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April 25, 2016 4:40 pm

Alan Dershowitz: Obama Must Apologize for Double Standard Toward Netanyahu

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President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel in 2013. Photo: White House.

President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel in 2013. Photo: White House.

As President Obama winds up his farewell tour of Europe, it is appropriate to consider the broader implications of the brouhaha he created in Great Britain. At a joint press conference with Britain Prime Minister, David Cameron, President Obama defended his intrusion into British politics in taking sides on the controversial and divisive Brexit debate. In an op-ed, Obama came down squarely on the side of Britain remaining in the European Union – a decision I tend to agree with on its merits. But he was much criticized by the British media and British politicians for intruding into a debate about the future of Europe and Britain’s role in it.  

Obama defended his actions by suggesting that in a democracy, friends should be able to speak their minds, even when they are visiting another country: “If one of our best friends is in an organization that enhances their influence and enhances their power and enhances their economy, then I want them to stay in. Or at least I want to be able to tell them ‘I think this makes you guys bigger players.’” Nor did he stop at merely giving the British voters unsolicited advice, he also issued a not so veiled threat.  He said that “The UK is going to be in the back of the queue” on trade agreements if they exit the EU.

President Obama must either have a short memory or must adhere to Emerson’s dictum that “foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”  Recall how outraged the same President Obama was when the Prime Minister of a friendly country, Benjamin Netanyahu, spoke his mind about the Iran Deal.  

There are, of course, differences: first, Israel has a far greater stake in the Iran deal than the United States has in whatever decision the British voters make about Brexit: and second, Benjamin Netanyahu was representing the nearly unanimous view of his countrymen, whereas there is little evidence of whether Americans favor or oppose Brexit in large numbers.  

Another difference, of course, is that Obama was invited to speak by Cameron, whereas, Netanyahu was essentially disinvited by Obama. But under our tripartite system of government – which is different than Britain’s Unitary Parliamentary system — that fact is monumentally irrelevant. Netanyahu was invited by a co-equal branch of the government, namely Congress, which has equal authority over foreign policy with the president and equal authority to invite a friendly leader. Moreover, not only are the British voters divided over Brexit, but the conservative party itself is deeply divided. Indeed, the leading political figure in opposition to Britain remaining in the European Union is a potential successor to Cameron as leader of the Conservative party. So these differences certainly don’t explain the inconsistency between Obama’s interference in British affairs and his criticism of Netanyahu for accepting an invitation from Congress to express his country’s views on an issue directly affecting its national security.

So what is it Mr. President?  Should friends speak their minds about controversial issues when visiting another country, or should they keep their views to themselves? Or is your answer that friends should speak their minds only when they agree with other friends, but not when they disagree? Such a view would skew the market place of ideas beyond recognition. If friends should speak about such issues, it is even more important to do so when they disagree.

A wit once observed that “hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue.” It is also the currency of diplomacy and politics. That doesn’t make it right.

The President owes the American people, and Benjamin Netanyahu, an explanation for his apparent hypocrisy and inconsistency. Let there be one rule that covers all friends – not one for those with whom you agree and another for those with whom you disagree. For me the better rule is open dialogue among friends on all issues of mutual importance. Under this rule, which President Obama now seems to accept, he should have welcomed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s advocacy before Congress, instead of condemning it. He owes Prime Minister Netanyahu an apology, and so do those Democratic members of Congress who rudely stayed away from Netanyahu’s informative address to Congress.

Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Emeritus Professor at Harvard Law School and the author of Taking the Stand, My Life in the Law.

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  • nat cheiman

    Obama will be ashamed of his legacy. Or will he?

  • Janet Sterman

    I am not holding my breath…

  • Ce président est une ordure sans pareille, un menteur, hypocrite, il bafoue la constitution américaine, musulman antisémite. Du reste, j’ai lu que le Kenya a rendu public son acte de naissance dans ce pays. N’importe qui, mais pas un démocrate à la maison blanche, mais j’ai des doutes, les citoyens américains se sont trop rapprochés des européens, et deviennent aussi débiles.

  • Daniel Tobias

    Strawman argument. Obama didn’t have an issue with netanyahu speaking his mind, he had an issue with Congress’ meddling in a foreign country’s election. Auther is being disengenuous.

    • Charles P Castiglione

      Netanyahu’s intention was not to sway an election but to impress to congress the danger the “deal” would put Israel and the world in.
      Congress approves foreign policy.

  • Glen MacPherson

    Some readers will be left breathless by Dershowitz’ hypocrisy and documented dishonesty. He is an enabler of Israeli violence and crimes against humanity. When Jimmy Carter raised concerns about the treatment of the Palestinians, Dershowitz’ response was, “There’s a special place in Hell for Jimmy Carter”. When Judge Goldstone criticized Israeli actions, Dershowitz said, “Goldstone should do Teshuva”. When Noam Chomsky reported on documentation (fully in the public record) regarding Israel-Palestine, Dershowitz responded by saying, “Chomsky is lying and invented his sources”. I trust that history will present Dershowitz for what he is: a dedicated liar.

