The last time Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu shared each other's company, you could say that the encounter did not go well—if by "not well" you mean abysmally. This was on May 20, the day after Obama gave his big speech on the Arab Spring, in which he unleashed a tsunami of tsuris by endorsing the use of Israel's 1967 borders "with mutually agreed [land] swaps" as the basis for a two-state solution with the Palestinians. Obama and Netanyahu were seated in the Oval Office for what was supposed to be one of those photo ops devoted to roasting rhetorical chestnuts about the solidity of the U.S.-Israel alliance. Instead, while Obama watched silently, looking poleaxed, Netanyahu lectured him—for seven and a half minutes, on live television—about the folly, the sheer absurdity, of suggesting Israel ever return to what he called the "indefensible" 1967 lines.
Obama was furious with Netanyahu, who in choosing to ignore the crucial qualifier about land swaps had twisted Obama's words beyond recognition—the kind of mendacious misinterpretation that makes the presidential mental. The seniormost members of Obama's team felt much the same. Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Bob Gates, Bill Daley, the former Mideast-peace envoy George Mitchell: All were apoplectic with the prime minister, whose behavior over the past two years had already tried their patience. "The collective view here is that he is a small-minded, fairly craven politician," says an administration source deeply involved in its efforts to push the parties to the negotiating table. "And one who simply isn't serious about making peace."
What great spin. Netanyahu is just an unreasonable brute who spit in the face of our very reasonable President. But the facts paint a different picture. Obama's infamous speech has by most observers been referred to as a surprise to the Israeli Government, done right before Bibi was supposed to visit Washington and give a speech before a Joint Session of Congress. It seemed like Obama was trying to steal the Israeli Prime Minister's thunder purposely by making such an incendiary speech, which basically endorsed the 1949 armistice line as the basis for talks (the land swaps would have to be relatively equal and be around the 1949 lines) and even called for a "contiguous" state for the Palestinians (anyone looking at a map could see Palestine can't be contiguous without Israel no longer being contiguous). And this was not the first time Obama humiliated Netanyahu. After such treatment is it really surprising that Netanyahu would want to defend his position "on live television" (would the reaction have been better if it were taped?). By the way, are any of the people listed above known for being particularly pro-Israel? Nope not really. Maybe Hillary, but only when she was Senator from New York (she also found Jewish relatives during that campaign, how convenient).
For both Israel and the U.S., the timing could hardly be more miserable. With the Middle East apparently hurtling headlong into crisis, Israel finds itself increasingly isolated, beleaguered, and besieged: its embassy in Cairo invaded by Egyptian protesters, its relations with Turkey in tatters, its continued occupation of (and expansion of settlements within) the Palestinian territories the subject of wide international scorn. How wide? Wide enough that Abbas could credibly claim that 126 of the 193 U.N. member states support his statehood initiative.
Again and again, when Israel has been embroiled in international dustups—over its attack last year on a flotilla filled with activists headed from Turkey to Gaza, to cite but one example—the White House has had Israel's back. The security relationship between the countries, on everything from intelligence sharing to missile-defense development to access to top-shelf weapons, has never been more robust. And when the Cairo embassy was seized and Netanyahu called to ask for Obama's help with rescuing the last six Israelis trapped inside the building, the president not only picked up the phone but leaned hard on the Egyptians to free those within. "It was a decisive moment," Netanyahu recalled after the six had been freed. "Fateful, I would even say."
Really, that is the proof of Obama's support for Israel? He defended the right of Israeli soldiers from being attacked by clubs when all they had were paint guns? And he didn't want to see Israeli security guards murdered by a savage mob? Given the mob wouldn't have been there had Obama not toppled Mubarak, he probably didn't want blood on his hands (he must've known he would be blamed by the Jewish press, at least partly).
And many Jewish voters, like those Wall Street financiers (and, to be sure, the overlap between those groups isn't trivial) who flocked to Obama and were then chagrined when he called them out as "fat cats," have all too often focused more on the president's words than his deeds—and come away with the impression that he doesn't seem to "feel Israel" in his bones.
Wait, is this the author's way of saying Jews are greedy and rich? And what is wrong with focusing on a President's words? His words are vetted so much that if they are in a speech it means that he and his administration really mean them. Plus his actions are what are politically doable, and don't necessarily reflect on what he actually believes He extended the Bush Tax Cuts last year for all Americans, including the wealthy, does anyone believe that this proves that he is a tax cutter who wants the wealthy to keep more of what they earn?
In attempting to apply tough love to Israel, Obama is trying to make a stalwart ally see that undertaking the painful and risky compromises necessary for peace with the Palestinians is the only way to preserve the Zionist dream—which is to say a future as a state both Jewish and democratic. His role here is not that of the callous assailant but of the caring and sober brother slapping his drunken sibling: The point is not to hurt the guy but to get him to sober up.
Israel is a drunken sibling? What exactly are they drunk on? Not having their civilians blown to bits? The author sounds like he is more pro-Obama than he is pro-Israel. Maybe he should change his first name to "Sieg".
