Foreign Affairs

Obama’s Israel Problem

Upon taking office, President Obama embarked on a lengthy global “apology tour,” traveling the world to confess America’s supposed sins. It was as naïve as it was bizarre. But today, after three years in office, he really does owe at least one country an apology.

And that’s Israel.

Sure, the Obama administration likes to tout itself as a friend of Israel. Said the president at a New York fundraiser a few weeks ago, “I try not to pat myself too much on the back, but this Administration has done more in terms of the security of the state of Israel than any previous administration.”

He really should keep the back-patting to a minimum.

To say their Administration has a stellar record on Israel requires the same deliberate short-sightedness as apologizing for our country.

The truth comes out, though, when administration officials, the president included, go off-script and say what they really think. And it’s all more than enough to trouble any pro-Israel voter. Thanks to a
live microphone in Cannes last month, the world heard President Obama complaining to French President Nicholas Sarkozy that he has “to deal with” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “everyday.”

As I said at the time, “Allies are people you work with. Garden pests and leaky faucets are things you ‘deal with.’”

Earlier this month, Leon Panetta added his entry to the list of things you don’t say to an ally. When
asked what Israel should do with regard to peace talks, he bluntly declared, “Just get to the damned table.”

But last week Obama’s ambassador to Belgium took the cake for insensitivity, when he seemed to baldly suggest that Israel is at fault for growing anti-Semitism.

His words: “A distinction should be made between traditional anti-Semitism, which should be condemned and Muslim hatred for Jews, which stems from the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.” Is the latter somehow less objectionable? Surely the White House would condemn those comments, or at the very least clarify his intent.

But they didn’t.

There was plenty of time for an early White House Hanukkah party but no time to rebuke a wayward ambassador.

For an Administration that has supposedly done “more in terms of the security of the state of Israel,” the White House and Israeli leaders seem dangerously out of sync.  The president cannot claim to be a
staunch ally while at the same time suggesting that peace negotiations be based on Israel’s pre-1967 borders. Likewise, no president standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel would suggest Congress water down sanctions against Iran—especially at a time when they seem closer than ever to acquiring a nuclear weapon.

The truth is, America’s security interests are intertwined with Israel’s, and when President Obama does a disservice to Israel, he does a disservice to our country as well.

And there’s no doubt that his administration’s ham-handed approach will cost them electorally. Many Jewish voters and pro-Israel advocates are understandably frustrated. Among Jews, the president’s approval rating has fallen from 83 percent in January 2009 to 54 percent in autumn of this year. Foreign policy is likely not the sole reason for such a dramatic decline, but it certainly plays a part.

It could also play a part in the president’s defeat in 2012. According to the National Jewish Democratic Council, if Democrats were to lose just 10 percent of Jewish support, swing states that Obama won by a few
thousand votes could become red states this time around. Such a small but consequential loss in support could shift the vote by 98,000 in Florida, 35,000 in Pennsylvania, 18,000 in Ohio, and 8,500 in Nevada,
according to the Council. If Democrats lose those states, they would likely lose the presidency. Of course, with America’s alliance with Israel, much more is at stake than national electoral politics. The geopolitical implications are much, much greater.

Because of that, the Republican Party, unlike Barack Obama, remains steadfast in our support for Israel—both in word and deed. When America elects a Republican president in 2012, we will affirm that support and strengthen our alliance. 

And that is nothing to apologize for.

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