Obama and Israel: A Flexible Alliance

April 3, 2012 9:06 am 0 comments

President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in the White House on March 5, 2012. Photo: White House photo.

In the last several months, the Obama administration has been on its best behavior toward the State of Israel.

With the upcoming presidential election dominating everything that happens in Washington, the president has been particularly keen to debunk the idea that he is anything but a devoted friend of the Jewish state. After three years of unceasing tension and bitter disputes about settlements, Jerusalem and borders, President Obama has more or less abandoned his previous line about the necessity of pressuring Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians and concentrated instead on the nuclear threat from Iran.

This delighted Jewish Democrats who were dismayed by the administration’s previous attempts to distance itself from Israel. Those Democrats can also point, with justice, to the fact that the security alliance between the two countries has been continued and even strengthened under Obama. These gestures are, Obama hopes, enough to keep any leakage in the normally solid Jewish vote for the Democrats to a minimum this fall.

But those who assume that Obama’s election year conversion will carry over into a second term may be in for an unpleasant surprise. As the president told Russian President Dimitry Medvedev in an embarrassing “hot mic” moment at a recent summit, “This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.” Unfortunately for friends of Israel, that “flexibility” will probably apply to more than negotiations over missile defense. There is good reason to believe that the president’s behavior in his second term will revert to the pattern that characterized it before the charm offensive began.

Even now, when the president is being so careful to avoid a repeat of his past spats with Netanyahu, there are clear signs that the disconnect between this administration and Israel’s government has not been repaired.

On the key issue of Iran’s nuclear program, friends of Israel have been gratified by the president’s tough rhetoric and willingness to finally tighten sanctions on Tehran. But questions remain about what Washington will do once, as is almost certain, the “window of diplomacy” that Obama has opened closes without the Iranians giving in.

While the administration’s public posture has been supportive of Israeli self-defense, in private officials are grousing about the fact that the president’s harsh rhetoric about Iran’s nukes is preventing them from creating a diplomatic “solution” that would satisfy Tehran and obviate the need for sanctions that might impact oil prices and the global economy. These officials have every expectation that next year they will be given the room they need to craft a compromise that might even encompass a containment policy the president told AIPAC he won’t consider.

They have also done their best to undermine Israel’s own diplomatic efforts to gain allies in central Asia in order to threaten the Iranians. The administration’s leak of an agreement by Azerbaijan to allow Israel access to air bases on Iran’s northern border was an obvious effort to maintain the Jewish state’s isolation and keep it solely dependent on the U.S.

Elsewhere, even as the Palestinian track was put on the shelf, there were indications of the way that Obama has undermined Israel’s position on Jerusalem’s status. The statement by State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland last week—that seemed to indicate Obama believed the Palestinians had a veto even over whether Israel could even call the western part of Jerusalem its capital—was a reminder that Obama had staked out a position on the city that treated Jewish life there as almost indistinguishable from the most remote West Bank settlement.

In evaluating the president, it should be understood that the Republicans are not a lock to be an improvement. It should be remembered that during George W. Bush’s second term, he did much to set up the current impasse with the Palestinians and vetoed an Israeli preemptive strike on Iran. But anyone who assumes that the current era of good feelings between Obama and Israel will continue beyond November—once he need not fear the rejection of Jewish voters and donors—is in for a sharp shock.

JNS Columnist Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor of COMMENTARY magazine and chief political blogger at www.commentarymagazine.com. He can be reached via e-mail at: jtobin@commentarymagazine.com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/#!/TobinCommentary.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Book Reviews Personalities Biography Sheds New Light on David Ben-Gurion’s Place in Jewish History

    Biography Sheds New Light on David Ben-Gurion’s Place in Jewish History

    JNS.org – There is one sentence in “Ben-Gurion: Father of Modern Israel” that made me sit up in surprise. I thought that I knew the basic facts about how Israel came into being, but while describing what it was like in the days and hours before the state was declared, author Anita Shapira provides one important anecdote I was not aware of. On the 12th of May, the Zionist Executive met to decide what to do. Moshe Sharrett had just returned [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    An actress starring in the controversial Met Opera The Death of Klinghoffer defended the show on Tuesday by comparing it to the 1993 Holocaust film Schindler’s List, New York Post reported. “To me, this was like [the movie] Schindler’s List. We make art so people won’t forget,’’ said the actress, who plays a captured passenger in the show and asked not to be identified. The Met Opera focuses on the infamous murder of Lower East Side Jewish resident Leon Klinghoffer, 69. The wheelchair-bound father of [...]

