Obama’s Bibi Obsession

Let’s take stock for a moment:

  • The U.S. has troops fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria;
  • Terrorists are killing civilians in the streets of Paris and Brussels and threatening America;
  • The Russians and Chinese are stomping on our interests with impunity;
  • Iran has banked U.S. concessions while continuing to foment unrest in the region, support global terrorism, and test more powerful ballistic missiles in violation of UN resolutions;
  • The Saudis and other Arab allies are furious with the administration’s disregard for their interests and clueless Middle East policies.

I’m sure I’m leaving a few things out, but what is most striking is that with all of these threats to American interests, the president seems obsessed with maligning the leader of the only country that actually identifies with American values and interests. Of course, by now it is no secret that Barack Obama loathes Benjamin Netanyahu, but his fixation with Netanyahu has become an obsession that has damaged U.S.-Israel relations and undermined our mutual interests.

The latest manifestation of this preoccupation was admittedly indirect; he sent Vice President Joe Biden out to be his attack dog in a speech to J Street. The decision to send Biden as well as Secretary of State John Kerry to address J Street was in itself a poke in Netanyahu’s eye. This “pro-Israel” group sees as its mission to undermine the democratically elected government of Israel and substitute its judgement on matters of war and peace from the comfort of living rooms 6,000 miles away. This is bad enough, but what’s worse is that J Street’s raison d’être is to convince the U.S. government to use all the levers of power at its disposal to force Israel to capitulate to Palestinian demands without them having to negotiate, end incitement and terror, or make any concessions to ensure the safety of Israelis.

Biden had a sympathetic audience then when he said the Israeli government at times causes “overwhelming frustration,” a not very diplomatic way of expressing the administration’s hostility toward Netanyahu. Going further, he asserted that Netanyahu has led his country in the wrong direction. Make no mistake, Biden was speaking for Obama; this was not one of his off-script rants. The administration was also typically tone deaf in having Biden go ahead with his attack on the Israeli government on the same day that a terrorist bomb on a Jerusalem bus injured 21 people.

The administration sophist-in-chief, State Department spokesperson Josh Earnest, tried to spin Biden’s remarks, suggesting that the Vice President was not denigrating Israel; he was really demonstrating the strong relationship between allies. Moreover, he made the specious analogy between Netanyahu’s criticism of U.S. policy and Biden’s. Yes, Netanyahu criticized Obama’s position on Iran publically, but this was because it was an issue directly effecting Israel’s survival and the president ignored his private appeals. How does that compare with Biden vilifying Netanyahu for policies that have little to do with U.S. interests and everything to do with Israel’s future?

Like J Street, Obama subscribes to the Arabist view that Israel must be saved in spite of itself. Those Israelis are just too stupid, ill-informed, immature and politically constrained to have any idea what is good for them. This administration knows better. According to Biden, “The present course Israel’s on is not one that’s likely to secure its existence as a Jewish, democratic state— and we have to make sure that happens.”

Read that sentence again and consider that out of all the nondemocratic countries in the world, some of which are American allies, the one country that Obama believes needs help in securing its future as a democracy just happens to be the only democracy in the Middle East. If you think about this president’s philosophy, it is not so far-fetched since he also believes that he knows more about what is best for the United States than the American people or their elected representatives; hence his proclivity for executive orders that bypass the democratic process and his unilateral decisions to ignore parts of legislation he doesn’t like, including those favorable to Israel.

Earlier this year, for example, an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Congress passed legislation to strengthen economic ties between the U.S. and Israel and force trade partners to sever ties with backers of the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. After Obama signed the bill into law, he outrageously said he would not enforce the pro-Israel provisions because they legitimized Israeli settlements. This was too much even for the president’s loyal Democratic friends in Congress, and prompted six senators to chastise the president for mischaracterizing the legislation as making a U.S. policy statement about Israeli settlements. “Rather, consistent with U.S. policy, they are about discouraging politically-motivated commercial actions aimed at delegitimizing Israel and pressuring Israel into unilateral concessions outside the bounds of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations,” the senators said. “We urge the Administration to implement these provisions as enacted and intended.”

Republic congressman Peter Roskam expressed the frustration he and many of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle felt toward the president’s position: “We did not provide a statutory menu from which President Obama can pick and choose provisions to enforce….The president has signed this bill into law—it is now his responsibility to fully and faithfully execute it in its entirety.”

Let’s return to Biden’s speech and consider another remark that he made. He claimed that Netanyahu’s policies, in particular the “systematic” expansion of settlements, were leading to a “one-state reality” where Israel would cease to exist Israeli Jews would eventually become a minority in what would morph into a Palestinian state.

As Elliot Abrams noted, Biden’s analysis showed remarkable ignorance of the political realities in Israel. “How do you get to a ‘one-state reality’ when the people and government of Israel refuse it? Who will force them into it? How do you get to ‘systematic’ expansion of settlements when just about every analyst understands that Netanyahu has been constraining many aspects of settlement growth – to the great anger of the settlers?”

The administration’s understanding of the history of its own policies is deeply flawed. Starting with the misguided speech in Cairo, the failure to get the Saudis onboard Obama’s peace initiative, the decision to bypass Israel on the way to or from Cairo, and the demand for a settlement freeze that included East Jerusalem (part of Israel’s sovereign capital where no settlements exist), this president has shown a profound ignorance of the region that undermined his own good intentions. Note also that the mistakes referenced above were in just the first few months of his administration; they have been compounded by repeated missteps culminating in the catastrophic deal with Iran.

Many of Israel’s supporters fear that Obama will go beyond sticking it to Israel rhetorically, as Biden did, and take more dangerous measures such as supporting Palestinian initiatives at the UN to label settlements illegal and to endorse the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1948 Armistice lines with East Jerusalem as its capital and a demand that refugees be allowed to return to “their homes” in Israel.

Given the assurance that Israel will not comply with such nonbinding resolutions, the Palestinians will next push for sanctions to be imposed, which is consistent with their long-term goal of delegitimizing and ostracizing Israel, and using the South African precedent to convince the international community to essentially dismantle the Jewish state by forcing Israel to surrender to their demands. Should Obama support these measures he would cement his legacy as the most anti-Israel president in history.

Dr. Mitchell Bard is the author/editor of 24 books including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.

About the Author
Dr Mitchell Bard is the Executive Director of the nonprofit American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE) and a foreign policy analyst who lectures frequently on U.S.-Middle East policy. Dr. Bard is the director of the Jewish Virtual Library, the world's most comprehensive online encyclopedia of Jewish history and culture. He is also the author/editor of 24 books, including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.