  • James Owen

    ….Dershowitz has always been a lapdog for the Israeli government, and all of its immoral actions/policies against the Palestinian people, and Israeli peace groups. How can one such as himself represent the rule of law when the Israeli government has no respect for ANY rule of law, be it humanitarian, or international. Why should Obama apologize to an individual whose policies call for the kidnapping, torture, and illegal detention of children??? Netanyahu is the epitome of what a try enemy of Judaism represents. Obama should have done more to isolate this fiend, and his cabal of illegal settlers.

  • Well, well, well, let’s forgive Mr. Obama, Omaba is brains confused man, why? When a man does attack another man’s mind, he does in fact attacks his own mind at the very moment. How it does happen? When man has a fixed political idea in his mind or a given idea from out side of his mind for personal game plays, he will no wait! He has no time! He will rush to attack, because he thinks, he has power, leaving his mind behind, forgetting that said words have more power than what man have in mind. In this situation man drives himself into become something man is not. Obama is and was never a President! He is a tragedy for USA and for the entire world! I’m not the only one on this opinion. Obama likes to travel because living in the White House is a nightmare, he said so! Somebody asked “ If Obama did read Shakespeare? My answer is, if Obama did study Shakespeare, he will never go for been a president, avoiding getting in and ending in troubles! In fact the entire world is watching. Which means, that this article does no say much.

  • Uriel Priwes

    Thank you for saying what needed to be said. It is particularly valuable when it comes from a person of distinction and fame,such as yourself, Professor Dershowitz.

  • Sherlock Holmes

    President Obama’s intervention is in contrast to H M The Queen. She ws quoted by a ‘reliable’ source as being in favour of leaving and Buck House absolutely denied that The Queen would walk into a political minefield. If the head of state of the UK rfused to take sides how much moreso should the US head of state avoid taking sides in Brexit! On the other side, if Israel’s very existence was endangered by Iran how could Obama object, while Obama himself feels entitled to interfere on an internal debate on Britain and the UK where no lives are endangered?

  • Norman Green

    Dershowitz is plum wrong. Never before has ANY head of state accepted an invitation to address Congress without first informing the White House. Netanyahu has been intruding in US politics in an aggressive way for years, and his government generally ignores American views on important international issues. The US gives a lot of aid to Israel, much of it unneeded; it gives none to Britain. Nonetheless, he tolerated Netanyahu’s speech; if Dershowitz thinks the little criticism that came from the White House was inappropriate, then he is beyond wrong.

    • Sherlock Holmes

      Very exceptional circumstances require a very exceptional response. Iran poses a major threat to America’s allies in the Middle East, not only Israel. The Iran agreement was full of problems, a few of which have been resolved.

  • Totally agree with you. Our President is continuing to damage the United States image around the World, except of course with Muslim Countries.

  • Arafat

    Please take the time to write a comment, or more, attached to the following article.

  • Linda Vinecour

    As usual, Alan Dershowitz is spot on with his observations. Love reading his commentary. My personal crisis right now……I’m generally very liberal in my political and social beliefs, but will never again ally myself with the left, or Democratic Party, as I feel so betrayed and angry at their rabid and irrational anti semitism, disguised as hatred for Israel. So who the HELL to vote for in November????????? Even if I decide to become a one issue voter, who will cause the least damage to Israel??????

  • Steve schwartz

    Alan D you might want to include yourself in the farewell tour. More and more you are becoming irrelevant.
    In the story you have written you leave out a lot and add a lot to your proposal .
    First no where does it say except in your piece that Israel was totally behind natenyahu with his theatrics to speak to our country.
    You are no different than any of the rest who try to spin the news. Why so you may be relevant on the lecture circuit. Just an assumption

  • Anita Kelman

    Totally agree with your take on this. I guess I’d want to go further with this though and ask why? Why did Obama feel that it was acceptable to demonize Netanyahu for expressing the views of his country on a matter of such importance, to both them and others in the region? Why did so many members of Congress feel it was acceptable to either skip the talk by Netanyahu, or as Pelosi and a few others demonstrated, openly display rudeness to the speaker and his message.

    What I wonder, would have been Obama’s reaction had Cameron and other British elected governmental officials been as rude to him for expressing his thoughts on “Brexit” as the US was to Netanyahu?

  • Robert Davis

    The wit was Aldous Huxleyand the fool…hussein obanana! Not only Obama’s brain is broken but the way he says things are no less faulty. Not surprising considering what he is. The only reason why he is at the WH is the same as “prince’s” fame : the public’s BAD TASTE, stupidity, lack of education, leftwing medias’ pr etc. When hitler’s ideas were spread by göbbels and his medias they were very much appreciated by local audience too.

