If Obama had said what Trump said about Israel

When the US president failed to endorse Israel’s right to self-defense, the Republican outcry was...nonexistent
US President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up as he walks to Marine One prior to departure from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, February 16, 2018, as he travels to Florida for the weekend. ( AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB)
US President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up as he walks to Marine One prior to departure from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, February 16, 2018, as he travels to Florida for the weekend. ( AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB)

As Israel prepares to defend itself against Iranian forces following last weekend’s clashes and possible Hezbollah missile attacks in Northern Israel, the unwavering support of its greatest ally, the United States, should be a given unequivocally. But in a recent interview with Boaz Bismuth, editor-in-chief of Israel Hayom, President Donald Trump was shakier than ever in his support for Israel.

Yet, in the wake of the interview, Republicans, particularly Republican Jews — who, during the Obama administration, liked nothing more than criticizing the president for even the slightest weakness on Israel — have remained silent.

If President Barack Obama ever had expressed ambivalence about Israel’s right to defend itself, Republicans would have denounced him loudly — and rightly so.

This is a crucial time for the state of Israel. It is indefensible for a US president to sit for a news interview without a clear, coherent policy on Israel’s relationship with hostile neighbors, or its right to defend itself from them if need be. Errant early morning tweets about a “great deal” between Israel and Palestine don’t count: To truly stand with Israel, Trump needed to express steadfast commitment to preventing its enemies from gaining a foothold in the region.

Naturally, the president touted his decision to move the US Embassy to Israel, and much of the Jewish community acknowledges that as a positive signal, and long overdue. Bismuth, however, also wrote that President Trump spoke with “an air of uncharacteristic ambiguity” on the question of whether Israel is free to operate in Syria and in Lebanon against Iranian targets. Asked if Israel has the right to defend itself if Iran establishes military bases in Syria and Lebanon, Trump avoided the question, saying, “I don’t want to comment on that right now. It is too soon.” Israel’s right to defend itself is fundamental from a moral standpoint, and is a principle implicit in US policy toward Israel. Until now, no administration has ever questioned this self-evident right in such a way.

Yet Republicans, including Republican Jews, have remained silent.

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) in 2014 publicly slammed President Obama for calling for an “immediate, unconditional, humanitarian” ceasefire, in Gaza, saying that in doing so the president was contradicting previous statements, while in office and earlier, “in support of Israel’s right of self-defense.” Yet, now, President Trump won’t even offer Israel that.

When Bismuth asked the president if he would be willing to speak out against the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and cut off support for countries that boycott Israel, Trump again gave a non-answer. “I don’t want to say that because you know, some countries maybe and some countries not. I just don’t want to talk about that.”

The Jewish community is united on that issue, yet Republicans, including the RJC, have remained silent in the face of Trump’s non-answer.

Why, though?

President Trump, meanwhile, has made reaching a peace compromise more difficult as the US has lost credibility and is no long seen as a fair arbiter on the peace process, and other countries stepping in to fill the void.

Yet, for Republicans, what was unacceptable under President Obama is suddenly permissible under President Trump.

Or maybe it’s not so strange after all. Maybe the RJC’s primary concern isn’t Israel, but partisan politics. Maybe, for the RJC and its ilk—to paraphrase another famous Republican president—“when a Republican president does it, it’s not condemnable.”

There’s a word for this: hypocrisy.

President Trump and the Republican Party claim to be Israel’s best friend. But conflict with Iran is brewing. The stakes are too high. The US-Israel relationship will succeed only when Israel has friends on both sides of the aisle.

Marc Stanley, a Texas-based attorney, is a board member of the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA).

About the Author
Marc Stanley, a Texas-based attorney, is former chair of the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC).
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