On May 21, 2015, Jeffrey Goldberg from The Atlantic published an interview with US President Barack Obama on ISIS, Iraq and Israel. Here is a review of Obama’s comments on Israel and his deliberate attempt to minimize his threats to Israel. It would appear that the president needs a reminder that the primary Jewish value is the sanctity of life.
Photo of President Obama from The Atlantic May 2015
OBAMA’S CLAIM OF JEWISH SUPPORT AND
- 1) Obama stated that he enjoys broad Jewish support. “I consistently received overwhelming majority support from the Jewish community, and even after all the publicity around the recent differences that I’ve had with Prime Minister Netanyahu, the majority of the Jewish American community still supports me, and supports me strongly.”
Comment: Obama’s Jewish support has declined considerably. Obama received weaker Jewish support than any of the recent Democratic candidates for president (going back to the loser Michael Dukakis in 1988).
- 2012 Obama 69%
- 2008 Obama 78%
- 2004 Kerry 76%
- 2000 Gore 79%
- 1996 Clinton 78%
- 1992 Clinton 80%
- 1988 Dukakis 64%
Obama’s poll numbers continued to collapse among Jews, especially during the six months prior to the interview. The latest Gallup poll had Obama’s approval rating among Jews at 54%, only 8% above the national average. That was the narrowest gap ever in Obama’s presidency. This precipitous drop-off coincides with Obama’s decision to encourage 58 Democratic loyalists to walk out on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the joint session of Congress
- 2) Obama said “political” opportunists are portraying him as anti-Israel and anti-Jewish because he questions Israel’s policy regarding Palestinians. “there has been a very concerted effort on the part of some political forces to equate being pro-Israel, and hence being supportive of the Jewish people, with a rubber stamp on a particular set of policies coming out of the Israeli government. So if you are questioning settlement policy, that indicates you’re anti-Israeli, or that indicates you’re anti-Jewish. If you express compassion or empathy towards Palestinian youth, who are dealing with checkpoints or restrictions on their ability to travel, then you are suspect in terms of your support of Israel. If you are willing to get into public disagreements with the Israeli government, then the notion is that you are being anti-Israel, and by extension, anti-Jewish. I completely reject that.”
Comment: Obama’s critics and his collapsing poll numbers are about OBAMA’s policies regarding Israel, not Israel’s policies regarding Palestinians. Obama’s poll numbers among Jews were fairly consistent during his first term, but with a downturn which could be attributed both to his criticisms of Israel’s permitting Jews to live anywhere they choose as well as the Democrat’s gutting of their pro-Israel platform in 2012. The more precipitous drop in Jewish support for Obama had to do with his Iranian nuclear negotiations and his treatment of the Israeli PM during that time.
Comment: Obama is being a hypocrite by stating that his “public disagreements with the Israeli government” should not be construed as anti-Israel, while Netanyahu’s public criticism of Obama’s policies were attacked. Obama has criticized Israel repeatedly on the world stage for Israel’s handling of disputed lands. However, when Netanyahu disagreed with Obama, it was over a matter that was an existential threat to Israel. Yet Obama chose to belittle Netanyahu’s argument and berate the Israeli leader.
- 3) Obama believes that Israel is simply a safe haven for Jews. “There’s a direct line between supporting the right of the Jewish people to have a homeland and to feel safe and free of discrimination and persecution, and the right of African Americans to vote and have equal protection under the law. These things are indivisible in my mind”
Comment: Obama has never internalized that Israel is THE homeland of the Jewish people. There has always been an important and significant disconnect that Obama has about Israel: Israel is not simply a safe haven where Jews are “free of discrimination and persecution.” Such a safe space could have been created in Uganda too. Israel is not just “a homeland” as if Jews had been self-governing in many other places on earth for centuries; as if the Jewish religion did not have an exclusive and unique relationship with the holy land. Israel is THE homeland of the Jewish people as it has been for 3700 years. That is why the San Remo Conference in 1920 specified Palestine for the Jews.
- 4) Obama has hung all of his pro-Israel credentials on his support of Israel militarily. “I have maintained, and I think I can show that no U.S. president has been more forceful in making sure that we help Israel protect itself, and even some of my critics in Israel have acknowledged as much.”
Comment: Obama’s goal for Israel is not particularly unique. Obama has stressed that the Iraqi government needs to protect Iraq; the Afghani government needs to protect Afghanistan, and so on. Obama has sought to pull American forces out of conflict zones and put the onus on the local governments to protect themselves. That is a broad Obama policy decision – with which one can agree or not regarding America’s role as the world policeman.
