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The Atlantic Interview: Obama Rewrites His Record on Israel

He's damaged the relationship more than any president in Israel's history.

by
Anne Bayefsky

Bio

March 2, 2012 - 11:53 am

On the eve of a meeting between President Obama and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the president has orchestrated the publication of his most revealing interview yet on the state of relations between the two countries. Instead of bolstering his pro-Israel image, however, the interview is proof-positive of his dangerous animus towards the Jewish state and its elected leaders.

The interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg took place earlier this week but was released only today. In it, the president exasperatedly asked:

Why is it that despite me never failing to support Israel on every single problem that they’ve had over the last three years, that there are still questions about that?

To which Goldberg solicitously responded: “That’s a good way to phrase it.” The president replied: “There is no good reason to doubt me on these issues.”

Let me count the ways.

During the interview the president claimed to “have Israel’s back” at the United Nations, among other places. The administration’s actions at the UN allegedly corroborate that his “relationship [with Israel] is very functional and the proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

What digestible meal might that be? The president specified:

When you look at what I’ve done with respect to … fighting back against delegitimization of Israel, whether at the [UN] Human Rights Council, or in front of the General Assembly, or during the Goldstone Report, or after the flare-up involving the flotilla — the truth of the matter is that the relationship has functioned very well.

Actually, the truth is that President Obama has done more to legitimize the delegitimizers of Israel than any other president in the history of the Jewish state.

For instance, one of his opening foreign policy moves was to join — for the first time — the UN Human Rights Council, allowing the full weight of American membership to boost the credibility of this viciously anti-Israel body.

When the president decided to join the Council he knew full well that the body organized every regular session around a permanent agenda of ten items, one directed only to Israel-bashing and another to the remaining (unspecified) 192 UN member states. But the administration claimed that it joined the Council to reform it from the inside during a five-year deadline imposed by the General Assembly. The reform scheme went down in flames last June, and the agenda remained unchanged. What was the president’s response to the ritualized Jew-bashing that carries on unabated in a global forum in the name of human rights? He is now actively seeking a second term on the Council for the United States.

Not once did President Obama make the equal treatment of the Jewish state a condition for remaining on this “human rights” body — notwithstanding that the whole foundation of the UN Charter is the “equal rights of nations large and small.”

At the General Assembly, the president’s speech of 2010 specifically planted in the minds of every listener and fueled a September 2011 date for a “state of Palestine” becoming “a new member of the United Nations.” Moreover, President Obama devoted more than a third of his entire General Assembly statement focusing on what Israel should and should not do, knowing full well that the deadly Arab narrative is that the failure to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict on their terms is the root cause of Islamic fanaticism and violence. In other words, it was the president himself who used his speech in the UN forum as a pressure tactic against the state of Israel.

On the flotilla of Turkish-backed extremists who attempted to violate Israel’s lawful blockade of Hamas-run Gaza, the Obama administration extraordinarily permitted the Security Council to adopt a presidential statement within 24 hours of the event. The statement cast the flotilla participants as humanitarians, was silent on Israel’s legitimate concerns about arms-smuggling, and made no mention of Hamas at all. Without taking any time to ensure the facts were at hand, the Council unanimously agreed to a UN investigation of the Israel Defense Forces which the United States would never have legitimized for American armed forces in similar — or in fact any — circumstances.

And as for Iran, President Obama’s use of the United Nations has moved the country in only one direction — inexorably closer to obtaining nuclear weapons. President Obama was the first U.S. president to preside over a meeting of the UN Security Council in September 2009, and he personally took the opportunity of controlling the Council agenda to tie nuclear non-proliferation together with nuclear disarmament. His move had the predictable effect of setting back non-proliferation efforts by giving Iran one more excuse to delay, while disarming America moved to center stage. The sanctions regime belatedly adopted by the Council has been an incontrovertible failure.

At rock bottom, the president’s interview makes one claim more poisonous to Israel’s welfare than all others. He argues that if Israel uses military force against Iranian nuclear sites, then the timeline for any negative consequences will start with Israel — not Iran. Obama urges Netanyahu to think about “the profound costs of any military action,” places the focus on “potential unintended consequences” of Israel’s actions, and describes the move as libel to be a “distraction in which Iran suddenly can portray itself as the victim.”

This is not the statement of an ally at a turning point in world history, with the most dangerous country on Earth on the verge of acquiring the world’s most dangerous weapon. Israel’s actions would be taken in self-defense. They would not be the starting point. Israel and the civilized world, in the crosshairs of this leading state sponsor of terrorism and its genocidal ambitions, are the real victims and any claim to the contrary would be a lie — not a distraction. To suggest that Israel will be responsible for the economic costs of seriously slowing or ending Iran’s race towards nuclear weapons places the shoe exactly on the wrong foot, and diminishes the much higher cost of Iranian victory.

The president’s miscalculation on Iran is of epic proportion. He even describes the Iranian leadership to Goldberg this way: “they’re sensitive to the opinions of the people.” The freedom-loving people of Iran who are rotting in Iranian torture chambers are undoubtedly as mortified by this claim as are the people of Israel and its supporters across America. The very unfortunate reality is that Israel may be forced to save America and the civilized world because this commander-in-Chief is AWOL. Israel has America’s back, not the other way around.

In his interview, President Obama worried that Republicans are trying to “drive a wedge … between Barack Obama and a Jewish American vote.” They don’t have to, Mr. President. You can take credit for the mile-wide gulf all yourself.

Anne Bayefsky is director of the Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust at Touro College. She is the author or editor of 12 books and numerous articles in the field of human rights, and a frequent contributor to newspapers in the U.S., Europe, Israel and Canada.
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