This White House likes symbolism. After Barack Obama moved in, one of the first things his staff did was to unceremoniously remove the bronze bust of Winston Churchill that had been in the Oval Office and return it to Great Britain, thus signaling that this president no longer valued the special relationship with the UK, which had been a cornerstone of American diplomacy from the days of FDR to those of George W. Bush. And when Obama finally met with the Dalai Lama last month, the visit was kept low key, with no official welcome and no media allowed to witness the event for fear of offending China. The one picture that was released of the meeting appeared to show the president lecturing the exiled Tibetan so no one might think that a former editor of the Harvard Law Review had anything to learn from a legendary spiritual leader.
But the cold reception of the Dalai Lama now seems like a wild party compared to the way Obama received Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House this week. Oh, I know, Bibi is in the doghouse because we’re all supposed to think that Israel gravely insulted Vice President Joe Biden by allowing the announcement of a housing-project start in an existing Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem to coincide with his recent visit there. But the reason this is such a “big f@!%ing deal,” as the vice president might put it, is not because it was a real insult but because it was an excuse for the administration to renew its war on Netanyahu.
This is not the first president to dislike an Israeli prime minister or even Israel itself. The elder George Bush and his secretary of state, James “f@!% the Jews” Baker despised Yitzhak Shamir. But never has the leader of America’s ally Israel been treated with such open contempt as shown by Obama to Netanyahu. The Israeli’s visit to the White House was closed to the press — with not even one photo released of their encounter. The fact is that Obama didn’t even want his picture taken with Netanyahu. That’s particularly strange since the president has never any qualms about getting snapped next to a wide variety of international leaders on his travels. In yesterday’s press briefing, spokesman Robert Gibbs was quizzed on this startling behavior by Jake Tapper. In response to repeated questions as to why the White House chose to treat a democratically elected head of the government of a close U.S. ally in this manner, Gibbs did not try very hard to pretend that it was anything but an indication of Obama’s dislike for the Israeli and the country he represents. Coming from a president that has spent his time in office making non-stop efforts to reach out to and engage America’s enemies around the world, this open hostility to Israel is breathtaking in its brazenness.
As for the policy fallout of the meetings, the whole point of the get-together was to bludgeon Netanyahu into conceding that Jews may no longer build homes in parts of their capital. Wisely, the prime minister did not give in to this unprecedented demand, which is something that not even the elder Bush and James Baker ever tried to shove down Shamir’s throat. There was no joint statement released after the talks ended but the White House let it be known that they expected the Israelis to make further concessions as an indication of their willingness to build confidence. Pointedly, the Palestinians, who have refused to even negotiate directly with Israel and who refused only a year and a half ago to accept an Israeli offer of an independent state that would have included part of Jerusalem, have not been asked by Obama to make any gestures of their own to enhance the non-existent chances of peace.
This White House’s cold shoulder to Netanyahu may be just an act of symbolism but not even the most shameless Obama apologist can pretend that it was anything but an indication of the president’s hostility. When the first president Bush used the occasion of an AIPAC conference in Washington in 1991 to show his contempt for Israel, even Jewish Republicans were aghast. Many deserted him at the next election — the GOP’s share of the Jewish vote dropped to a record low in 1992. The question for Jewish Democrats and other liberal friends of Israel is whether they are prepared to hold Barack Obama accountable in the same fashion.