What is not subject to debate, is that the policy is not unique and is hardly the great shining example for Obama to underscore as his complete bona fides in being pro-Israel. His stance for Israel’s security is part-and-parcel of his broad position regarding military support and cooperation around the region.
OBAMA’S DOUBLE STANDARDS
- 5) Obama was highly critical of Netanyahu’s comments as being counter to Israel’s democratic laws. Obama came out forcefully against Netanyahu’s comments to get out the vote when Bibi feared he was losing the election. “what I [Obama] did say is that when, going into an election, Prime Minister Netanyahu said a Palestinian state would not happen under his watch, or there [was] discussion in which it appeared that Arab-Israeli citizens were somehow portrayed as an invading force that might vote, and that this should be guarded against—this is contrary to the very language of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which explicitly states that all people regardless of race or religion are full participants in the democracy. When something like that happens, that has foreign-policy consequences.”
Comment: Obama was curiously selective in focusing on certain comments which portrayed Netanyahu only as an extremist. Obama chose to focus on Netanyahu’s comments on election eve when Netanyahu was worried he was going to lose the elections and was trying to rally groups to get out and vote for him. Obama ignored Netanyahu’s later comments which back-tracked and explained his intentions regarding election night. Obama ignored the many years that Netanyahu negotiated with the Palestinian Arabs (Netanyahu ran three prior Israeli governments). Obama ignored Netanyahu’s handing over cities to the Palestinian Authority in showing his willingness to swap land-for-peace.
Comment: Obama ignored comments from repressive regimes. Obama is putting forward sanction reliefs for Iran while the regime chants “Death to America”. Obama has back-tracked from his no nuclear capability for Iran pledge, while Iran chants “Death to Israel”. Obama pushed Israel to negotiate with acting President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas and to release Arab terrorists convicted of murder, while Abbas celebrated the killers of innocent Israelis.
Comment: Obama ignored undemocratic regimes. Obama’s reference to Israel’s Declaration of Independence suggested that he only treats countries with liberal values as allies. How does Obama send billions of dollars to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which is one of the most repressive regimes in the world?
Comment: Obama threatened Israel. While Obama ignored the many statements and long history of Netanyahu negotiating with the Palestinian Authority, and ignored the actions and statements of surrounding Arab governments, he threatened Israel. Threatening a country is a far cry from having a difference of opinion or being upset with momentary excited statements from an individual. When Turkish leader Erdogan called Zionism a “Crime against Humanity”, the White House denounced the statement but never threatened Turkey. When Erdogan called for Muslims to conquer Jerusalem, the White House was silent; no threats were issued. Indeed, Obama considered Erdogan one of his closest friends among world leaders.
As detailed in FirstOneThrough “International-Domestic Abuse: Obama and Netanyahu”, the relationship between Israel and the United States is both unique and not one of peers. Israel relies on the US on many levels. Therefore, Obama’s double standards for Netanyahu, coupled with Obama’s global pronouncement that he will punish the entire country of Israel, is an abuse that has angered Israel supporters around the world.
- 6) Obama has no issue criticizing Israel on the global stage, as he stated: “the one argument that I very much have been concerned about, and it has gotten stronger over the last 10 years … it’s less overt than the arguments that a Sheldon Adelson makes, but in some ways can be just as pernicious, is this argument that there should not be disagreements in public”
Comment: Obama has double standards about criticism in public. Obama lectured Netanyahu that Bibi’s election eve comments and actions ran counter to Israel’s laws. Would Obama feel it is appropriate for Netanyahu to lecture him about America’s ongoing use of the death penalty which most of the western world abolished? Would Obama care to hear about Netanyahu’s views on how the US should treat gay marriage or gays in the military as running afoul of America’s foundation documents? Or would Obama feel that such comments have nothing to do with Israel and that he doesn’t need to listen to a lecture about his own country’s laws from a foreign leader?
Yet, when Netanyahu criticized Obama’s negotiations with Iran over their nuclear program – which poses a direct existential threat to Israel – Obama did not just get offended, but rallied his Democratic loyalists to boycott Netanyahu’s speech in D.C.
