The recent kerfuffle involving President Obama and supporters of Israel that began with the President’s recent speech focusing on the “Arab Spring” and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, has elicited many opinions from all sides of the political spectrum. The President gave his address just days before the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy conference in Washington, D.C. where many were frustrated by his vision of Israel negotiating a political settlement based on its 1967 borders with limited land swaps. While supporters of Israel are understandably worried about President Obama’s position on this issue, as this specific position has never been publically stated by any US President, there is a larger philosophical principle at play.
Israel’s friends should not get bogged down on the semantics of President Obama’s speech, but should instead contemplate his opinion on the cause of tension between the two parties. I believe he is neither pro-Israel, nor is he anti-Israel. Rather, he is simply analyzing the Middle East with a worldview that does assume the US “has Israel’s back,” but also a belief that Israel is part of a problem, along with the Palestinians, that needs to be fixed. He is not pro-Palestinian at the expense of Israel necessarily, but he is certainly not a US president that boasts of the “special relationship” between the USA and Israel either. Supporters of Israel should understand, however, that he is under no obligation to do so as the duly elected President of the United States. We have become accustomed to Republican and Democratic administrations that are strong and vocal supporters of Israel, and in some ways we have taken this for granted.
Personally, I do not believe the President’s speech was particularly problematic from a pro-Israel point-of-view. However, the truly disconcerting issue is how this American president views Israel’s role in the Middle East. Instead of holding up Israel as the model for emerging Arab democracies, he seems to view Israel as the last hurdle preventing the spread of democracy and peace in the Middle East and North Africa. Israel has robust minority, women’s and gay rights as well as Arabs serving in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament). As Prime Minister Netanyahu stated, that Israeli Arabs enjoy the most freedom of all Arabs in the Middle East. One would think this would be something that a left-of-center President would trumpet.
President Obama seems to have a complex relationship with traditional allies of the United States, including not just Israel but also Mubarak’s Egypt, the Czech Republic and Poland with missile defense cuts, the United Kingdom and others. If one feels, as I do, that Israel is what is right with the Middle East, not what is wrong – paraphrasing Prime Minister Netanyahu speaking to a joint session of the US Congress and the AIPAC conference – then one should be apprehensive of this President’s drive to help Israel achieve true and lasting peace and security. The looming September vote at the United Nations for a Palestinian state will be very telling with regard to how far President Obama will go to maintain the US/Israel bond. Hopefully he will stand with the long-time American ally and follow the model of US Presidents of both political parties. This would be a strong beginning toward allaying the fears of many in the pro-Israel community.