In an article in the Wall Street Journal this week Alan Dershowitz states that many American Jewish supporters of United States President Barrack Obama feel that they have been a victim of a bait and switch. He argues that during the election campaign last year Obama declared his strong support of Israel but now that he is President he is taking stances that seem to be opposed to Israel’s best interests. He then tries to defend Obama’s demand to halt all settlements, including natural growth, as pro-Israel rather than calling it what it is—a US President taking a blatantly Arab propagandist point of view.
Despite my desire to focus on the positive we must not be delusional. Unfortunately Dershowitz’s article is just that. But the biggest delusion was the belief during the presidential campaign that Obama would be decidedly loyal to Israel’s interest. In reality, Obama is only pro-Israel when it fits in to his view of America’s national interests which now seem to be on a definite collision path with Israel’s vital security concerns. And as Lord Palmerston, a former British Prime Minister, said, “Nations have no permanent friends or enemies, just permanent interests”.
In his book The Audacity of Hope where Obama argues his view of American foreign policy he hardly mentions Israel. He does, however, make it clear that, in his opinion, the USA has “an obligation to engage in efforts to bring about peace in the Middle East, not only for the safety and security of the people in the region, but for the safety and security of our own children as well” (page 322).
But he gives little detail about how he would go about achieving that peace as President. Would he try and sacrifice Israel’s security in order to achieve a peace that he sees as important for the security of American children? Or would he stand by Israel as a loyal friend? There were, however, some clear indications that answer these questions and a person such as Dershowitz should have picked up on them.
Appeasing the Muslim street
In his book Obama argues that to keep America safe it must win the battle for public opinion in the Islamic world and elsewhere (page 308). In addition he explains that although he believed that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and coveted nuclear weapons he still opposed the invasion because he did not think Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat to the Unites States. He also argued that a war with Iraq would only further inflame opinion in the Middle East and therefore “strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.”
It is clear that President Obama sees America’s security as running directly through the opinion of the Islamic world. He thinks that the USA would be much safer if the Muslim street had a positive opinion of the USA.
Clearly, therefore, the demand for Israel to cease all settlement expansion and ease blockades on Gaza is meant to appease the Muslim street rather out of concern for Israel’s security interests. In addition Obama’s reluctance to get tough on Iranian nuclear ambitions is because he does not view Iranian nuclear weapons as the major or imminent threat to the USA. He sees negative Muslim public opinion towards the USA as a bigger threat—something that a strike against Iran would further inflame.
According to this view, military action against Iran would be counterproductive for US security. The fact that a nuclear armed Iran will be an existential threat to Israel is not Obama’s main concern.
Where does this leave Israel?
No doubt Obama would not want to see genocide in Israel. And he may even be pro-Israel and pro-Jewish to an extent. But to him America’s interests take precedence and in his view they no longer necessarily coincide with Israel’s. Taken to its extreme, if obtaining widespread Islamic support for America could only be achieved by the non-violent dissolution of Israel it seems that Obama would support (albeit reluctantly) that disintegration. Jews who supported Obama did not see this coming simply because they were not paying attention.
President Barack Obama’s job is to do what’s best for America in his view. As prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu’s his job is to fight for Israel’s interests. These jobs and people will inevitably clash.
Netanyahu, Dershowitz and others must understand where Obama is coming from. The US President can be a friend of Israel, have a Jew as a senior adviser and an Israeli as his chief of staff and still see Israel’s interests as secondary. This does not mean Obama favors the Arabs or that he hates Jews. However wrong his views may be, all it means is that he sees Israel’s long term interest as divergent from that of the interests his own country.
But Israel can and must stand up for itself and its interests. Netanyahu must not allow himself to be bullied by a White House which ultimately sees the appeasement of Islamic public opinion as more important than the continued existence of Israel. The Prime Minister and the Israeli public must not falter nor give in to the pressure they are being placed under. If Netanyahu caves he will have failed in his duties. Having done this once is bad enough, doing it twice would be criminal.
Rabbi Levi Brackman is author of Jewish Wisdom for Business Success: Lesson from the Torah and Other Ancient Texts