In a press release on May 12, House Republican Leader John Boehner said this:
Israel is a critical American ally and a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, not a ‘constant sore’ as Barack Obama claims. Obama’s latest remark, and his commitment to ‘opening a dialogue’ with sponsors of terrorism, echoes past statements by Jimmy Carter who once called Israel an ‘apartheid state.’ It’s another sign that Obama is part of the broken Washington Americans are rejecting.
In fact, Obama claimed no such thing, as a check of his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic demonstrates. Here’s the relevant passage:
JG: What do you make of Jimmy Carter’s suggestion that Israel resembles an apartheid state?
BO: I strongly reject the characterization. Israel is a vibrant democracy, the only one in the Middle East, and there’s no doubt that Israel and the Palestinians have tough issues to work out to get to the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security, but injecting a term like apartheid into the discussion doesn’t advance that goal. It’s emotionally loaded, historically inaccurate, and it’s not what I believe.
JG: If you become President, will you denounce settlements publicly?
BO: What I will say is what I’ve said previously. Settlements at this juncture are not helpful. Look, my interest is in solving this problem not only for Israel but for the United States.
JG: Do you think that Israel is a drag on America’s reputation overseas?
BO: No, no, no. But what I think is that this constant wound, that this constant sore, does infect all of our foreign policy. The lack of a resolution to this problem provides an excuse for anti-American militant jihadists to engage in inexcusable actions, and so we have a national-security interest in solving this, and I also believe that Israel has a security interest in solving this because I believe that the status quo is unsustainable.
In the full interview, Obama went out of his way to praise Israel several different times, in several different ways, and often eloquently. In fact, he answers “no, no, no” when asked if Israel is a “drag on America’s reputation overseas.” What Obama seems to be referring to as a “constant wound” and “constant sore” which “infect[s] all of our foreign policy” is, as best as I can tell, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (or, perhaps, Israel’s settlement policies more narrowly).
It’s perfectly acceptable if people want to criticize Obama for his comments. One could, for example, dispute Obama’s assertion that the Israeli-Palestinian issue “infect[s] all of our foreign policy.” There is a widespread view among many foreign policy elites that all the problems of the Middle East can be traced to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I believe that proposition is false and belied by history (see the Iran-Iraq war, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, and Syria’s subjugation of Lebanon for starters).
In addition, jihadists don’t need the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an excuse to kill Americans. Osama bin Laden’s fatwas, issued in the late 1990’s, were at least as concerned with our presence in Mecca and Medina and our policies toward Iraq as our policies toward Israel. Jihadists will certainly use our support for Israel as an excuse to attack us, but our mere existence will also do. That said, there are more than enough legitimate grounds on which to criticize Obama. It’s not necessary, and it’s wrong and dishonest, to tether him to claims he simply did not make. John Boehner should correct the record.