Obama is hurt? So is Israel
There’s been a lot of talk lately about how President Barack Obama feels hurt and misunderstood by Israel and by many Jews in the pro-Israel community. The storyline is that those Jews simply don’t appreciate how “Jewish” the president really is and how much he cares for the Jews and for Israel.
“He’s deeply offended by the notion that he’s anti-Israel or anti-Semitic,” former diplomat and Washington, D.C., insider Martin Indyk told JTA last week. “He’s hurt by it now. It’s finally got to him, the ingratitude of Israelis to this president.”
In essence, what Obama is saying to the Jewish world is: “I am sure that what I’m doing is good for you and for Israel, and I’m hurt that so many of you don’t see it that way.”
Let’s put aside the argument that Obama is not known for being overly sentimental, and this may be part of a calculated strategy to get more Jewish support for his deal with Iran. Let’s grant that he’s really feeling the hurt.
The question, then, is: Can he feel Israel’s hurt?
This, for me, is the crux of the issue. The president doesn’t seem to get that a whole lot of smart and reasonable people believe that his policies have actually hurt Israel.
The damage started at the beginning of his presidency.
“He reached out to the Arab and Muslim world and then he didn’t go to Israel. That was the original miscalculation,” Indyk said, referring to Obama’s first trip to the region. “It sent a message that he wanted to put some distance between the United States and Israel.”
The president added even more distance when, in his first meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu six years ago, he called for a freeze of all construction in the territories, a draconian precondition to peace talks that even the Palestinians had never asked for.
When your friend picks a fight with you, your enemies rejoice. Sure enough, Obama’s combination of pressure and distancing gave further impetus to the international movement to isolate and delegitimize the Jewish state.
Obama has tried to characterize his approach of singling out Israel in a positive light as a sign of holding the Jewish state to a higher standard of responsibility. Well, there’s one wrinkle with that: Responsibility equals blame. If you’re responsible for making peace, and there’s no deal, guess who gets the blame?
For the global Israel bashers who see Jewish apartments in East Jerusalem as a bigger sin than murdering children in Syria, putting all that blame on Israel was like manna from heaven.
But it gets worse.
Obama’s disproportionate pressure on Israel killed the peace process. Obama ignored the history of Palestinian rejectionism and how Palestinian leaders have walked away in the past from serious Israeli offers. He also ignored what was behind those rejections: the indoctrination of Jew-hatred and glorification of terrorists within Palestinian society that have poisoned any taste for negotiation and compromise.
In fact, Obama gave the Palestinians a disincentive to negotiate. As long as he held Israel responsible for the “unsustainable” status quo, Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority had all the ammunition they needed to attack Israel’s legitimacy in international courts.
And, as if Israel’s enemies needed more ammunition, just this week Obama won a ruling at the Supreme Court for the right of the State Department to issue passports that don’t recognize Jerusalem as part of Israel.
So, when the president says that everything he’s done is “good” for Israel, does he understand some of our skepticism?
As much as many people want to make Obama’s rift with Israel personal and emotional, this is really about more prosaic things, like policy and damages. Simply put, Obama is deeply unpopular in Israel because most Israelis feel that his Middle East policies have damaged their nation’s position.
That’s not to say Israel is blameless. There’s little doubt that the Netanyahu government could have shown more wisdom and savvy in its diplomacy and in its policies. And no one should underestimate the value of the security cooperation between the U.S. and Israel during the Obama administration.
But that shouldn’t cover up Obama’s mistakes. His biggest, perhaps, was his decision to add “daylight” with Israel at a time when the Israeli people already felt under siege, internationally and in their hostile region. To feel secure enough to take more risks for peace, Israelis needed to see less, not more, daylight between them and their American ally.
By picking one fight after another with America’s great friend and calling it “tough love,” Obama made Israel an open target for its enemies who saw only the tough but not the love.
You may, in fact, be hurt, Mr. President, but rest assured, you’re not alone.
David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.