With American elections only weeks away, relations between Israel
and the US have become a key issue in the campaign. Try as he might, President Obama can't do enough to hide how strained relations are between the two countries. The fact that the state of relations is being debated almost daily is enough of an indicator they are decidedly worse than prior to his presidency. In other words, when they are clearly good, there's no need to debate the issue.
His dislike of Netanyahu
is as clear as his love for the Muslim call to prayer, as he noted in his 2009 Cairo speech, when he called it the "sweetest sound on earth."
At a time when tensions in the Middle East are as high as they've ever been, he rejected the request to meet with the leader of the only true democracy and America's best friend in the region, when both leaders were in the same city. Ultimately he did agree to a phone meeting, which lasted 20 minutes.
When interviewed on 60 Minutes this past week, he referred to Netanyahu as "noise" which he "blocks out," instead of a respectful comment such as "I'm always interested in hearing what the leader of our most loyal ally in the Middle East has to say."
He referred to Israel as "one of our closest allies in the region." In other words Israel is no closer than any other country? Please Mr. President, tell us who is as close as Israel?
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When Netanyahu asks him to impose a "red line" on Iran, his response is "there is still time for sanctions to work." In almost four years of his administration sanctions have yet to work. In fact, not only have sanctions not worked, Iran has actually increased the pace of its nuclear program. Does he actually think sanctions will suddenly have their effect in the remaining weeks before the election? Moreover, when will Mr. Obama think time has run out? After Iran engages in a pre-emptive strike killing scores of Israeli civilians?
His UN speech was distinctly absent of passion, nor did he take advantage of the opportunity to invite the nations of the world to stand in unity against Iran's defiance. This shouldn't surprise us. Let's not forget this is a president who in 2010 openly and warmly welcomed Mahmoud Abbas to the White House, despite the fact Abbas has repeatedly said he will never accept Israel as a Jewish state. Conversely, Netanyahu was quietly shuffled into the White House through a side door, and in a clear statement of disrespect left on his own for dinner.
Also in 2010, 76 US Senators did something quite unusual. They were so disappointed in Obama's consistent unfair treatment of Israel they sent him a letter asking him to be more fair toward the Jewish State. No previous president has received such a letter. In 2011 Obama chose to undermine Netanyahu when he made his famous "1967 borders" speech as the Israeli PM was airborne en route to meet with him to explain, among other things, why '67 borders would be "indefensible."
Leaders of both Republicans and Democrats, Obama's own party, were so angry with the president's speech they publically spoke out to distance themselves from his comments about '67 borders. Just days later both parties sent him another strong message by giving Netanyahu 30 standing ovations when he spoke to a joint session
Plus, after the two leaders met privately, Obama's clear bent against Israel left Netanyahu with no choice, but to tell the president, while the cameras were rolling, that Israel cannot return to indefensible borders and must reserve the right to decide when and how to defend itself. It's quite a sad moment when Israel needs to publically beg the US for the right to defend itself against a country which has repeatedly threatened to annihilate it and is unabatedly pursuing the very weapons to accomplish its oft stated goal.
More recently, Obama has been trying to put the brakes on Netanyahu's requests that he publically stand with Israel, and confront Iran. Obama had yet another opportunity during his UN speech, and once again stopped short of 'red lining' Iran.
I believe Obama's conduct is motivated by both political and personal reasons. The political aspect is that he is engaged in an election campaign, and doesn't want his chances for re-election damaged. If Israel and Iran tangle, he'll be under tremendous pressure from the American public, Congress and Western allies to support Israel, and possibly take military action. Should this happen it will damage relations with his other so-called "closest allies in the region." He also risks a hostile reaction such as another oil embargo, like the one imposed after the 1973 war, during which President Nixon re-supplied Israel's military.
On a personal level, given his background and upbringing, both of which have been significantly influenced by Islam, he doesn't want to damage the effort to reach out to the Muslim world, an effort which began with the 2009 Cairo speech and has continued throughout his administration.
One would think his anti-Israel agenda would be obvious and negate most of the 78% Jewish vote he received in '08. Not so. Polls predict that roughly 60-65% of Jews still support him. This is a sad reflection of how unimportant Israel is to the majority of American Jews. While many will outwardly claim they love Israel, and even argue with you over their support for Israel, at the end of the day, their votes reflect no difference from the average non-Jewish liberals who see Obama through rose-colored glasses.
It's difficult to imagine relations between Israel and the US getting worse, but should Obama win a second term and not need to worry about being elected again, it's highly likely his anti-Israel agenda will grow from a tropical storm to a category 5 hurricane.
To this I say Mr. Obama, you can run, but your attitude can't hide.
Dan Calic is a writer, historian and speaker.
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