Obama and Israel – Audacity or Hope?

Next week, President Obama will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu and proclaim support for Israel. I know I’m just supposed to hate all of this; bashing Israel is still in vogue because it’s super hard. But what do the rest of young Americans think, the ones who aren’t on the cutting edge of coolness?

Beats me. Now The Times of Israel says it wants to cultivate “informed debate over the challenges and the choices that face the Jewish state.” So let’s debate whether Obama is the right choice for those who want a pro-Israel president in 2012.  Is Obama Israel’s savior?

True, during Obama’s presidency, America and Israel continued the decades-long cooperation in technology, defense, and innovation. Although Obama may have requested less funding for missile defense cooperation, this is a legislative matter. Thankfully, he chose not to waste time opposing Democrats and Republicans in Congress—as well as the majority of Americans—by cutting ties with Israel. However, the Obama Administration may have inadvertently exacerbated Israel’s two major fronts.


The first front is the skirmishing with Iran, an almost-nuclear patron of increasingly reckless international terrorism and attempts. Beyond Obama’s public disdain for Netanyahu “every day,” his administration’s very public airing of the normal tension between America and a reliable, friendly democracy has deteriorated trust between the governments. The result is that intelligence and cooperation have been lacking in policies towards a growing threat.


Israel’s second front is the pervasive incitement against its citizens, because the unstable countries around it have all decided upon a scapegoat. While Israel’s rivals strive for military supremacy in the region, false propaganda provides support and diplomatic cover for horrors Jews outside North America must endure. Fueled by oil and libel, this war machine skews political calculations towards their predetermined solution of aggression against Jews. We can blame Israel’s independence all we want, but the post-Ottoman elites who generated “anti-Zionist” propaganda a century ago were going to rationalize their imperial ambitions for the land, property, and lives of the region anyway, starting with this vulnerable global minority.

This stuff has been so successful at hitching a free ride on popular paradigms because governments have honed the art of making people believe it is a legitimate basis for policy. If Jerusalem itself is some elaborate colonialist plot, Helen Thomas’ peace proposal to cleanse Israel of Israelites might be sensible. Considering the prevalence of such conspiracy theories, can we really assume that the pseudo-realist argument for pressuring Israel provides a more accurate analysis of Israel’s interests than Israel’s own democratic process?

Obama seems to think so. He and his State Department have indicated through speeches to the rest of the world and the U.N. that Israel is the neighborhood bully. During Obama’s presidency, the U.N. has elected Syria to replace Libya as a champion of human rights, Iran defends women while raping them, and no one expects China to apologize for its North Korean ally; yet pointing the finger at Israel is somehow the key to global justice. Within this context, when the leader of the free world condemns Israel’s “illegal” policies, it is not merely criticism of ethnic profiling at security checkpoints. It lends credence to the view that such a policy is at least apartheid, if not sufficiently evil to deserve the “resistance” of sawing off a Jewish baby girl’s head because she is on “Arab Land.” Is it any wonder that Obama’s ambassador to Belgium asked the world to just excuse “new” anti-Semitism because—surprise—it’s Israel’s fault?

Obama’s unshakeable commitment to this approach is as fruitless as it is naïve. Even Abbas complained that Obama killed any chances of negotiations—whether or not they would be fruitful—with his promise that the Israeli “settlement freeze” would somehow advance negotiations. What Abbas understands is that symbols matter even when they are a mirage: America pressuring Israel into making more concessions offers awesome symbolic support for the notion Israel will eventually be bashed into unconditional surrender. Why compromise?

When Obama announced that the 1967 lines were a starting point minus “mutually agreed swaps,” Palestinian leaders naturally made acceptance of Obama’s position a precondition. Regardless of Obama’s intentions, the result did not help Israel.

While some negotiations occurred following Quartet pressure on Palestinian leadership, little improvement was made on borders. More importantly, no headway was made on incitement to destroy Israel. A commitment to peace rather than ceasefire was evaded in favor of bickering over invisible lines and demanding more unilateral concessions. The show will go on for now because both parties can, at little cost, make Obama appear the statesman.


Aside from the fluke of nominating Ambassador Ford, no success in Middle Eastern diplomacy has materialized from Obama’s combination of stubbornness and naivety. In a second presidential term this approach will be unshackled from re-election concerns.

Despite these problems, Obama declares to domestic audiences, “I try not to pat myself too much on the back, but this administration has done more for the security of the state of Israel than any previous administration.” His campaign website frantically announces that alternatives like Mitt Romney will “zero out” Israel. Why so desperate?

Ultimately, various factors should be considered when choosing a president, and if you believe Obama will be a great leader, vote for him. However, singling out Israel for “pressure” is a tragic trick for a “one trick pony” to have in the current Middle East. Too many people glean from it only one thing: Israel is the root of Middle East tensions and can be pressured until it can be conquered. So if you’re going to vote for Obama because he’s pro-Israel, don’t.

About the Author
Daniel Greenberg is an attorney obsessed with Israel, foreign policy, and the history of anti-ZIonism.