OBAMA’S “VALUES” RED HERRING
- 7) Obama received talking points from liberal rabbis. Obama’s interview was peppered with remarks specifically intended for a Jewish audience: “we creating a safe Jewish homeland, but also we are remaking the world. We’re repairing it.” Obama also said “when you show intolerance and when you are persecuting minorities and when you are objectifying them and making them the Other, you are destroying something in yourself,”
Comment: Obama learned only half a lesson from the rabbis. The phrases used by Obama are uniquely Jewish referring in English to Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, and “Acher”, the Other. The choice of language was so out of place that it would be the equivalent of a Jewish person littering a conversation with “Grace”. The Atlantic’s Goldberg even made the comparison stating “Obama, when he talks about Israel, sounds like a rabbi in the progressive Zionist tradition.” The aggressive Obama sales tactic was clearly courtesy of a progressive rabbi to parrot to a Jewish audience.
Regrettably, Obama only learned (or was taught) half of the lesson. The most important Jewish value of all is the preciousness and sacredness of life. Protecting life supersedes almost every other commandment. It is precisely for that reason that Jews have turned against Obama and his poll numbers have dropped. Enabling Iran to get a nuclear weapon threatens millions of people in Israel. Obama’s threats to suddenly withhold support for Israel at the United Nations risks putting Israel’s border security and economic viability at risk.
- 8) Obama has higher expectations for Israel. “it’s true, I have high expectations for Israel, and they’re not unrealistic expectations, they’re not stupid expectations, they’re not the expectations that Israel would risk its own security blindly in pursuit of some idealistic pie-in-the-sky notions”
Comment: Obama has double standards for Israel. There is no crime in having high expectations for someone; indeed, it is often thought of as a compliment. However, if one uses those higher expectations to punish the party, that is a form of discrimination. For example, Obama cannot make demands on Israel for preconditions for final status talks but make none on Palestinian Arabs. Obama cannot wage wars thousands of miles from his shores against enemies who cannot possibly destroy the US, while berating Israel for fighting against an enemy on its borders that threaten to destroy Israel.
- 9) Obama thinks there is nothing unique about Jewish values or a Jewish State. “Goldberg question: you want Israel to embody Jewish values. Obama: I want Israel, in the same way that I want the United States, to embody the Judeo-Christian and, ultimately then, what I believe are human or universal values that have led to progress over a millennium”
Comment: There is one Jewish State called Israel and its Jewish Values stress the sanctity of life. Obama managed to roll Judaism into Christianity and ultimately human and universal terms. While I am sure that he intended this as a compliment, it also undermined the uniqueness of Israel.
By way of comparison, does Obama have dreams that Turkey will embody Judeo-Christian values? How about Norway or Greece? Costa Rica? He probably does, but he would never make such a statement as those countries have distinct Islamic or Christian characters. To state that he wished they embody several cultural values does several things:
- It minimizes the difference between the religions
- It suggests that the country does not live up to those values
Regarding the first point, Obama minimized the fact that there is only one Jewish state. While Israel has religious freedom for all, it is the Jewish homeland. Israel’s goal is not to embody Obama’s dream of a Star Trek-like future of universalism.
Regarding the second point, Obama needs to be re-educated by the progressive rabbis that coached him, about the paramount Jewish value of the sanctity of life. It is precisely for that reason that Netanyahu came to address the joint session of Congress to talk about the Iranian nuclear threat. That exact value and speech that Obama boycotted.
- 10) Obama thinks Jewish Values are about freedom and human rights. Obama continued from his comments above about Judeo-Christian and universal values: “The same values that led to the end of Jim Crow and slavery. The same values that led to Nelson Mandela being freed and a multiracial democracy emerging in South Africa. The same values that led to the Berlin Wall coming down. The same values that animate our discussion on human rights and our concern that people on the other side of the world who may be tortured or jailed for speaking their mind or worshipping—the same values that lead us to speak out against anti-Semitism. I want Israel to embody these values because Israel is aligned with us in that fight for what I believe to be true. And that doesn’t mean there aren’t tough choices and there aren’t compromises. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have to ask ourselves very tough questions about, in the short term, do we have to protect ourselves,”
Comment: Obama doesn’t know that Israel is the most liberal country from Greece to Singapore to South Africa. What was this Obama rant? Was there an insinuation that Israel is an apartheid state (why mention Jim Crow or Nelson Mandela)? Was there a suggestion that Israel’s Security Wall which it built to stop Palestinian terrorism in 2002 is like the Berlin Wall? Does he think that people are being tortured or jailed for speaking their mind or worshipping in Israel? Israel is a thriving liberal country in the heart of a backwards Middle East. What were these bizarre comparisons? Why does Obama say that he “wants Israel to embody these values” rather than acknowledge that it DOES embody those values?
Should Netanyahu wax about his dream for America to not shoot unarmed black people?