    Read more →
  • Analysis Arts and Culture Beyond ‘Klinghoffer’: Opera’s Composer, Librettist Have Broader Jewish Problem

    Beyond ‘Klinghoffer’: Opera’s Composer, Librettist Have Broader Jewish Problem

    JNS.org – One of the most controversial operas in recent memory, “The Death of Klinghoffer,” debuted Oct. 20 at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. The Met has scheduled seven more performances through November. The first staging did not occur without protest, as about 400 demonstrators—including Jewish communal and nationally recognized leaders—came to Lincoln Center to denounce the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel opera. “Klinghoffer,” the creation of composer John Adams and librettist Alice Goodman, premiered in 1991—with few additional stagings. The opera is based [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Israeli Actress Gal Gadot in Talks to Star in Ben-Hur Remake

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot in Talks to Star in Ben-Hur Remake

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot is in negotiations to take on the female lead role in the remake of the 1959 classic Ben-Hur, according to The Hollywood Reporter. If the deal is finalized Gadot will play Esther, a slave and Ben-Hur’s love interest. Actor Jack Huston will star as the Jewish prince who is betrayed into slavery by his childhood friend Messala, played by Toby Kebbell. Ben-Hur fights for his freedom and vengeance with the help of Morgan Freeman’s character, who trains Ben-Hur how to win at chariot-racing. [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Young Israelis Try to Crowd-Fund Their Way to Major League Baseball Playoffs

    Young Israelis Try to Crowd-Fund Their Way to Major League Baseball Playoffs

    JNS.org – Baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie are the American dream. So why do two young men who have built their lives in Israel have a GoFundMe crowd-funding webpage with the urgent message that they need $3,000 to travel to the U.S. to watch the Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles square off for Major League Baseball’s (MLB) American League championship? Brothers Naftali and Yoni Schwartz, 27 and 25, respectively, are Kansas City natives. Even though they made aliyah with their [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Race Cars Speed Through Jerusalem in Amazing Exhibition

    Race Cars Speed Through Jerusalem in Amazing Exhibition

    Some 3,000 years ago, King David probably never imagined cars racing at 240 kilometers per hour (150 miles per hour) through the ancient capital of the Jewish people. But on Monday and Tuesday, October 6-7, thousands of Israelis lined the streets to watch Porsche, Audi, and Ferrari race cars fly through the capital against the backdrop of the Tower of David, the Old City Walls, and other city landmarks. The second annual non-competitive Jerusalem Formula One Road Show had been [...]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports NBA Superstar LeBron James Says He Wants to Visit Israel

    NBA Superstar LeBron James Says He Wants to Visit Israel

    Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James expressed interest in visiting Israel someday, local news site Cleveland.com reported on Sunday. Speaking to Israeli reporters before the Cleveland Cavaliers’ preseason debut against Maccabi Tel Aviv, the NBA star said he had never visited the Jewish state but “I want to look forward to going there if I get an opportunity to.” When asked by an Israeli reporter if there was “any chance that LeBron James and Cleveland comes to Tel Aviv,” the athlete said [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Florida Rabbi Dominates Former Basketball Star Congressman in Hoops Showdown (VIDEO)

    Florida Rabbi Dominates Former Basketball Star Congressman in Hoops Showdown (VIDEO)

    A Florida-based Chabad rabbi put former basketball star, U.S. Congressman Curt Clawson to shame on the court when the two faced off one-on-one recently. A YouTube video, posted online on Tuesday, shows Rabbi Fishel Zaklos of Chabad of Naples shooting hoops with the Florida politician, who played basketball in high school and at Purdue University in Indiana. The game took place in the parking lot of the Chabad Jewish center run by Zaklos. During the 1-minute clip, Zaklos scores two impressive [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.