  • Jonah

    You have a good heart Alan but get your head out of the sand….Netanyahu and Obama will never be friends, Netanyahu is a Jew. Obama does not want Britain out of the E.U. Because it is much easier to islamasize them if they are under a form of federal control. They can be forced to open their borders to the wrong element. The queue Obama is referring to is the caliphate. You either accept it or we will starve you or make it very difficult for you to economically survive. If they separated themselves from the E.U. A nationalistic element of Brits might possibly be able to save the nation….. As Trump would do for America but the Islamic powers that be will vehemently oppose any such action such as that, and Obama is the leader of the pack….of wolves that is.

  • ESLombard

    The EU has welcomed the Syrian refugees; why wasn’t the same extended to the Palestinians? Who wants to offend the Arab League. Since 1948, Arab League members, other than Jordan, may not offer citizenship to the Arab refugees from Israel. Why is Israel held responsible for the suffering of the Palestinian refugees?
    And the 1948 million Jew refugees from North Africa and whose assets and lands were stolen from them. Are US administrations so craven as to ignore these issues for fear of the Arab vote? Look at the increasingly poisonous rage of the grandchildren of the Arab League. Our dollars are doing evil to the palestinians

  • T M Menon

    Obama’s his criticism of Netanyahu for accepting an invitation from Congress was indeed non-statesmanlike and meanness too, excelled by the conduct of the Democratic members of Congress who stayed away from Netanyahu’s address to Congress! The US President, his VP, and the Secretary of State appear to be possessed by some dark devil even though they speak of democracy, human rights, etc.
    The foreign policy fiascos are too many and terrible. Before Obama, Egypt was in the American camp since 1978 after inking a peace deal with Israel. But Obama decided to betray longtime ally Hosni Mubarak and hastened his ignominious downfall. Now that country is neither here nor there, and a failed state by all means! India at present is a friend of the United States than ever before, and Obama decides to arm Pakistan with F-16s knowing 1) Pakistan as an ally in the fight against global terrorism is highly suspect, 2) the weapons given to Pakistan is likely to be in used against only India, a true democracy, like Israel. Churchill has been proved right again under Obama administration, “the Americans will always do the right thing… after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.” Let us hope they will exhaust them all soonest!

  • Peter Joffe

    Oh well! Obama is a Muslim and lies by there code of misdirection and lies. Every thing he does has Islam as its first priority.

  • This is an excellent post! In addition one has to remember that PM Netanyahu was ushered in the White House from a side door and left alone with his entourage while Mr. Obama went to to have dinner with his family… That was the most disgraceful act towards an ally.

  • Don’t expect any apologies from the President and those legislators who stayed away from the Prime Minster’s address. The next steps are to vote for a President and a new Congress that support stalwart allies like Israel. The next U.S. President must recalibrate American-Israeli relations to ensure strong bilateral ties.

  • Yale

    The real issue is Obama’s narcissism. Obama goes ballistic whenever anyone disagrees with him, regarding such disagreement as disrespect for his great intelligence and wisdom. That wouldn’t be so bad, except that much of what he knows just isn’t so.

  • Richard H. Shulman

    Mr. Dershowitz’ points needed to be made. So is the fact that U.S. presidents and fundraisers have interfered in Israeli elections.

