not only rained down many rockets on their own people but also deployed huge numbers of IED explosives that have demolished more than a thousand buildings in Gaza.

While the deaths of those caught in the crossfire are tragic and regrettable, those inclined to castigate Israeli forces for not doing enough to prevent the killings should remember that U.S. soldiers conducting anti-terror operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan face the same dilemmas and could be criticized in the same manner. Would Scarborough call those efforts “asinine” or is it only Palestinians that may not be hurt and Israelis who must show restraint? Does he seriously believe that Americans, who went to the other side of the world to take out the forces that supported the 9/11 attacks in Afghanistan to protect their homeland, can’t understand why Israelis refuse to let a terrorist state next door to operate with impunity?

More to the point, it should be understood that being a friend ought to mandate understanding and support in tough times, not just in good times when seeking to raise money from pro-Israel donors. Those who are rightly calling for the U.S. to support the effort to take out Hamas are not being blind. Rather it is those like Scarborough, who, despite the lip service they pay to Israel’s security, refuse to draw the logical conclusions from events that lack comprehension of what is going on.

If Scarborough wants to be a friend of Israel he might think about paying attention to the enormous shift in public opinion with the Jewish state. As Jeffrey Goldberg noted today in the Atlantic, even Israeli left-wingers who are fierce critics of Netanyahu, like novelist Amos Oz, aren’t buying into the mindset of those who oppose the Gaza operation. The normally fractious Israeli public is more united than it has ever been in its support for the effort to disarm Hamas. Anyone who is truly supportive of Israel or desirous of saving Palestinian lives should be speaking out against Hamas and calling for its defeat, not bashing the Israelis for defending their country.

Scarborough can think and speak as he likes. But if he or anyone else believes Israel should pull its punches in its efforts to take out those who launch rockets at their cities or build tunnels to commit terrorist atrocities, they are engaging in a dangerous brand of moral relativism. If so, they should try a little honesty and drop the pose of a friend of the Jewish state.

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