Ron Radosh

Has Obama Betrayed Israel? Two Journalists Weigh In on the Issue

In today’s New York Post , TNR Assistant Editor James Kirchick has written a truly brilliant article on how Barack Obama is betraying Israel. This is a harsh assessment, and Kirchick backs up his analysis with an array of facts. Obama’s policies, he points out, are distinctly different from those he promised during the campaign. Kirchick writes:

Just six months into the new administration…it is becoming increasingly clear that those who harbored suspicions about Obama’s approach to the Middle East had good reason to be worried. A confluence of factors- including his administration’s undue pressure on Israel, a conciliatory approach to authoritarian Muslim regimes, and the baseless linkage of the failed ‘peace process’ to the curtailment of the Iranian nuclear program- point to what could become ‘the greatest disagreement between the two countries in the history of their relationship,’ as Middle East expert Robert Satloff recently told Newsweek.

 The key to the new tilt against Israel is, Kirchick rightfully argues, the decision to make an end to Israeli settlement activity, even normal growth of existing settlements that would after a final peace remain in Israeli territory, the centerpiece of administration policy. He notes that in Obama’s Cairo speech, Israel was the sole country that Obama singled out for direct criticism. Ignored totally were various of what he calls the “degradations and injustices in the Middle East” from various Arab nations. Instead, Obama mentioned only America’s key democratic ally in the region, and only to rebuke it.

Kirchick continues to destroy the argument on behalf of “linkage” between a Palestinian-Israeli agreement and the satisfactory conclusion of other disputed questions in the Middle East. Even after Benjamin Netanyahu uttered the magic words on behalf of a two-state solution in his recent speech, “moderate” Arab leaders including a spokesman for Mahmoud Abbas attacked his speech for destroying the chance for any peace initiative. The truth is that the peace process itself is fraudulent and a waste of time, and that it will remain so as long as Hamas and other Arab terrorist groups remain committed to destruction of Israel and to the murder of Jews.

Secondly, “linkage” is irrelevant because the problems in the Middle East do not exist because of the lack of a Palestinian state. Unless the demonstrations in Iran are successful and the result is a transformation of the theocratic state, it is the current Iranian regime’s move to become a nuclear power that remains the region’s outstanding danger. It would be so even if a real Palestinian state existed and was recognized by Israel.

So Kirchick concludes that “Obama is turning America against Israel,” all on behalf of “false hopes of improved relations with Arab nations and a nuclear-equipped Iran.”

Kirchick also makes a side argument about the decline of support for Israel among American Jews; noting that at the same time most Israelis have told pollsters that they do not find Obama to be pro-Israel. As if to confirm Kirchik, the polar opposite argument about Obama and Israel comes from another influential Jewish journalist, Jacob Weisberg, editor in chief and chairman of The Slate Group.

Indeed, instead of complaining about Obama’s criticisms of Israel and the various policy steps opposed by Kirchick, Weisberg praises the President for being “a friend in need,” as his column is titled in Newsweek, and for being “tough on Bibi.” As he claims: “those presidents regarded as the least friendly to the Jewish state have done it the most good. Its strong allies have proved much less helpful.”

Is Weisberg correct? Let us examine some of the evidence he points to as proof for his case. He singles out for praise the action taken by Secretary of State James Baker in 1991, when he withheld loan guarantees to Israel and told Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to call him when he showed interest in peace. This is the same James Baker who made the infamous statement (which he fails to cite) “F…the Jews. They don’t vote for us anyway.”  He similarly praises Jimmy Carter for threatening to cut off U.S. aid to Israel, without which he thinks there would not have been a Camp David agreement in 1979. Both actions evidently show the positive effect of threatening Israel, because without such threats, clearly Weisberg thinks Israel would never agree to any moves that might result in peace with Arab nations.

As for Israel’s so-called friends, Weisberg argues that Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush all “encouraged Israel’s worst tendencies.”  Putting Clinton in the list comes as a real shocker. After all, it was at the famed lengthy peace conference that his administration offered a generous settlement to Arafat from which the PLO leader walked away. Instead of talking about that- or mentioning the account given by Dennis Ross in his book or by Clinton in his own memoir, he cites the latest book by Aaron David Miller which faults Clinton for not demanding that Israel stop all settlement activity. 

Weisberg also talks about “Israel’s military misjudgments in the West Bank, Lebanon and Gaza.” Somehow, he never gets around to what the Palestinians did once Israel withdrew from Gaza, nor talk about their failure to build a peaceful state and instead to use the area as a staging ground for new and endless rocket attacks on Israel.  And as for proof that Obama is really a friend of Israel, Weisberg cites the now familiar story that “Rahm Emanuel has an Israeli father and once served as a civilian volunteer for the Israeli Army.”

How many times do we have to hear about Rahm Emanuel’s father and Rahm Emanuel’s own service to Israel-a convenient mechanism for ignoring Obama’s actual policy measures and hence falsely assuring pro-Israeli American Jews that Obama has to be pro-Israel, otherwise why would he have hired Emanuel as his chief of staff?  Does Weisberg really think that Emanuel is the man formulating Obama’s Middle East positions? And why does he think that the Cairo speech- the very same speech Kirchick singles out for criticism- in which Obama demanded that Israel stop settlements and enter peace negotiations with the Palestinians based on a two-state solution, is a “gutsy step forward?”

Gutsy? To demand that only Israel take action- knowing that it is the only state in the Middle East that for decades has shown its desire for peace and has shown its willingness to take steps towards real peace- while its Arab and Palestinian neighbors have constantly rejected scores of measures they might have taken that could have led to a real two-state solution and an end to fighting?

While Obama and others seek to assure the mullahs that we will not meddle in their affairs or seek regime change, Weisberg sees no problem in saying that Obama “needs to force either a change in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself or a change in the Knesset.” We should, in other words, favor “regime change” in only one country- our democratic ally in the Middle East. And he evidently sees the danger in the region to be Bibi’s “dangerous fixation on striking military against Iran’s nuclear capability,” and not on the fact that Iran is seeking a nuclear bomb that could destabilize the entire Middle East and lead to Israel’s very destruction.

So he has simple advice. Tell Israel: “enough with the settlements.”  Of course, that means a backlash from conservative pro-Israeli Christians and those “Jews who suspect the president of clandestine Muslim tendencies.” The latter sentence is truly an outrage. What Jews suspect Obama of this? Does James Kirchick? His former boss at TNR Marty Peretz? (who supported and campaigned for Obama, but who is now very critical of his policies.) By noting this bogeyman, Weisberg makes it appear that Jews who are becoming wary of Obama because of his policies are really criticizing him because of irrational racist fears. Weisberg should be ashamed of even writing such a sentence.

And after all this, Weisberg ends his article by noting that every new American president has wanted to broker an Arab-Israeli peace agreement. But, he ends, Obama “should bear in mind that the odds overwhelmingly favor failure.”  And that is the rub. The reason is one we all know: the Arabs since the very creation of Israel and the Palestinians today continually refuse to make the kind of concessions that could lead to peace. If they would recognize Israel as a legitimate Jewish state and announce they are willing to live side by side with it in peace in their own state, a solution could occur overnight. But to recognize this means one has to know whom to pressure in the region. And the state that the US should support, unfortunately, is the very one the Obama administration is singling out for undue pressure.