In recent days I have been bombarded with comments and emails from many of my Jewish friends about the “ire directed against Israel, one of our closest friends”; and the assumed perfidy of the Obama administration, against our ally, in the recent settlement flap. While I normally pass such debate, the climax for me came with an op-ed by conservative columnist, Max Boot in the March 19 LA Times, titled “No way to treat a friend”. Boot, and my Jewish associates have it right – except they have their countries reversed. Israel’s reaction is no way to treat a friend…us!
First two disclaimers essential for my comments. Number one, I am a third generation American Jew born and raised in the nice middle-America state of Minnesota. I am a strong, consistent, and loyal supporter of Israel. I fully understand the danger that surrounds Israel (kindly do not write about my apparent naïveté, and unlike almost all of those who cite the danger, I have actually read the Hamas Charter). I am far from those who are characterized as “self-hating” Jews who rant about the plight of the Palestinians, nor do intend to get into that debate here. Nor is this about the right of Israel to control East Jerusalem (possibly true, but not relevant to this discussion).
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What this is about is twofold: first, my friends who characterize Obama as a weak ally of Israel or worse, a closet enemy – they are flat out wrong. Secondly, the recent actions of the Israeli government, and as they treated Biden, are detrimental to that country as well. My friends can explain it, rationalize it, and miscast Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, but they are mistaken, and I am calling them on that.
Let’s start with why the criticism of Obama is misguided, and flat out wrong. Here are the key points:
• Obama’s oath as president of the United States is to protect the interests, security, prestige and honor of our country…America. Not that of Israel or any others you wish to name. That is precisely what he is doing, and should do; and Biden did as well. This shows no lack of fidelity to Israel, as claimed; it is what we as Americans want and expect.
• Obama has other considerations in the region — especially the Saudis and Egypt. Both are in peril from the same extremists who threaten Israel; and both need Obama to make progress in the Israeli/Palestinian dispute to help stabilize the region. Thus, Obama’s focus goes beyond Israel, and the Arab nations are watching closely how he reacts to the Israeli snub.
• Obama’s closest and most frequent advisors are both Jewish: Rahm Emanuel, Chief of Staff, (whose father is an Israeli citizen); and David Axelrod, who ran the strategy for Obama’s successful campaign. This simply means that Obama obviously has great respect for Jewish advisors, and they in turn, have continuing access to him and his decision-making. That he has some hidden agenda or latent anti-Jewish feelings is unfounded and absurd. There is absolutely no evidence of that. Stop!
• Israel desperately needs (a fair and just) peace. Time runs against Israel in the midst of a hostile region in which it outmanned by a factor many times. Certainly they are militarily powerful, but 60 more years of pressure can change many things. What is needed is a third party broker, and in this case it is almost certainly the United States.
• If Obama indicates he is simply a mouthpiece for Israel’s negotiations, he is absolutely destroyed as a mediator in this dispute. By denigrating Obama, the Jews in America are reducing the value of the one person in the world who has any hope of bringing peace to that embattled region.
• In a strictly partisan debate, this hostility towards Obama has driven many American Jews into the arms of the Republicans, which I believe is going to be self-defeating, and ultimately dangerous. Today’s GOP has not only moved far to the right, but is now heavily under the influence of the fringes such as the Tea Party. History has shown that it is within these right-wing fringe elements that anti-Semitism more likely breeds. Furthermore, currently there are 13 Jewish Senators and 31 Jewish House members in Congress. All but one of these are Democrats. The rush of American Jews to the right is not a haven, or an answer to American support for Israel; and abandoning Obama and the Democratic Party is not in the long term interests of Israel. Be careful what you ask for.
As to the actions of the Israeli government in this dispute, there are three scenarios; either Netanyahu knew about the building of new homes in east Jerusalem, and gave the go ahead…he did not know it, and thus has lost control of his governance…or it was just a “blunder”. All three are egregious. I discount the last, because typically the Israelis do not do overtly stupid things. If indeed, Netanyahu knew about dissing Biden, or has lost control; neither will allow him to effectively negotiate for Israel in peace talks. Thus, the Israelis must get their act together, if talks are to resume; and American Jewry “excusing” their actions or rationalizing them, simply enables further discord to the detriment of any possible peace.
Despite the criticism awaiting my position, I have long felt that the most powerful voices for any group come from within. Despite all the ire and angst among my Jewish friends, I would ask them to chill out a bit…stop this relentless criticism of Obama, and think twice before diving into the right wing of the Republican Party. Know this: neither Obama nor America will abandon Israel. Obama has domestic, international and moral reasons to remain their staunchest ally. There is nothing wrong with calling Israel when they snub, disgrace or otherwise disparage America, and Obama has a pledge and a duty to respond in the interests of America. And finally, calling Israel on actions that harm our country and that relationship best comes from American Jews. That is my intention here: remember “friends do not let friends drive drunk”.