How the ‘Obama and Israel’ Debate Misses the Point

March 13, 2013 12:56 am 0 comments

Vice President Joe Biden at the recent AIPAC conference said, “No President has done more to protect Israel than Obama.” Photo: Maxine Dovere.

WASHINGTON, DC - A persistent theme at this month’s policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the weightiest and most influential of all the groups making Israel’s case in Washington, centered on President Barack Obama’s record on Israel in comparison with previous Administrations.

Vice President Joe Biden, who addressed the conference on Monday morning, was unequivocal.

“No President has done more to protect Israel than Obama,” he declared. (Interestingly, the applause that greeted this remark was noticeably more muted than that which followed Biden’s other statements, for example on the need to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.)

Many of the numerous tweets from the assembled crowd that conveyed each of Biden’s points noted that there was a massive elephant in the room, in the form of the recently confirmed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Hagel’s record of hostile statements towards the “Jewish lobby” (his phrase) and his queasiness about pursuing the military option with regard to Iran didn’t exactly boost the image of Obama as offered up by Biden, who prudently elected to leave Hagel out of his speech.

The debate about Obama’s friendliness to Israel has essentially been an exercise in number crunching. Partisans of the administration point out that securing Israel’s military edge is a key aim that has been acted upon: close to a billion dollars has been granted for missile defense, including the path-breaking Iron Dome system, along with $3.1 billion in aid last year, and the provision of bunker busting bombs that would presumably be deployed in any pre-emptive strike upon Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Those less sanguine about Obama’s record point out that this level of aid is hardly unprecedented. In 2000, as the Israeli-Palestinian grand bargain negotiated through the Oslo Agreement began to unravel with the second Palestinian intifada, the Clinton Administration provided Israel with $3.12 billion in aid—adjusted for inflation, that’s just over $4 billion in today’s terms. The Obama skeptics also argue that the current level of American aid to Israel was set in 2007 by the previous George W. Bush administration, following a 10-year, $30 billion military aid package agreed to by Washington and Jerusalem.

The bottom line is simply this: If the available data makes nonsense of the claim that Obama is an Israel-hating radical, it also shows that he’s nothing out of the ordinary. Yes, he’s had a frosty relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, but when has the U.S.-Israel relationship been smooth sailing? Ronald Reagan famously tussled with the Israelis over the provision of AWACs to Saudi Arabia, while George H.W. Bush expressed his displeasure with Israeli policy towards the Palestinians by threatening to cut off loan guarantees to the government of the late Prime Minister, Yitzhak Shamir.

Why, then, does anxiety persist in pro-Israel circles about Obama? Because, I would argue, his administration’s foreign policy can be encapsulated in a single word: equivocation. And it’s a problem that extends far beyond bilateral relations with Israel.

Take Syria. As Bashar al-Assad’s butchery continues without mercy, we long ago lost an opportunity to take charge of regime change by striking a deal with Syrian rebels, thus leaving the field open to Al Qaeda affiliates and other Islamist groups. (Contrast Obama’s dithering over Syria with the decisive French military intervention against Islamist terrorists in Mali.) Now there is a very real prospect that Assad’s weapons of mass destruction could fall into the hands of such groups, with potentially dire consequences for the security situation on Israel’s northern border.

Or take Egypt. When it comes to the Arab world’s historically dominant country, Obama and his foreign policy team have actively stoked the fiction that the new Muslim Brotherhood regime in Cairo can somehow be moderated.

Further afield, there is a clear lack of U.S. leadership everywhere from the Korean Peninsula, where North Korea’s communist regime is engaging in one of its periodic bouts of hysteria against the South, to Latin America, where a U.S. government delegation dutifully trooped to the funeral of Venezuela’s tyrant, Hugo Chavez, alongside President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. Such displays fuel the fear that Obama doesn’t do enough to distinguish between our friends and our enemies, and that he takes our friends for granted while exaggerating the degree of goodwill on the part of our enemies.

Put another way, this administration does very little to promote constitutional liberal democracy—a system which, as the philosopher Immanuel Kant argued in the eighteenth century, is the best guarantor of “perpetual peace”—on a global scale. Its conduct of international relations is akin to the “talking cure” favored by relationship therapists: engage in dialogue, and everything will be all right.

