Though Barack Obama has been picking fights with the government of the State of Israel since his first day in office, the flip side of that relationship is his desperate desire to convince American Jews he’s the Jewish state’s best friend. That’s been an even tougher sell in the last year, and polls have consistently shown Obama’s support among American Jews declining. But at a fundraiser last night at the home of Jack Rosen, president of the largely defunct American Jewish Congress, Obama was tooting his own horn again, in a way that reflects not only his political agenda but his well-known high opinion of himself:
And as Jack alluded to, this administration — I try not to pat myself too much on the back, but this administration has done more in terms of the security of the state of Israel than any previous administration. And that’s not just our opinion, that’s the opinion of the Israeli government. Whether it’s making sure that our intelligence cooperation is effective, to making sure that we’re able to construct something like an Iron Dome so that we don’t have missiles raining down on Tel Aviv, we have been consistent in insisting that we don’t compromise when it comes to Israel’s security. And that’s not just something I say privately, that’s something that I said in the U.N. General Assembly. And that will continue.
As I wrote in the July issue of COMMENTARY, while Obama has maintained the security cooperation between the two nations that has been established by his predecessors, the idea that a president who has done more to undermine Israel’s position on its capital Jerusalem or to heighten tension over the peace process and territorial issues and has utterly failed to deal with the greatest threat to Israel’s security — Iran — should be patting himself on the back is more than political hyperbole, it is satire.
Let’s remember this is the same president who came into office determined to establish greater distance between the United States and Israel on the assumption that getting tough with the Jews would lead to peace with the Palestinians. Obama’s demands on Israel even exceeded those previously articulated by the Arabs who had never, before he took office, said that peace talks could not proceed without a settlement freeze, let alone a freeze on building in Jerusalem. Obama has picked quarrels with Netanyahu — including attempts to personally humiliate him — about building in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem whose existence had never been protested by any previous presidents, including those known to be less sympathetic to the Jewish state, such as Jimmy Carter or the first George Bush. Nor had any president prior to Obama explicitly stated that negotiations must begin on the basis of the 1949 armistice lines, tilting the diplomatic playing field in favor of the Palestinians.
It is true the security relationship between the two countries has continued to grow in the last three years, and for that, Obama deserves some credit. But it must be pointed out that this alliance is now part of the diplomatic infrastructure that could only be dismantled at great political cost. The Iron Dome project, which Obama bragged about to Rosen and his guests, was started and funded under George W. Bush, not the current administration. Had Obama chosen not to continue these policies — which date back to the Reagan administration — then Congress would have quickly acted to bring him to heel. Maintaining the alliance is praiseworthy, but at this point in time that is the baseline for support for Israel, not something for which Obama should be considered exceptional.
But when we speak of Israel’s security, Obama’s disastrous policies toward Iran and its nuclear threat cannot be forgotten. He began his administration wasting a year on a foolish policy of appeasement of the ayatollahs which he labeled “engagement.” When even the president realized it was a failure, he followed up with two years of feckless diplomacy aimed at creating international sanctions that have been a bust. On Obama’s watch not only has the U.S. failed to match Britain’s record on the issue (they have sanctioned Iran’s Central Bank, a measure Obama has not undertaken), but it has not even enforced the mild sanctions already in place.
Even worse, the United States continues to send Iran signals it will not consider the use of force and it is attempting to stop Israel from striking their nuclear facilities. Though Obama has continued to say he will stop Iran, nothing he has actually done appears to validate those promises.
As for Israel’s government validating Obama’s support, it must be said that despite numerous provocations by the president, Netanyahu and his ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, have been too clever to be goaded into an open feud. They have swallowed Obama’s insults and diplomatic attacks with good grace while continuing to shore up support in Congress. With only one superpower ally, Israel has no choice but to keep its complaints as quiet as possible, especially because Obama might be president for another five years.
But no one, not Netanyahu nor most American Jews, is fooled by Obama’s boasting. Though Jews who are not Obama partisans like Rosen (who once even defended Bill Clinton during the Lewinsky affair on the grounds that silencing criticism of his actions was a Jewish issue) will support him, many understand that this is a president who has a problem with Israel. He can pat himself on the back as much as he likes, but few doubt a second Obama term will be even rougher for Israel than his first.