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November 5, 2012 11:10 am

Why Obama’s a Bad Bet for Israel

avatar by Heather Robinson

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama at a previous occasion. Photo: AP/Charles Dharapak.

Recently, several Jewish-Americans who know I write about politics have confided that they are either planning to vote for Mitt Romney, or they are profoundly undecided about the Presidential election. In a few cases, they shared that they are lifelong Democratic voters, and spoke in hushed tones about their indecision. As one woman told me, “I will absolutely not vote for Obama.” But she “can’t bring [her]self to vote for Mitt Romney either.”

Undecided Jewish-American voters, particularly those who prioritize Israel’s security, should realize that, based on close examination of Obama’s record, their reluctance to vote for him is rational. And they should not hesitate to vote for Mitt Romney. In a free country with competing political parties, voters have choices, and there is no reason one party should have a monopoly on any bloc of voters. Moreover, Judaism as a religion values adherence to Jewish law, but not to one particular political party, and the Democratic Party Platform is not the Torah.

The President’s record on Israel is not without its positive points. His administration has allocated generously to Israel’s defense budget, including the Iron Dome missile defense system. But on the number one threat to Israel’s security – Iran – this administration has failed to show unity with the Israeli government at a uniquely precarious time. The “daylight,” to use the President’s own term, between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is ominous because, as Winston Churchill noted in the days preceding World War II, war can be prevented when there is unity among peaceful nations in stopping belligerent ones before the latter get too much power. By declining to meet with Netanyahu when the Israeli prime minister came before the United Nations to plead for international solidarity against Iran’s nuclear ambitions, President Obama showed a less than consistent and clear alliance with Israel.

One can search for excuses or craft theories about what might have gone on behind the scenes. But the bottom line is that, with the entire world watching, President Obama chose to campaign on television talk shows rather than to show solidarity with Israel’s prime minister in the face of the Iranian threat.

Nor was his snub of Netanyahu Obama’s only signal that he can’t be trusted to support Israel’s leadership in dealing with Iran if doing so becomes inconvenient or conflicts with other priorities. While the President has spoken eloquently about the U.S./Israel alliance and, in the last Presidential debate, about visiting Yad Vashem, he has signaled via his proxies that Israel cannot count on his support if its leadership determines a strike on Iran’s nuclear program is necessary and Obama does not.

When asked, for instance, if the Obama administration would lay out “red lines” for Iran or explicitly state the consequences for failing to halt its nuclear program, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said “We’re not setting deadlines.” And recently, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey told reporters that he does not want to be “complicit” if Israel decides to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Moreover, although Obama now takes credit for passing tough sanctions against Iran’s government, he watered down and delayed passage of Congress’s earlier, tougher version of sanctions so significantly that even some prominent Democrats, such as Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), expressed outrage. Nor has this President prioritized Israel’s security when doing so might have a political cost to him. In what would seem an attempt to appease the Arab world and hard left of his party, Obama called for Israel, as a precondition to talks with the Palestinians, to agree to negotiations “based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps”– which Netanyahu pointed out would render Israel “indefensible.”

In the last Presidential debate, Obama mentioned Israel 17 times in a clear attempt to paint himself as Israel’s biggest booster. But in reality, his reluctance to stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel has been the clear pattern. As Mitt Romney pointed out during the debate, in April 2010, more than three quarters of the U.S. Senate, including 38 Democrats, sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton implicitly criticizing Obama for his confrontational stance toward Israel. Why on earth, if relations between Obama and Israel’s leadership were so solid, would 38 Democratic leaders implore Hillary Clinton to “reaffirm the unbreakable bonds that tie the United States and Israel together and to diligently work to defuse current tensions”?

Sixty-nine years ago, in October 1943, a group of nearly 500 Orthodox rabbis marched to the White House pleading for President Roosevelt to take a more active approach to attempting rescue of Europe’s Jews. Shortly before the rabbis reached the White House, FDR declined to meet with them, leaving the building through a rear exit. At the time, editors of the Jewish Daily Forward editorialized, “Would a similar delegation of 500 Catholic priests have been thus treated?”

Roosevelt may have been a good man in some regards, but the fate of world Jewry was nowhere near the top of his priority list, which emerged clearly in May 1939, with his turning away from America’s shores the ship St. Louis carrying nearly 1,000 Jews seeking refuge from Hitler’s Europe. And despite massive Jewish support for him in 2008, Obama, like Roosevelt, has failed to demonstrate consistent or courageous inclination to prioritize the fate of Jewish people in precarious times.

With the Holocaust a mere 70 years behind us, American Jews should realize that although they may value their liberalism, pragmatism is also a Jewish value. With Israel on the brink of a potential nuclear Holocaust if no one stops Iran, American Jewish voters would be wise, and ethical, to prioritize the security of the U.S. and Israel ahead of domestic concerns which, while important, will remain in play in 2016. Voting for Mitt Romney is something American Jews can do that might well protect the future existence of Israel and the security of Jewish people worldwide.

For heaven’s sake, let’s do what we can.

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