Rick, your recitation of the applicable history and the apparent lack of objection during the meeting is sobering. After giving it some thought the day after the meeting, at least one group in attendance, the Orthodox Union, put out a rather tough statement. The group expresses appreciation for the invitation but then takes the administration to task in a statement that reads, in part:
The Orthodox Union subscribes to the serious concern, expressed by several participants in the meeting, that the Administration has allowed a perception to develop that the onus for progress toward peace between Israel and Arabs lies with Israel, and also that the U.S. is pressuring Israel to undertake various steps while demanding little of the Palestinians or other Arab governments. We welcome the President’s recognition that this perception gap is problematic and his stated intention to recalibrate his Administration’s actions in the coming weeks to make clear that the U.S. insists that concrete steps – with regard to incitement and other anti-Israel activities – must be taken by the Palestinians and others.
However, while the President’s acknowledgment of this perception gap is encouraging, the Orthodox Union remains deeply troubled by the President’s underlying approach – which is to have the U.S. play an “evenhanded” role. The Orthodox Union asks our President to recognize that there are no moral equivalencies between Israel, which has acted time and again to defend itself while actively seeking peace, and those who reject Israel’s legitimacy and make war against her. We look to the United States to be Israel’s friend in a world of enemies and we support the view, expressed to the President in our meeting, that while allies may of course disagree on specifics, there ought not be significant “daylight” between the United States and Israel that would give the nations’ mutual enemies comfort and encouragement.
It is a shame more groups didn’t express these sentiments to the president; it would have served to educate and persuade him of the misguided and unwise course he has chosen to pursue. The president is trying to pass this all off as a “perception” problem, which is odd for a man who prides himself on his communication skills. To be understood so badly and to have so many take away an unintended message is indeed a failure of public diplomacy.
But let’s be honest here. It is more than perception. The president told those in attendance that he doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel. In fact, he thinks the failure of the Bush administration consisted of, in essence, providing too much support to our ally Israel. Obama is in the “even-handed” business — as he is with so many international questions.
This stance is a departure from past U.S. policy and, at odds with the views propounded by most of the groups in attendance. So what do the others have to say? Do they remain mute? Or do they follow the example of the Orthodox Union and tell the president when he is wrong and when his actions threaten the historic relationship between the U.S. and Israel, and even more importantly, undermine the chances for peace in the Middle East. “Daylight” between the U.S. and Israel is precisely what the Palestinian rejectionists want.