January 20th marks the end of an era. On that day, Barack Obama and his family will permanently leave the White House and Donald Trump will be sworn in as the new president of the United States.
Rather than speculate about what a Trump presidency will bring, I’d much rather focus on the positive and reflect on the legacy of America’s outgoing president.
Despite what many will have you believe, President Obama has been unapologetically pro-Israel during all eight of his years in office and I would even go as far to say that Israel hasn’t had a better friend in the White House (with maybe the exception of Bill Clinton) since the country’s creation in 1948.
For one thing, countless Israeli civilians owe their lives to the Obama Administration because it was President Obama who funded a massive portion of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, without which, hundreds (if not thousands) of innocent Israeli civilians living near the Gaza border would not be here today.
However, it’s not only the Israelis who live near the Gaza Strip that owe President Obama a debt of gratitude, but rather, every Israeli civilian in general who would’ve been potentially wiped off the face of the map had Iran successfully developed the nuclear weapons that they had been cooking up. It was President Obama who kept both Israel and all of Western democracy safe through using diplomatic solutions to suppress a potentially violent outcome.
And of course, who could forget the historic defense deal that he made with Israel just a few months ago? This $38 billion military deal is the largest of its kind between the United States and ANY country in US history and it will undoubtedly go towards saving numerous Israeli lives in the years to come.
Now, critics will undoubtedly cite President Obama’s abstention to UN Resolution 2334 as a refutation to my previous point. Let it be known that I wholeheartedly disagree with some of the resolution’s wording with regards to East Jerusalem and I certainly wish there was a bit more condemnation towards Palestinian terrorism in the resolution itself. However, the resolution was largely a symbolic call for temperance and merely underscored the importance of preserving the two-state solution, something that President Obama (as well as every president before him) has continuously supported and something that settlement growth continues to undermine. What critics will undoubtedly leave out of their condemnation is that this is the first UN Resolution condemning Israel that Obama hasn’t vetoed in his two presidential terms and he merely abstained, not even voting in favour of it like every other nation on the Security Council did. In fact, President Obama has abstained on less UN resolutions condemning Israel than every US president since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967. And, unlike several of those presidents, Obama has never voted yes on a UN resolution condemning Israel.
Semantics aside, President Obama has always made it clear that he supports Israel, a country that shares so many of America’s democratic freedoms and ideals, while remaining steadfast towards the pursuit of peace. President Obama understood that a stable and peaceful Israel is a flourishing and prosperous Israel and as a result, made the two-state solution a priority (something that I wish both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership would have done as well).
While President Obama would often have his disagreements with Prime Minister Netanyahu, he never let that affect the America-Israel relationship, always making his allegiance clear by condemning all senseless acts of Palestinian terror and standing by Israel’s right to defend itself, particularly during their unavoidable wars of self-defense against Hamas in Gaza in 2008, 2012 and 2014.
To quote the man himself: “Even while we may at times disagree, as friends sometimes will, the bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable and the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel is ironclad.”
President Obama truly personified the concept of Liberal Zionism, a man who understood that the State of Israel is so much more than just the government of the day; it’s a country whose values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law shine as a light among the nations and therefore, is worth standing up for. President Obama was able to differentiate between the government and the state, and for that reason, despite such heavy resistance from the Israeli government and vocal criticism from members of the right-wing Diaspora, remained faithful to the ethos that the State of Israel embodies, never backing down from his vision of a Jewish and democratic state in the Middle East. Perhaps that’s something everyone can appreciate about Obama’s legacy; while he may not have brought much change to the state of the Arab-Israeli conflict, he certainly filled us with hope.