Polls suggest that a considerable proportion of Israeli Jews regard Barack Obama as antagonistic to Israel.
Last winter, a survey released by Panels Politics in Tel Aviv ranked him as the “worst” U.S. president in 30 years by 63 percent of Jewish Israelis.
Do they live in a parallel universe?
As the facts suggest, Obama is actually one of the best friends Israel has ever had. If Israel had more “enemies” like Obama, it would be much better off today.
Obama, whose eight-year term of office ends in a few months, has been critical of Israel’s misguided and counter-productive settlement policy in the West Bank. And in the face of fierce opposition from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he signed on to an agreement with Iran that requires it to freeze its nuclear program for at least a decade. If the United States and the major powers had not reached this agreement, the seeds of a war between Israel and Iran might well have been sown.
Right-wing Israelis and conservative Jews in the Diaspora think that Israel should build more settlements and that the deal with Iran was an egregious mistake. In short, they believe that Obama has been bad for Israel.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Obama has been one of the most pro-Israel presidents from both a national security and political point of view, his disagreements with Israel’s current government notwithstanding.
No less a person than Shimon Peres, Israel’s former president, defence minister and prime minister, has attested to Obama’s consistent support of Israel.
Three months ago, he declared, “Throughout his presidency, when it came to the security of Israel, Obama worked first and foremost to do whatever he could to provide us with security, with the strength to fight our enemies, but also with the strength to look for peace and friendship.”
Peres delivered this cogent observation a day after Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman inspected the first F-35 jet that Israel is scheduled to receive later this year. Israel has purchased 33 multi-million dollar F-35s and will be the first country in the Middle East to acquire this state-of-the-art stealth aircraft.
Susan Rice, Obama’s national security advisor and former ambassador to the United Nations, has expressed similar sentiments. “Through word and deed, this administration has done more for Israel’s security than any other in U.S. history,” she said this past summer.
She’s absolutely right.
Consider the latest evidence.
A few days ago, Israel and its chief ally and benefactor, the United States, signed a $38 billion military aid package known as the Memorandum of Understanding. Israel, the largest recipient of U.S. assistance, will receive $3.8 billion a year for a decade, more than any other nation aligned with America.
Under the previous aid pact, Israel received $3 billion per annum. In recent years, the U.S. Congress added $500 million annually for missile defence systems such as the Iron Dome and the Arrow.
Netanyahu supposedly sought upwards of $45 billion over 10 years, but settled for $7 billion less because he finally understood that this updated Memorandum of Understanding would be of great benefit to Israel at a time when the Middle East is in such turmoil.
The generous aid package is most assuredly a tangible sign that Israel enjoys a special relationship with the world’s most powerful country. As Obama said after his September 21 meeting with Netanyahu in New York City, “The bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable.”
These are not mere words.
Recognizing the importance of Israel’s strategic ties with the United States, Netanyahu said, “I don’t think people at large understand the breadth and depth of the cooperation, but I know.”
He added that Israel has “no better friend” than the United States.
It should be noted that Netanyahu’s acknowledgement of Obama’s friendship came from the mouth of a man who’s been embroiled in a series of acrimonious spats with Obama, who fervently believes that a two-state solution can lead to a historic rapprochement between Israel and the Palestinians.
To no one’s surprise, Obama addressed this key issue even as he praised the Memorandum of Understanding, which was signed in Washington, D.C. on September 13 by Jacob Nagel, Netanyahu’s acting national security advisor, and Thomas Shannon Jr., the American under secretary of state for political affairs.
In a series of remarks between September 14 and September 21, Obama made the following observations:
Israel’s “long-term security” can only be assured by the establishment of “an independent and viable” Palestinian state. While urging the Palestinians to reject “incitement” and recognize “the legitimacy of Israel,” Obama warned Israel it “cannot permanently occupy and settle Palestinian land.” And in his final official meeting with Netanyahu, reportedly their 17th since 2009, Obama voiced deep concern that settlement building is eroding the prospects for peace.
As intended by their builders, the settlements are designed to achieve two objectives: to head off the possibility that land captured by Israel in the Six Day War will not be ceded to the Palestinians, and, as a last resort, to break up the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state.
Absent Palestinian statehood, Israel’s continued military occupation of the West Bank will have far-reaching consequences. It will inevitably increase the already high level of frustration and bitterness among the Palestinians, who have already launched two uprisings since 1987. It will strengthen the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which is gaining ground.
The current Israeli government likes the status quo, but ultimately, Israel will have to make a choice. It will have to choose between being a democratic Jewish state at peace with its Palestinian neighbors or being a constantly embattled undemocratic garrison state that oppresses them.
These are the pragmatic ideas that Obama has consistently presented since his accession to the White House.
Despite his sharp disagreements with Israel, Obama has been remarkably supportive of Israel at the United Nations’ Security Council.
During his presidency, he has vetoed every anti-Israel draft resolution brought up at the Security Council. Five years ago, the United States even torpedoed a draft resolution critical of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
None of his predecessors have been so protective of Israel.
Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, two of the most ardently pro-Israel presidents, allowed a total of 12 resolutions critical of Israel to sail through the Security Council.
According to the New York Times, Jimmy Carter supported 14 such resolutions. Ronald Reagan, touted as a friend of Israel, backed a record 21. Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon supported two and 15, respectively. Lyndon Johnson, the first president to recognize Israel’s intrinsic value as an ally, endorsed seven.
In addition to protecting Israel at the UN, Obama made a serious attempt to defuse the Arab-Israeli dispute. In 2013, he delegated Secretary of State John Kerry to revive the moribund peace process. Kerry failed to bridge the gap between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, but at least he tried.
In short, Obama and his administration have been there for Israel when it has counted.
This is the simple, unadorned truth that far too many Israelis do not recognize.