  • Obama’s relations with Israel and other

    Nations r8

    Obama has no credibility or respect from many of the International community. Obama has no credibility, he has the least experience in real politics, he is the worst president the U.S. has ever had.
    Obama has alienated many nations and has caused foreign policy damage that is costing the American taxpayer trillions. His decisions are also costing numerous American lives in vain. Obama’s foreign policy is a joke. It is a failed policy.
    Obama has abused his executive powers and should be prosecuted for his violations. Obama is ignoring the true sovereignty of the Jewish people in Israel and the various treaties and international agreements entered into after WWI and the various congressional resolutions on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people since WWI. Obama’s blatant disrespect of Netanyahu and Israel’s International legitimate rights shows his naivety in International matters and foreign policy.
    Obama’s lack of etiquette is an outright embarrassment to the United States.
    Natanyahu is trying his best, but he will not compromise the security of Israel and that is the way a leader should perform. No other decent leader of the free world perform differently.
    It is interesting to note, that Jordan (Jordan territory has taken over 77% of the land allocated to the Jewish people under 1920 International Treaty) is a country that never existed in history before WWI and nobody is contesting its legitimacy or territorial sovereignty and control. The same powers that established 21 Arab States plus Jordan after WWI also re-established the State of Israel based on the Balfour Declaration and the San Remo Treaty of 1920 and confirmed by the 1920 Treaty of Sevres.
    On the other hand, Israel and its Jewish people have over 4,000 year of recorded history.
    Many Nations and people are questioning Israel’s control of its liberated territory. No one is mentioning that the Arab countries had persecuted and ejected over a million adult Jewish families from their countries which they have lived in for over 2,200 years, the Arabs persecuted and violated them and confiscated their assets, businesses, homes and Real estate property. About 650,00 of these expelled Jewish people and their children were resettled in liberated Greater Israel. The Real estate the Arab countries confiscated from the Jewish people 120,440 sq. km. or 75,000 sq. miles which is over 5-6 times the size of Israel, and its value today is in the trillions of dollars. The British as trustee for the Jewish people, violated the Mandate for Palestine and re-allocated 80% of the territories assigned to the Jewish people under International Treaty and gave it to the Arabs as a new Arab State Trans-Jordan, East of the Jordan river and prohibiting Jewish people from residing in Jordan.
    Let the 21 Arab countries resettle the Arab Palestinians in the land they confiscated from the Jews which is 5-6 times the size of Israel. Provide them with funds they confiscated from the million Jewish people they expelled and let them build an economy, This will benefit both the Arab-Palestinians and the hosting countries, The other alternative is relocate the Arab-Palestinians to Jordan, (originally land allocated for the Jewish people under the San Remo Treaty of 1920 and confirmed by the 1920 Treaty of Sevres and Lausanne) which is already 80% Arab-Palestinians, and give them funds to relocate and build an economy. This will solve the Arab-Palestinians refugee problem once and for all. It will also reduce hostility and strife in the region.
    If this is not discrimination against Israel, I do not know what is.
    It seems like nobody cares about land violations in other countries in the world, but when it comes to Israel, everyone has a say. Israel’s rights in the terms of the treaty of San Remo of 1920 are in affect in perpetuity, it clearly states that the Jewish people are the only ones with political rights in the British Mandate of Palestine and that the Jewish people can live anywhere in the British Mandate, confirmed by the 1920 Treaty of Sevres and Lausanne. The U.N. cannot create countries, it can only recommend its resolutions.
    If the U.S., Europe and other countries will stop meddling, and stop its criticism and involvement in the politics of Israel and the Arabs, than there will be a chance for peace.
    We know the great powers are only interested in the OIL and nothing else, that is the bottom line.
    A true and lasting peace in Israel will bring mammoth economic prosperity to The Israelis and The Arabs alike.
    An approach to peace starts by teaching your children and the people not to hate and condemn any acts violence that hurts civilian population and stop celebrating and rewarding the death and destruction of each other.…/July/San-Remo-Resolution-Revisited/

    YJ Draiman

    No Jew has the right to yield the rights of the Jewish People in Israel – David Ben Gurion
    (David Ben-Gurion was the first Prime Minister of Israel and widely hailed as the State’s main founder).
    “No Jew is entitled to give up the right of establishing [i.e. settling] the Jewish Nation in all of the Land of Israel. No Jewish body has such power. Not even all the Jews alive today [i.e. the entire Jewish People] have the power to cede any part of the country or homeland whatsoever. This is a right vouchsafed or reserved for the Jewish Nation throughout all generations. This right cannot be lost or expropriated under any condition or circumstance. Even if at some particular time, there are those who declare that they are relinquishing this right, they have no power nor competence to deprive coming generations of this right. The Jewish nation is neither bound nor governed by such a waiver or renunciation. Our right to the whole of this country is valid, in force and endures forever. And until the Final Redemption has come, we will not budge from this historic right.”
    at the Basle Session of the 20th Zionist Congress at Zurich (1937)
    “No country in the world exists today by virtue of its ‘right’.
    All countries exist today by virtue of their ability to defend themselves against those who seek their destruction.”

  • H D Uriel Smith

    Alan Dershowitz is absolutely correct in this case: President Obama owes Prime Minister Netanyahu an apology. He further owes him an apology for sending Vice President Biden to the JStreet meeting to attack Netanyahu.

  • You fail to mention Obama’s threats to his British audience for considering to vote for Brexit, including, “The U.K. is going to be at the back of the queue.”

    Also, the British themselves recognize the hypocrisy: Justice Minister Dominic Raab told BBC Radio 4, “It’s frankly wanton double standards. He’s asking the British people to do things he wouldn’t ask of Americans. He wouldn’t dream of opening the American border to free movement from Mexico.”

  • Arthur Solomon Safir, J.D.

    The subject of Obama’s error needed addressing and, in so doing, Dershowitz did it well.

  • anon

    First thing I thought when I heard about Obama butting into British politics.

  • Sandra Rapke

    I’m guessing Obama likes Cameron, dislikes Netanyahu so much, he will defend his actions in some idiotic way. Good bye- pres Obama. Looking forward to our next president having a more objective view of our close ally, Israel, and acting accordingly. (Ex Bernie)