That’s why I have no argument with those who say Obama is committed to Israel’s defense. My reservations stem from his over-cautious response to the myriad threats that face not just Israel, but other key allies of the United States as well. And with the main impact of sequestration hitting the defense budget, there is good reason to worry that the administration has made its peace with the decline of American power at precisely the time it’s needed most.

Ben Cohen is the Shillman Analyst for JNS.org. His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Ha’aretz, Jewish Ideas Daily and many other publications.

Leave a Reply

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


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Theater US & Canada New Play Explores the ‘Arrogance’ of American Jews Critical of Israel, Playwright Says

    New Play Explores the ‘Arrogance’ of American Jews Critical of Israel, Playwright Says

    In his new play Mr. Goldberg Goes to Tel Aviv, playwright Oren Safdie tackles an issue that he has a major concern with: the relationship between Israelis and left-leaning Diaspora Jews with their “I know better” critical views. At the heart of the one-act play is Tony, a Jewish and gay Palestinian sympathizer who expresses strong anti-Israel sentiments when the play begins and at one point even sides with a Palestinian terrorist who holds his captive. Tony, who is also an [...]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Hassidic Parody of Taylor Swift Song Apes Long Jewish Holidays (VIDEO)

    Hassidic Parody of Taylor Swift Song Apes Long Jewish Holidays (VIDEO)

    A Jewish comedy troupe released a parody video on Wednesday of Taylor Swift’s hit song Shake It Off in which they joke about taking extensive time off from work for Jewish holidays. “And the goyim gonna stay, stay, stay, stay, stay. And the Jews are gonna pray, pray pray, pray, pray. I’m just gonna take, take, take, take, take. I’m taking off,” goes the chorus for I’m Taking Off. Menachem Weinstein, the video’s lead singer, is the creative director at [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Literature On 75th Anniversary, Looking at the Jewish Influence on Gone With the Wind

    On 75th Anniversary, Looking at the Jewish Influence on Gone With the Wind

    JNS.org – The 75th anniversary of the premiere of “Gone with the Wind” on Dec. 15 presents an opportunity to examine the Jewish influence on one of the most popular films of all time. That influence starts with the American Civil War epic’s famed producer, David O. Selznick. Adjusted for inflation, “Gone with the Wind” remains the highest-grossing movie ever made. It earned the 1939 Academy Award for Best Picture, the same honor another Selznick film, “Rebecca,” garnered in 1940. Selznick [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Music US & Canada EXCLUSIVE: Matisyahu Provides Most Extensive Analysis Yet of His Religious, Musical Evolution (INTERVIEW)

    EXCLUSIVE: Matisyahu Provides Most Extensive Analysis Yet of His Religious, Musical Evolution (INTERVIEW)

    Matisyahu got candid in an exclusive interview with The Algemeiner on Monday about his religious and musical journey – after shedding his Chassidic skin, yarmulke, long beard and all – from the start of his career in 2005 when he became a reggae superstar with hits King Without a Crown and Jerusalem. The singer-songwriter embarks on his Festival of Light tour this month, an annual Hanukkah event that stops in Montreal, New York, and other cities before ending in San Juan, [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Personalities ‘Sheriff of Mars’ Unveils Endearing Life of Jewish Music Star Hidden in the Fields of France

    ‘Sheriff of Mars’ Unveils Endearing Life of Jewish Music Star Hidden in the Fields of France

    JNS.org – It was an era of steel strings, guitar heroes, and storytellers—high on heroin, rebellious. Outlaw country music, the hallmark of Nashville’s powerful and angry music scene of the 1970s, was the brew of greats such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Townes Van Zandt. But there is another, little-known music hero of that era: Daniel Antopolsky. A Jewish lad from Augusta, Ga.—the son of immigrants who settled in the south and ran a hardware store on Main Street—the [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Iranian Actress Replaces Israel’s Gal Gadot for ‘Ben-Hur’ Remake

    Iranian Actress Replaces Israel’s Gal Gadot for ‘Ben-Hur’ Remake

    Iranian actress Nazanin Boniadi replaced Israeli star Gal Gadot as the female lead in the new Ben-Hur remake, Hollywood.com reported on Tuesday. The Homeland actress will play Esther, a slave that Ben-Hur sets free and falls in love with. Gadot quit the movie when it became clear that filming conflicted with her schedule for the Man of Steel sequel. The Israeli actress plays Wonder Woman in the superhero film Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Actor Jack Huston takes on the [...]

    Read 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 →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.