by Barry Rubin
Many Americans, and particularly Jews, are starting to receive mailings encouraging them to vote for President Barack Obama or donate to his reelection campaign of by arguing that he is pro-Israel. Several readers have asked me to provide them with responses. Here is a brief answer.
These emails and mailings, though designed to look as if they were written by concerned individuals, clearly draw their texts from talking points posted on the Obama reelection site. The arguments are very thin and selective but are presented as if they represent the totality of Obama policy.
The main arguments are:
1. Obama says he likes Israel.
That’s nice, but so what? Of course it is good when he says nice things (by coincidence, no doubt, usually to Jewish audiences), but one can also find a lot of nasty remarks by him, his advisors, and various officials appointed by him. Every president for the last half-century has said similar nice things; not all the presidents put together during this period have said or done so many hostile things. While it is a great exaggeration to say that Obama hates Israel or wants to destroy it, I think it is fair to say that no president (including Jimmy Carter when in office) has been so cold toward Israel and basically failed to understand its nature and interests.
2. Israeli leaders say Obama is great.
Yes, that’s nice, but it’s not what they say in private. I can tell you authoritatively that not a single Israeli leader in any party has a high opinion of Obama with regard to Israel and its interests. But it is their job to lavish praise on America’s president. Their task is not to defeat Obama or to critique him but to get along with him as well as possible in order to protect Israel’s long-term alliance with the United States without sacrificing any of Israel’s vital interests. They’ve done it well. The one moment the truth emerged was when Obama betrayed Israel, on the diplomatic level, by announcing, without consultation, a new policy on peace terms while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was flying to Washington. You think Israeli leaders (and this is not ideological, not a matter of left or right) have a high regard for Obama? Read Netanyahu’s speech to the joint session of Congress.
Perhaps the equation can be summarized as follows: Obama just gave Israeli President Shimon Peres a presidential medal of freedom. He also has just helped give Israel a second Muslim Brotherhood-dominated regime next door and insists that this is a good thing.
3. U.S.-Israel bilateral relations are good especially with regard to military aid.
That’s true, but only a small part of that relates to Obama’s benevolence. Why?
a. Congress supports Israel. There was more pushback against Obama from Democratic members on this issue than on any other, foreign or domestic. Thus, Israel is the only “target” of Obama whose constituency has vocal defenders within his own party that raise the cost of his actions against it, at least during his first term. (Note that last phrase.)
b. The same applies to public opinion, which is strongly pro-Israel. This factor also inhibits Obama, at least during his first term. (Note that last phrase.)
c. Regarding military relations, the U.S. armed forces are generally quite pro-Israel and want these programs. Many of them are based on previous commitments, which Obama merely continues.
Barry Rubin, Israel: An Introduction
(Yale University Press) is the first comprehensive book providing a
well-rounded introduction to Israel, a definitive account of the
nation’s past, its often controversial present, and much more. It
presents a clear and detailed view of the country’s land, people,
history, society, politics, economics, and culture. This book is written
for general readers and students who may have little knowledge but
even well-informed readers tell us they’ve learned new things.Please
click on the picture of the book on the right column of this site to
purchase and/or get more information on the book.
An especially important reason why Obama’s administration hasn’t been far more hostile to Israel in practice is that the Arabs and Iran shafted his policy. Remember that Obama offered to support the Palestinians, pressure Israel, and accelerate talks if only the Arab states and Palestinian Authority showed some flexibility. They repeatedly rejected his efforts—refusing even to talk–giving him no opportunity or incentive to press Israel for concessions. Note too, though, that the repeated humiliations handed him by the Arabs never made him criticize them publicly, change his general line, or back Israel more enthusiastically.
The same point applies to Iran. While Obama has intensified sanctions on Iran, he:
- Did so only after a long delay.
- Did less than Congress wanted/
- Exempted in effect China, Russia, and Turkey from observing the sanctions.
Obama has been visibly eager to make a deal with Tehran, even on bad terms. Only Iran’s hard line has prevented some kind of arrangement that favored Iran. Instead, though, Tehran has used Obama’s slowness and desire for some compromise in order to buy time for its nuclear program to progress.
Finally, there’s the most important factor of all. The main damage Obama has done to Israeli security is neither so much in the area of bilateral relations nor regarding the Israel-Palestinian conflict but as a result of his regional policy in the Middle East. This includes his:
Soft line toward antisemitic, anti-Israel, and also anti-American Islamism.
Support for overturning the Mubarak regime and encouragement for a Muslim Brotherhood takeover there. During the 2011 crisis, Obama never even consulted Israel. The outspoken antisemitism, calls for genocide against Israel’s citizens, and support for anti-Israel terrorism by the Muslim Brotherhood have had no effect on Obama’s policy and brought no criticism by the U.S. government of that movement.
This point must be underlined. Do not forget for one moment that the Brotherhood is an explicitly antisemitic movement that calls for genocide against Jews in and often outside of Israel. It has never to the tiniest degree criticized or repented for its strong support for Nazi Germany. It is in fact that most important antisemitic movement in the world today. Anyone who claims that this movement is in fact moderate (denying its antisemitism and genocidal intentions) and helps it to achieve power is acting profoundly against the interests of Israel and of the Jewish people. Period.
His soft line toward Hizballah in Lebanon, including breaking promises made to Israel to keep terrorists out of south Lebanon.
Pressure on Israel to reduce sanctions on the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip greatly empowered that radical antisemitic movement.
The Obama administration has been passive about the Fatah-Hamas merger and has virtually never criticized or pressured the Palestinian Authority.
By distancing himself from Israel–something everyone in the world knows except about 60 percent of American Jews–he has encouraged Israel’s enemies to be bolder and others to move away from support for Israel, too.
One of his worst actions has been to come close to worshipping Turkey’s Islamist regime despite its tremendous hostility toward Israel. Obama’s passivity has helped turn the Turkey-Israel alliance into something verging on cold war. Since the Turkish regime continues to be rewarded by Obama despite doing things like getting Israel barred from the NATO meeting and indicting Israeli officers over the Gaza flotilla confrontation, Ankara has no incentive to stop or reduce its enmity.
In Syria, he has supported the installation of an Islamist leadership for the opposition movement, posing a tremendous potential future danger for Israel.
Regarding Iran, Obama was very slow to take up the battle against the nuclear weapons campaign. Despite the relatively high level of sanctions (for which Congress deserves a lot of the credit), one can well doubt his future determination to battle Tehran. He also failed to support the Iranian opposition.
And by weakening American credibility and alliances, Obama has undermined the U.S. ability to protect its own interests which, in turn, hurts Israel’s security.
There’s a lot more and each of the factors above can be amplified with lots of examples and documentation. All of this far overwhelms the very short “pro-Obama” list.
Did I mention that during a second term he won’t need to worry about fundraising or running for election again?
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs
(GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International
Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press.
Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition),
The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle
East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.