Much has been made recently in this election cycle about the question of President Obama’s relationship to Israel. Edgar Bronfman’s recent article in the Jewish Journal, Obama Has Helped Make Israel Safer, and Ben Cohen’s Obama and Israel: Degrees of Separation, are two thoughtful and well reasoned analyses backed up by the record. Mr. Bronfman’s piece is certainly coming from the position of being a supporter of the President’s actions while Mr. Cohen’s is more critical of the lack of emotional connection the President displays toward Israel than has been felt by Presidents in the past. One can certainly not agree with Mr. Bronfman’s conclusions, but one cannot dispute the facts of this Administration with regard to Israel. What is not at issue is any relevance of an emotional connection one might or might not perceive in President Obama. While I do not agree with the underlying tenor of Mr. Cohen’s piece, I can respect his position. What I would like to address here has more to do with the reaction in reader comments to these articles.
Ultimately what is always at issue to supporters of Israel, myself
included, is the commitment of the current administration to Israel’s
security, to the objective of peace and how peace fits into the long
term security concerns of the Untied States. But irrespective of any
emotional attachment I, or anyone might have to Israel, as both a
country and an idea, it is the latter issue that is, and should be, of
utmost concern to the Chief Executive of this country. And I say
that as a Jewish American who enjoys the maximum amount of
freedom in an open society committed to pluralism—at least in the
The fact of the matter is that any politician in national office in the
United States is going to be “pro-Israel.” This was true in 1948, and
is even more true today. The race to produce pro-Israel bonifides in an
election cycle should always be considered just what it is, pandering.
Both sides of the aisle can be found to act in this way, the specifics of
which are rarely followed through to the letter once the candidates
have to make real world decisions. Often these commitments are,
unfortunately, made without any attention to facts – the same facts
these people will consider when in office – and are more concerned
with telling people what they want to hear, stoking the fires of fear
and anxiety, and being strangely vague on specific solutions. In
short, they play it safe by acting as a mirror to their audience. I,
however, would rather hear specific approaches and points of view
from the candidates I might, or might not, elect.
With regard to President Obama, the denigration of the current
administration is nothing more than an albatross to scare a public
into a position for which they have a tough time sorting through the
facts. As soon as President Obama was elected, he put the peace
process front and center and thus became the only President to
actually make good on his campaign promises on this issue. Both the
Clinton and Bush administrations put the peace process, and thus the
relationship between the US and long term Israeli security on the
back burner well into their 2nd terms when the political price was
significantly lower. And yet the perception is that both Presidents
were avid, unquestioned friends to Israel – emotionally true, yes, but their de-prioritizing attention to the long term issues points away from emotion being of paramount importance. What is important is action.
But as Mr. Bronfman points out, this current administration has
supported Israel more fully and more immediately than any other. If
one wants to look at the facts, I would suggest an easy Google search
or a visit to Factcheck.org. An easy search of Barack Obama and Israel
will show that today, July 31, 2012, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud
Barak has said—
“I think that from my point of view as defense minister they are
extremely good, extremely deep and profound. I can see long years [and]
administrations of both sides of [the] political aisle deeply supporting the state of
Israeli [sic] and I believe that reflects a profound feeling among the American
people. But I should tell you honestly that this administration under President
Obama is doing, in regard to our security, more than anything that I can
remember in the past.”
I would think that Ehud Barak would have unquestioned bonafides
with regard to Israel. However, why listen to the Defense Minister of
Israel when one can keep harping on the fact that the President
hasn’t made an official visit? Here the criticism is fully emotionally
based, without regard to the actual effects in the real world. A visit
to Arab countries, as President Obama did to Egypt, to engage them
in the peace process in a new world of democratic awakening, and
after the diplomatic damage caused by the previous administration
(again, only engaging in the peace process at the very end of the
term), was certainly more urgent and potentially productive than a
photo op in Israel, where support is actually unquestioned. This is
just the reality. And with fully engaged visits by Mr. Biden and Mrs.
Clinton, this administration has been active on the ground, where it
matters, at the highest levels with both the Israeli government under
Mr. Netanyahu and with the Palestinian Authority.
And yet, despite this immediate, high-level attention, and despite
claims of willingness to engage this attention, Prime Minister
Netanyahu’s behavior while in the United States, said otherwise. His
agreeing to an invitation by the Republican leadership to address the Republican controlled House, automatically integrates him and his administration into the partisan politics of this country, while building up his own political credibility at home. Despite the general failure to produce any meaningful results from his visit here, there was a wealth of political benefit for both himself to his constituency and the Republicans in the House whose primary goal, by their own admission, is to see the President defeated.
Among all of this noise, one must remember that PM Netanyahu’s is
but one government in a series of Israeli governments, a short-term
snapshot of a particular time. Previous governments have had
different relationships to both the peace process and the
administrations of the United States. And their differing views didn’t
make them less pro-Israel or less patriotic. It is a testament to the
workings of Democracy that we can always “vote the bums out” if
we disagree with them, but with regard to international relations,
democratic countries usually, and rightly, defer to the long-term view.
And with regard to Israel, we must also maintain a long-term view.
It is therefore perfectly okay to have a difference of opinion with an
Israeli administration without having one’s Pro-Israelness questioned.
We must maintain a long-term view.
President Obama’s, and any President’s, first responsibility is to the
security of The United States. A Democratic Israel is certainly
in the best interest of the security of the US. But the long term view
is the one that needs to be applied. And a two state solution is the
only one that will guarantee that Israel remains demographically
Jewish and therefore truly Democratic. To throw the hysterical
moniker of being “anti-Israel” because one believes in the two-state
solution – the defacto policy of the United States since 1967, and has been the
basis of every single comprehensive peace negotiation since then – simply is to
ignore the fact that we as Jews, the Israelis and the Palestinians
ultimately will have to make painful decisions. As any therapist, or
conflict manager, will tell you, it is far better to confront pain early
than let it fester. Change is truly frightening. There are never
guarantees of success and never will be up front.
But calling President Obama no friend to Israel, singling out George
Soros, a Holocaust survivor, or all the people working on behalf of
the Pro-Israel/pro-peace organization J Street as being anti-Israel
because they are critical of the decisions being made by the current
government of Israel, (not the same thing) is no way of getting to a
solution. By that criterion, one would also have to say Yitzhak Rabin,
Ehud Barak and even with extrapolation, Ariel Sharon, would be
called to task with regard to their emotional connection to Israel.
Please disagree if you want, but don’t question my or anyone’s love
because you disagree with our solutions to a complex problem.
I try my best to be an avid reader of all points of view and really
strive to understand the positions I don’t personally agree with. In
fact, understanding these positions makes me able to argue against
them all the more effectively. I invite everyone who has the
inclination to lambast J Street to take a look at their website, who
wants to check the facts to go to Factcheck.org, or maybe, just do a
little homework. Digest the information, understand the point of
view of being both Pro-Israel and Pro-Peace all in the effort for
expanding knowledge. Throwing emotional canards and spreading
uninformed invective only serves to lower the level of discourse,
actions that only lead to hatred and never to a solution.
There’s nothing scarier than to learn something that might change
your mind. But if we, as Jews, are supposed to work to heal the
world, let’s treat all points of view with respect, and learn as much
about our neighbors as we can before forming an opinion. And if
one wants to criticize the President, let’s have that criticism be backed up by real facts and not by sound bites, invective, and…well…hate.