Written by P. David Hornik
Worried about losing some of the Jewish vote for 2012, President Obama has been sweet-talking American Jews lately and making some staunchly pro-Israel statements. In September he told the UN General Assembly:
Let us be honest with ourselves: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them. Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, look[s] out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map. The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile and persecution, and fresh memories of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they are. Those are facts. They cannot be denied.
Strong stuff—the kind of stuff really pro-Israel people really say, and think.
But no one should be fooled. In recent days, statements by two very senior officials and one lesser official have shown that this administration remains relentlessly anti-Israel in some of its basic attitudes.
On Friday at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta again warned Israel not to attack Iran. He repeated the reasons he gave in an almost identical warning two weeks earlier: harmful economic consequences, retaliations against U.S. forces, and ineffectiveness, since, he claimed, an attack would only set Iran’s nuclear program back a year or two.
Aware that Israel’s prime minister and defense minister regard that nuclear program as an imminent—possibly within less than a year—existential threat, Panetta added that Iran is “a very grave threat to all of us,” that sanctions against Iran must be “strong, [imposed] quickly, and purposeful,” and that “it is my department’s responsibility to plan for all contingencies and to provide the president with a wide range of military options should they become necessary.”
One can ask why that should be worth the effort when, according to Panetta, the military option is close to useless anyway. But if sanctions are the thing, one can ask why the administration keeps obstructing Congress’s push to sanction Iran’s central bank. Might it have to do with “existential” fears about rising oil prices on the part of an administration that, facing an election, has already ravaged its country’s economy so badly?
This time around, though, Panetta didn’t content himself with merely admonishing Israel not to deal with its cardinal security problem, and instead to “count on us”; he also told Israel it was responsible for its—and America’s—problems in the Middle East. Israel—and not the Islamist tide now engulfing the region, which Washington’s own perverse policy of coddling and encouraging Islamists in Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia, and Libya has done so much to enable.
Israel, Panetta said, needs to “reach out and mend fences with those who share an interest in regional stability—countries like Turkey and Egypt, as well as Jordan.”
He said it even though Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has waged an unremitting campaign against Israel with the same jihadist underpinnings. As even the New York Times put it in September:
Evidently heedless of American attempts to engineer a thaw in Turkish-Israeli relations, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey used his appearance before the annual General Assembly on Thursday to enumerate a long list of grievances with Israel, a former regional ally….
And naturally, in this context, Panetta pulled out that old shibboleth—the Palestinians. “Just get to the damned table,” he snarled; “rather than undermining the Palestinian Authority, it is in Israel’s interests to strengthen it by…continuing to transfer Palestinian tax revenues and pursuing other avenues of cooperation.”
Can’t win. One can trot out here the obvious reasons why this is wrong—Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s acceptance of the purported “two-state solution,” his ten-month settlement freeze, his constantly reiterated—and ritually spurned—offers to meet with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas anytime, anywhere. But, faced with an obsessive-compulsive belief in Israeli appeasement of the Palestinians as the remedy to much of what ails the universe, it’s a pointless exercise.
No, instead Panetta further admonished Israel: “in every strong relationship built on trust, built on friendship, built on mutual security, it demands that both sides work toward the same common goals.” Israel, in other words, is not working toward the same goals as America; Israel is gumming up the works.
As William Kristol pointed out, statements last Wednesday by U.S. ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman “were not way out of line with Obama’s worldview”—as reflected in his defense minister’s words. Gutman (himself Jewish) “stunned” a Jewish conference on anti-Semitism in Brussels when he said that “Muslim hatred for Jews…stems from the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians” and that “an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty will significantly diminish Muslim anti-Semitism.”
The administration, under fire from Jewish groups, has reacted to Gutman’s words by proclaiming that “We condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms and there is never any justification for prejudice against the Jewish people or Israel.” But if the administration “condemns” anti-Semitism, has it taken note of the fact that—as confirmed repeatedly by Pew Center and other polls—the syndrome is rampantin places like Egypt, Turkey, and the Palestinian Authority? And if cognizant of that fact, when will the administration atone for obsessively demanding that the Jewish state “reach out” and “make peace” with the Jew-haters?
If phenomena sometimes come in threes, Panetta’s and Gutman’s attacks on Israel were seemingly rounded out on Saturday—also at the Saban Center—by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Her gripe was a different one: a perceived erosion of Israeli democracy. Not only was the Middle East’s only democracy, then, the cause of its own and others’ troubles in the region; it wasn’t much of a democracy to boot.
Clinton’s “concern” focused on two areas. One involves some proposed legislation in the Knesset to counteract foreign funding to radical-fringe Israeli NGOs that work for Israel’s dissolution—in other words, an effort to protect its democracy. The other involves recent gender segregation on buses serving ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, as well as incidents in the army where a small number of religious male soldiers objected to hearing women singing.
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz called Clinton’s statements “completely exaggerated” and said:
Israeli democracy is alive, liberal and breathing. I don’t know many better democracies in the world. It is of course necessary to fix things sometimes. The matter of excluding and segregating women is completely unacceptable and needs to be put to a stop, but there is a great distance between this and the argument that there is a threat to Israeli democracy.
Steinitz could have added that, for all its protestations of friendship and “iron-clad” commitment to Israel’s security, the Obama administration both takes part in and encourages a worldwide phenomenon of unique and disproportionate criticism and denigration of the Jewish state.
If the administration wants to air public complaints about allies, for instance, it could openly castigate Germany for continuing its lucrative commerce with Iran in the face of all attempts at sanctions. But Washington does no such thing, because such public lambasting of allies is against protocol. It’s a treatment reserved for Israel—by an administration whose anti-Israel disposition can, by now, be denied only by the willfully blind.
P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator in Beersheva, Israel. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com.