The suspicions regarding the bone-deepness of Obama's bond with Israel were present from the start, and always rooted in a reading of his background that was as superficial as it was misguided. Yes, he was black. Yes, his middle name was Hussein. And yes, in his time in Hyde Park, his friends included Palestinian scholars and activists, notably the historian Rashid Khalidi. But far more crucial to Obama's makeup and rise to prominence were his ties to Chicago's Jewish milieu, whose players, from real-estate powerhouse Penny Pritzker to billionaire investor Lester Crown, were among his chief supporters and financial patrons.
Some of Obama's best friends are Jews? This proves what exactly?
Equally important, Obama's advisers argue, is that the idea that the administration demanded little of the Palestinians is simply false. "I called it synchronized swimming," recalls Prince. "The Israelis would do settlements, the Palestinians would do some stuff on incitement [of violence against Israel] and security, and other Arab states would undertake a variety of measures that would be steps to normalization. It could be reopening trade offices. It could be allowing overflights. It could be opening direct cell-phone connections. All stuff the Israelis said they really wanted. We spent many more hours in meetings with Arabs about Arab steps than we did with the Israelis. We had equally tough conversations with Arabs; the president had some hard meetings. But that didn't get reported."
Maybe it didn't get reported because nothing ever came from those meetings with Arab countries. And have the Palestinians decreased incitement? There doesn't seem to be any proof of that. However, Israel did institute a temporary settlement freeze which gave Netanyahu a significant amount of grief internally and externally (even my own Rabbi denounced him). For which he got nothing.
Another blunder, and not a minor one, made by the administration revolved around Obama's vaunted speech to the Muslim world in Cairo that June—which more than a few Jews perceived as coming at the expense of Israel, especially when Obama failed to visit Jerusalem on the same trip (or at any time thereafter). "We made a mistake," admits one senior administration foreign-policy adviser. "Nobody thought of it as a big deal at the time, but, I mean, you're in the neighborhood, you're right down the street, and you don't stop by for coffee?"
That makes a jest of a serious issue, that he has not visited Israel. And if they know it was a mistake, why has he still not visited? Also, it is interesting the writer doesn't mention exactly why the Cairo speech was viewed negatively. Part of the reason was because he linked the creation of Israel to the holocaust, rather than the fact that it the historic homeland of the Jews, which is the Arab argument against Israel (basically the Arabs were made to pay for Europe's sins and Jews have no right to the land).
And then there was Netanyahu's surpassingly volatile governing coalition, which was held together by far-right nationalist, fundamentalist, and even proto-fascistic elements (cf. Avigdor Lieberman).
So Avigdor Lieberman is a fascist and Obama is the first Jewish President? The writer just loves throwing words around with no basis in reality doesn't he?
The vice-president arrived in Israel that March to promote the "proximity" peace talks that the sides had just agreed to undertake. There he was ambushed with a surprise announcement by the Interior Ministry, which is controlled by the fundamentalist Shas Party, of the building of new settlement blocs in contested East Jerusalem. Netanyahu was apparently as blindsided as Biden was.
Again, this was just spin. The building was already approved by the prior Kadima-led government prior to the freeze and from my understanding will require further approvals in a very bureaucratic process. If you think getting a variance in your town is difficult, imagine how hard it is to get an approval for a new deck when it could cause an international incident.
The next day came his speech to Congress, in which he spelled out demands that were maximal by any measure: recognition by the Palestinians of Israel as a Jewish state as a precondition for negotiations, a refusal to talk if Hamas is part of the Palestinian side, an undivided Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and absolutely no right of return for Palestinian refugees. Taken as a whole, his whirlwind Washington visit provided a strong dose of clarity: With Barak having moved his newly formed Independence Party into Netanyahu's governing coalition, its new stability has reduced to near zero the incentives for him to take the risks required for peace.
Maximal? For Israel to be recognized for what it is? A Jewish state? A refusal to talk to an internationally recognized terrorist organization? An undivided Jerusalem? Does he realize what would happen to Jewish access to Jewish religious shrines if the Palestinians take control of them? It would be non-existent. And he didn't say there would be no right of return, there would just be no right of return to Israel, they could always return to a Palestinian state. Or does Israel need to have its immigration policy dictated to it as well? And since when is Barak a hardliner? He was a member of the Labor party and offered Arafat over 90% of the West Bank.
The irony is that Obama—along with countless Israelis, members of the Jewish diaspora, and friends of Israel around the world—seems to grasp these realities and this choice more readily than Netanyahu does. "The first Jewish president?" Maybe not. But certainly a president every bit as pro-Israel as the country's own prime minister—and, if you look from the proper angle, maybe even more so.
Let me try not to vomit here. As pro-Israel as Netanyahu? What dark room has the writer been keeping himself to believe that drivel. Let's take a poll and see how many of you agree with that statement. *crickets*. Thought not.
And one final thing on the First Jewish President moniker. To be a First anything President, don't you have to first do something that benefits that group? What has Obama done for the Jews? There is nothing with regards to that in this article and if you look at the facts, Obama seems positively detrimental to Jews. As the writer states, Jews have a tendency to be wealthier than others, and Obama wants to increase taxes on wealthier Americans. Obamacare severely cuts payments to doctors and Jews make up 14.1% of doctors despite being less than 2% of the general population. Obama helped kick out Mubarak who helped secure the southern front of Israel. He isn't even close to being Jewish. Or even a Jew for Jesus.