- 11) Obama claimed to understand the need for protecting Jerusalem. As he stated above and continued: “I was the first one to acknowledge that you can’t have the risk of terrorists coming up right to the edge of Jerusalem and exposing populations”
Comment: Obama lied about understanding security for Jerusalem. If Obama understood the need for security for Israel’s capital, how can he condemn Jews LIVING in Jerusalem? Why did Obama condemn Jews moving into homes they legally purchased?
How can Obama state that Israel’s development of E1 which protects Jerusalem from the east, is a bad idea that hinders a final agreement? Obama in March 2013 to Palestinian Arabs: “You mentioned E1, in particular. I think that is an example of at least a public statement by the Israeli government that would be very difficult to square with a two-state solution.” E1, which connects Jerusalem to Maale Adumim, a city which every Israeli Prime Minister has always insisted on retaining, is the exact solution for keeping “terrorists [from] coming up right to the edge of Jerusalem and exposing populations.”
- 12) Obama thinks he is a better at Jewish Values than Netanyahu. Obama concluded the thought above with “So this isn’t an issue of being naive or unrealistic, but ultimately yes, I think there are certain values that the United States, at its best, exemplifies. I think there are certain values that Israel, and the Jewish tradition, at its best exemplifies. And I am willing to fight for those values.”
Comment: Obama continued to move the discussion away from defending Israel’s security to defending its values. In a fitting conclusion of delusion, Obama placed himself in the center of defending Israel. How is he doing it? By enabling Iran to get nuclear weapons and withholding support for Israel at the United Nations. Doesn’t seem logical to you? Well, let me explain the Obamian logic:
- Since Obama said he has Israel’s back, you must believe him. Just ignore that his words about preventing Iran to get nuclear capacity have been meaningless; that the Syrian red line was crossed without consequence; that Obama has ignored US’s treaties to support Ukraine and let Russia take over half of the country.
- Since Obama said he is willing to fight for Jewish Values, you must believe him. Just ignore that he doesn’t understand that the primary Jewish value is the sanctity of life. Ignore that he thinks Israel isn’t the most democratic and humane country for thousands of miles in every direction.
Obama clearly does not appreciate the values that Israel lives each day. If he did, he would be doing the opposite of his current actions by nixing a bad Iranian deal and by standing proudly next to Israel in international fora like the United Nations.
OBAMA UPSET AT BEING CRITICIZED BY ISRAEL SUPPORTERS
- 13) Obama knows that double standards are wrong. “you should be able to align yourself with Israel when it comes to making sure that it is not held to a double standard in international fora”
Comment: Obama hasn’t internalized his own double standards for Israel. Obama spoke about Israel’s history and the history of anti-Semitism even until today which makes it easy to align himself with Israel. However, his personal higher expectations of Israel and the unique role that the United States has in defending Israel in international for a has made him use double standards for the country.
- 14) Obama feels his moral convictions and role as defender of Jewish values can let him criticize Israel without being hostile. “we can have a debate, and we can have an argument. But you can’t equate people of good will who are concerned about those issues with somebody who is hostile towards Israel”
Comment: Threats and actions that have dire consequences are not debates. Of course anyone can debate and disagree (in a democracy!) The two questions are 1) how do you do it and 2) what are the ramifications.
Regarding how one disagrees, the notion of being publicly hostile and rallying party loyalist to blacklist the Israeli prime minister is NOT the way to disagree. When the animosity is so public that fellow world leaders would approach you and share their disgust with Netanyahu (French PM Sarkozy in 2011), you have clearly let it be known to the world that you seriously despise the man. Politics is an art of subtlty and getting things moivig along. Mission Failed.
To the second point, on the ramifications of disagreeing, in a civil society, people just go back to their corners and disagree. However, in this situation, the disagreement leads to Iran – which has sworn to destroy Israel – obtaining nuclear weapons. Here the disagreement has led to the threat of the US not siding with Israel at the United Nations to make Israel become a pariah state and subject to various sanctions.
This is not simply “it’s OK to disagree”. Those disagreements will seriously harm the very viability of the State of Israel. And to somehow suggest that putting Israel in grave risk REPEATEDLY should not lead anyone to question the “good will” of those people is puzzling. To argue that the actions themselves are not “hostile towards Israel” is absurd.
While Obama may have won over some Israel-supporters with his heavily coached- discussion on values, the red herring he is marketing is foul.
Related First One Through Articles:
International-Domestic Abuse: Obama and Netanyahu
Netanyahu’s View of Obama: Trust and Consequences
For Obama, Israeli security is not so time-sensitive
Bugs Bunny on Obama’s credibility in Negotiating with Iran
Red Herrings on the Red Line