May 31, 2011
Those who say Israel should fear Obama
I have no beef with those who argue President Obama did nothing wrong by sliding in a reference to Israel returning to the 1967 borders, albeit with land swaps, in his major address on the Arab pro-democracy movement at the State Department. To be sure, I believe it ruined the President’s otherwise impassioned insistence that America would support the Arab yearning to be free of its tyrannical dictators by inserting an inflammatory and highly controversial distraction that dominated the headlines. Still, the President is entitled to his view even as it remains to be seen if pressuring Israel will lead to a lasting peace. What I do have a problem with is the large number of commentators – the vast majority Jewish – who say that in defying Obama on the ’67 borders Netanyahu has provoked the President’s wrath and Israel will now suffer the consequences.
As an American I have a visceral distaste for anyone arguing that we ought to fear our government or our President. I do not live in Russia. I do not live in Syria. President Obama is nothing but the elected representative of the American people. He has absolutely no power other than that which we, the American people, grant him. He is not a king and he is not an emperor. He cannot pursue his grudges and he cannot avenge his personal honor. He is a servant of the people. The idea that Israel, as a sovereign nation and most trusted ally of the United States, ought to fear the American president for not kowtowing to his every foreign policy whim when it feels he is desperately wrong, is distasteful in the extreme.
Worse, it is an incalculable insult to President Obama. What these commentators are implying is that Obama is a man so petty and immature that as pay-back to Netanyahu and Israel for defying him he will throw both under a bus. I do not believe this about Obama. I believe him to be a mature and dignified leader even as I disagree with him profoundly on so many substantive issues of policy.
But there were some of America’s top writers arguing that Bibi had pissed off Obama and now Israel would pay. Leading the charge was Time magazine’s Joe Klein who titled his attack on Netanyahu, “Bibi Provokes Obama,” and ended his column with these words: “Given his congressional support, Netanyahu may be able to get away with playing so bold a hand — but it is inappropriate behavior for an American ally, and you can bet that Obama won’t forget it.” Won’t forget what? That an Israeli Prime Minister actually had the courage to tell an American President – finally! – that the sovereign State of Israel will not be pushed into compromising its security? And what is Klein suggesting Obama will now do. Retaliate against Israel and spitefully take the position of the Palestinians? Does he really believe Obama to be that frivolous? I most surely do not.
The Bibi-undermined-Israel’s-security-by-getting-on-Obama’s-bad-side argument continued with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic – normally one of my favorite writers – who titled his piece, “Dear Mr. Netanyahu, Please Don’t Speak to My President That Way.” Goldberg wrote, “And if President Obama doesn’t walk back the speech, what will Netanyahu do? Will he cut off Israeli military aid to the U.S.?” Perhaps Goldberg has confused the American political system with that, say, of Libya. Our President does not give any economic aid to Israel. It is the American people who, in their overwhelming support of the Middle East’s sole democracy, repeatedly elect leaders who share their pro-Israel posture and who in-turn vote to continue foreign aid to Israel. Whatever the tension between Bibi and Obama the American people are not now questioning why we give our must trusted ally $3 billion a year in military aid, but why we gave Pakistan, where Bin Laden was hiding, a total of $20.7 billion in aid from 2002 through fiscal 2011.
Goldberg continues: “Prime Minister Netanyahu needs the support of President Obama in order to confront the greatest danger Israel has ever faced: the potential of a nuclear-armed Iran. And yet he seems to go out of his way to alienate the President.” The inference is that by Netanyahu throwing what Goldberg called ‘a hissy fit,’ President Obama may withdraw his support for Israel on Iran. This is an unwarranted and unjust criticism of our President who knows darn well that a nuclear-armed Iran is as big a threat to the United States as it is to Israel. Last time I checked ‘The Great Satan’ label bandied about by the Iranians was a reference not to Israel but to America.
But the sentiment of Bibi’s foolishness in ‘provoking’ Obama was heard even in major Jewish publications. New York Jewish Week publisher Gary Rosenblatt, one of the most erudite and insightful of all writers on the Jewish scene, said, “This is more than a personal grudge match; it can affect strategic policy and the very future of the Jewish state. Israel, of course, has a lot more to lose here than the U.S., so the onus is on Bibi to make the relationship better…. Bibi has chosen confronting Obama rather than working at restoring their relationship. I hope it’s not a permanent mistake.”
I respectfully disagree. It was Obama who gratuitously threw in the provocative reference to Israel’s 1967 borders without, at the very least, calling on the Palestinians to withdraw the utterly unrealistic right of return. And it was Obama who was forced at AIPAC to dilute his ’67 border comment to the point of meaninglessness because he feared the wrath of American Jewry – one of his most important financial and electoral constituencies – rather than the other way around.
I mean no disrespect. But it seems to me it’s high time we reject the traditional court-Jew mentality that says that we must shimmy-up to powerful leaders in order to gain their protection. America does not support Israel because Jews are friendly or subservient. It does not respect Israel because it is polite or deferential. Rather, America, in its righteous, majestic might supports Israel because its cause is just. And any insinuation to the contrary is an insult both to our President and the American people.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is Founder of This World: The Values Network, which promotes universal Jewish values in the mainstream media. His most recent book is “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.