Many Americans, and particularly Jews, are starting to receive mailings encouraging them to vote for President Barack Obama or donate to his reelection campaign of by arguing that he is pro-Israel. Several readers have asked me to provide them with responses. Here is a brief answer.
These emails and mailings, though designed to look as if they were written by concerned individuals, clearly draw their texts from talking points posted on the Obama reelection site. The arguments are very thin and selective but are presented as if they represent the totality of Obama policy.
The main arguments are:
1. Obama says he likes Israel.
That’s nice, but so what? Of course it is good when he says nice things (by coincidence, no doubt, usually to Jewish audiences), but one can also find a lot of nasty remarks by him, his advisors, and various officials appointed by him. Every president for the last half-century has said similar nice things; not all the presidents put together during this period have said or done so many hostile things. While it is a great exaggeration to say that Obama hates Israel or wants to destroy it, I think it is fair to say that no president (including Jimmy Carter when in office) has been so cold toward Israel and basically failed to understand its nature and interests.
2. Israeli leaders say Obama is great.
Yes, that’s nice, but it’s not what they say in private. I can tell you authoritatively that not a single Israeli leader in any party has a high opinion of Obama with regard to Israel and its interests. But it is their job to lavish praise on America’s president. Their task is not to defeat Obama or to critique him but to get along with him as well as possible in order to protect Israel’s long-term alliance with the United States without sacrificing any of Israel’s vital interests. They’ve done it well. The one moment the truth emerged was when Obama betrayed Israel, on the diplomatic level, by announcing, without consultation, a new policy on peace terms while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was flying to Washington. You think Israeli leaders (and this is not ideological, not a matter of left or right) have a high regard for Obama? Read Netanyahu’s speech to the joint session of Congress.
Perhaps the equation can be summarized as follows: Obama just gave Israeli President Shimon Peres a presidential medal of freedom. He also has just helped give Israel a second Muslim Brotherhood-dominated regime next door and insists that this is a good thing.
3. U.S.-Israel bilateral relations are good especially with regard to military aid.
That’s true, but only a small part of that relates to Obama’s benevolence. Why?
a. Congress supports Israel. There was more pushback against Obama from Democratic members on this issue than on any other, foreign or domestic. Thus, Israel is the only “target” of Obama whose constituency has vocal defenders within his own party that raise the cost of his actions against it, at least during his first term. (Note that last phrase.)
b. The same applies to public opinion, which is strongly pro-Israel. This factor also inhibits Obama, at least during his first term. (Note that last phrase.)
c. Regarding military relations, the U.S. armed forces are generally quite pro-Israel and want these programs. Many of them are based on previous commitments, which Obama merely continues.
An especially important reason why Obama’s administration hasn’t been far more hostile to Israel in practice is that the Arabs and Iran shafted his policy. Remember that Obama offered to support the Palestinians, pressure Israel, and accelerate talks if only the Arab states and Palestinian Authority showed some flexibility. They repeatedly rejected his efforts—refusing even to talk–giving him no opportunity or incentive to press Israel for concessions. Note too, though, that the repeated humiliations handed him by the Arabs never made him criticize them publicly, change his general line, or back Israel more enthusiastically.
The same point applies to Iran. While Obama has intensified sanctions on Iran, he:
- Did so only after a long delay.
- Did less than Congress wanted/
- Exempted in effect China, Russia, and Turkey from observing the sanctions.
Obama has been visibly eager to make a deal with Tehran, even on bad terms. Only Iran’s hard line has prevented some kind of arrangement that favored Iran. Instead, though, Tehran has used Obama’s slowness and desire for some compromise in order to buy time for its nuclear program to progress.