As I noted earlier, President Obama’s pitch for the Jewish vote has more to do with his appeal to knee-jerk liberalism on a host of non-Jewish issues than it does with concern for Israel’s welfare. Nevertheless, it is a misnomer to think liberal Jews such as those who cheered Obama Friday at the Reform biennial, don’t care about the Jewish state.
However, their willingness to accept Obama’s claims on the topic says more about their desire not to turn on a Democrat than it says about his virtues. One must ignore much of what has transpired in the last three years in order to believe the president’s claims.
The main element of Obama’s claim is that he has done more for Israel’s security than any of his predecessors. It is true he has done nothing to interfere with the security alliance that has grown since it was initiated during the Reagan administration. Military aid has flowed in large amounts, and for that Obama deserves some credit. But to speak, as he does, as if this relationship was invented by him, is absurd. On Friday, he alluded, as his defenders often do, to the Iron Dome missile defense system the two nations have created. But that project was initiated and funded by the Bush administration. The most we can say of Obama’s involvement is that he chose not to prevent it from being deployed.
Obama also bragged of making a phone call to ask Egypt’s military government to prevent Israeli diplomats from being slaughtered and also of providing assistance when forest fires beset Israel. These are praiseworthy acts. But, as with his continuance of existing security cooperation, the failure to act would have been far more noteworthy than a routine willingness to help.
But though the president told his Reform listeners not to “let anybody else tell a different story,” his account of his relations with Israel is, to put it mildly, incomplete.
From his first moments in office, Obama set out to distance the United States from Israel. The intention was both to draw a distinction between the closeness of the Bush administration to the Jewish state but also to create a greater bond between the Arab and Islamic world and the United States. President Obama’s June 2009 Cairo speech drew a moral equivalence between the Holocaust and the plight of the Palestinians. This attempt to reach out to Muslims failed miserably, but the one thing he accomplished was to convince the Palestinians they could avoid negotiating with Israel because Obama was willing to fight the Israelis for them.
In his speech, the president noted his frustration with the lack of progress toward peace but failed to acknowledge that he has chosen to vent that anger solely at Israel by picking damaging and unnecessary fights with the Netanyahu government. No president has done more to undermine Israel’s position on Jerusalem. His stance on the 1967 borders was, like his stance on Jerusalem, a precedent setter that tilted the diplomatic field toward the Palestinians. It is this record that has caused Israelis to regard him with less favor than any other American president in a generation.
Just as troubling is another issue he brought up in order to bolster his questionable pro-Israel bona fides: Iran’s nuclear program. Obama told the Reform gathering the following:
We’ve worked painstakingly from the moment I took office with allies and partners, and we have imposed the most comprehensive, the hardest-hitting sanctions that the Iranian regime has ever faced. We haven’t just talked about it, we have done it. And we’re going to keep up the pressure. And that’s why, rest assured, we will take no options off the table. We have been clear.
The problem with this pledge is that it is utterly disingenuous.
Having wasted three years on a feckless attempt to “engage” Iran and failed efforts to get the international community to adopt the “crippling sanctions” that Secretary of State Clinton said must be imposed, Obama is forced to pretend the weak sanctions voted by the United Nations have any meaning. They don’t. Even worse is the fact that these “hard-hitting” sanctions are not being enforced–even by the United States, where the Treasury Department has issued thousands of legal exemptions to allow companies to do business with Iran. And when Congress has sought to impose a meaningful sanction — such as the effort to ban transactions with any entity that works with Iran’s Central Bank – the administration has opposed such efforts and fought to include waivers that will allow the president to shelve enforcement of this measure, too.
Though Obama says he will take “no option” off the table — a veiled reference to the use of force — Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has made it clear that the United States opposes the use of force against Iran and will oppose any effort by Israel to use it either.
The “different story” that must be told about Obama is that he has talked incessantly about stopping Iran but has done nothing to achieve that end. He has spoken of his support for Israel’s security but has done much to undermine its diplomatic position and, sometimes unwittingly, to strengthen that of its enemies.
While it would be an exaggeration to speak of this administration’s record on Israel as that of a determined foe, any objective analysis must acknowledge that he is the least friendly president to Israel since the first President George Bush. The Palestinians and other foes of Israel know this. They are openly hoping he will be even less friendly to the Jewish state during his second term if he gets one. Israelis rightly fear for the alliance in the coming years. The only people who don’t seem to get it are liberal American Jews whose devotion to Obama’s domestic agenda is sufficient to allow them to overlook his faults on Israel.