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Friday, September 16, 2011

Was Obama Anti-Israel?

In a poll days before the special election for the U.S. House seat vacated by Anthony Weiner, only 22% of Jewish voters said they approved of Barak Obama’s handling of Israel. Dan Senor points to the erosion of Obama’s Jewish fund-raising as another sign that the president was losing Jewish support in the United States. A poll by McLaughlin & Associates found that of Jewish donors who donated to Obama in 2008, only 64% had already donated or planned to donate to his re-election campaign of 2012. While a politician would undoubtedly try to placate and mollify the unsatisfied electorate, a statesman acting in the American interest might conclude that those voters were wrong in their assessment that the president’s policy was “anti-Israel.”

In February 2008, Barak Obama said, “There is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you’re anti-Israel.” In July 2009, the president reported told Jewish leaders at the White House that he sought to put daylight between the U.S. and the state of Israel. In the same meeting, he said that Israel needed “to engage in serious self-reflection.” These comments are hardly anti-Israel.
In fact, in 2011 as the Palestinian foreign minister was insisting that Palestine would apply for membership in the U.N., the American administration was threatening a veto should the application go through the Security Council. According to Ethan Bronner, “The United States has said it will use its veto there because it believes that the only way to Palestinian statehood is through direct negotiations with Israel.” The Palestinians could go through the General Assembly, but they would only get a nonmember state status. That would save the U.S. blowback from the Arab world after exercising the veto.

That the Obama administration would veto a Palestinian membership in the U.N. ought to be a sufficient indication to American pro-Israel voters that Barak Obama is not “anti-Israel.” In fact, the veto threat tells the world that the U.S. is firmly in Israel’s corner rather than being able to take on an “honest broker” role in the conflict. Given that Israel continued building settlements after the U.S. indicated that it did not support it, the American administration’s veto threat looks very pro-Israel. From an American perspective, the threat could even be viewed as too pro-Israel.

It could be that more tough love from the U.S. toward Israel rather than a veto threat could have pushed the peace talks ahead. Rather than having done nothing as Israel continued its settlements’ construction, for instance, the Americans could have withheld aid pending a final peace agreement. Lest that of failed to get Israel’s attention, the aid money ($13 billion annually?) could have been paid to the Palestinians until such time as a peace deal was concluded (being oppressed, the Palestinians would have pressed for a deal even given the loss of the diverted aid).

Along a similar line, the E.U. was considering a pledge to support Palestinian statehood at the U.N. after one year’s time, assuming the Palestinians immediately resumed direct negotiations with Israel. The E.U. would support Palestinian statehood if no peace deal were achieved. That it could easily be presumed unlikely that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would agree with her E.U. counterpart, Catherine Ashton, on such a plan suggests that the Obama administration is indeed generally viewed as pro- rather than anti-Israel.

Even if President Obama was regarded as anti-Israel by some American Jews, he could have used his first term to run the end-game for peace by pressuring Israel rather than acquiescing in order to get re-elected by appeasing voters already mischaracterizing his stance as anti-Israel. Of course, ending the game with a peace deal—difficult if not impossible when holding to the status quo—would have done more for the president’s re-election bid than trying to appease skeptical American Jewish voters by threatening a veto at the U.N. The best means of re-election can be quite ironic, while the most political path of least resistance can actually be the worst.

Voters who think they see an “anti-Israel” policy in spite of the veto threat are wrong; they are over-sensitive to any “daylight” and too used to getting everything they want, policy-wise. Appeasing such voters is not in America’s interest. Given the benefit to Israel from a peace deal, the appeasement is not in Israel’s interest either. So it can justifiably be asked whether those voters accusing Barak Obama of being anti-Israel are actually anti-Israel in terms of long term consequences. Fortunately, America’s interest is more pro-Israel.


Dan Senor, “Why Obama Is Losing the Jewish Vote,” Wall Street Journal, September 14, 2011. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904353504576568710341742174.html

Ethan Bronner, “Palestinians Resist Appeals to Halt U.N. Statehood Bid,” New York Times, September 16, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/16/world/middleeast/palestinians-resist-appeals-to-halt-un-statehood-bid.html

Jay Solomon, “Palestinians Firm on State Vote,” Wall Street Journal, September 19, 2011. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904194604576579082941297682.html