I consider Senator Frank Lautenberg a personal friend and a distinguished Jewish leader. My criticism, therefore, of his furious attack on Republican attitudes toward Obama on Israel is offered very respectfully.
Senator Lautenberg says that Republicans ought to be ashamed of themselves for criticizing President Obama’s policies on Israel. The senator is of the opinion that Obama is the best American presidential friend Israel has ever had. But if that’s true, then no one has told the Israeli people, where President Obama’s approval rating once sank to about four percent compared, say, to President Bush who enjoyed immense popularity among the Israeli people for his stalwart support of the Jewish state.
In addition, a recent Israeli poll asked who assigns more importance to defending Israel’s national interests. While Mitt Romney was rated at forty percent, Obama came in at less than half that. Likewise, American Jewry has also missed the message that Obama is the best thing ever for Israel since polling is showing that while Obama took 78% of the Jewish vote in 2008, he now stands at an approval rating of 60% among Jewish voters. That is a very substantial fall. So either we Jews are immensely ungrateful to the best friend Israel has ever had, or we simply disagree with the senator’s assessment.
Of course, American Jews vote for president on a variety of issues. But the truth of the matter is that while President Obama is certainly a friend of the Jewish people, he is an unreliable friend of the State of Israel.
Obama has an orthodox Jewish Chief of Staff in Jack Lew and his former Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, is also Jewish. The President hosts a seder in the White House every year. He has had close Jewish relationships throughout his life and I have no doubt that he feels a sincere closeness to the Jewish people. I have said in the past that President Obama deserves high marks for continuing America’s strong military and intelligence cooperation with Israel and especially his rejection of unilateral Palestinian statehood at the UN. Those who say Obama is anti-Semitic are guilty of malicious character assassination.
But on Israel our President has demonstrated a hostility that is troubling. Arriving in the White House and declaring his intent to put ‘daylight’ between the United States and Israel, President Obama immediately demanded a total freeze on settlements which, as Charles Krauthammer has noted, no American president had ever requested and which sent the message to the Palestinians that Obama would pressure Israel to make peace while making no reciprocal demands on them. This one-sided policy was bound to fail miserably, which it did. But more importantly, it contributed to the deligitimization of Israel as a rogue state that illegally usurps other people’s lands.
President Obama added to this deligitimization when he shocked the American Jewish community to its core by insisting, in March 2011, that Israel should return to its indefensible 1967 lines, albeit with land swaps. President Obama knew that Israel would react explosively to the suggestion on the part of American president that it return to suicide borders. Indeed, he was lectured on the subject in the Oval Office by Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was forced to break with diplomatic niceties and rebuke an American president before the world’s media, given the President’s outrageous demands.
Senator Lautenberg: With these particular events, how exactly has our President demonstrated his friendship to Israel? He declared Israel’s settlements to be illegitimate, put near-unilateral pressure on Israel to make peace without any expectations from the Palestinian side, declared that Israel should return to the arbitrary 1967 borders, and treated Prime Minister Netanyahu shamefully at a March 2010 meeting where he refused even a photo op with the elected leader of the Middle East’s only democracy. More ominously, there was the shameful incident of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dressing down the Prime Minister before that meeting and intentionally leaking the harsh tone of the conversation to the media in an effort to pressure the Prime Minister.
It is not just Republicans who have expressed extreme discomfort with Obama’s policies on Israel. When the Obama administration publicly upbraided Israel over its policies of building in Jerusalem in May 2010, Senator Schumer, as reported in Politico, went public in April 2010, calling the Obama’s stance “counter-productive.” He threatened to “blast” the Administration if the State Department did not back down from its “terrible” rebuke of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“This has to stop,” Schumer said of the administration’s policy of publicly condemning Israel’s construction of housing in Jerusalem:
I told the President, I told Rahm Emanuel and others in the administration that I thought the policy they took to try to bring about negotiations is counter-productive, because when you give the Palestinians hope that the United States will do its negotiating for them, they are not going to sit down and talk… Palestinians don’t really believe in a state of Israel. They, unlike a majority of Israelis, who have come to the conclusion that they can live with a two-state solution to be determined by the parties, the majority of Palestinians are still very reluctant, and they need to be pushed to get there… If the U.S. says certain things and takes certain stands the Palestinians say, ‘Why should we negotiate?
While Senator Schumer called out President Obama for his unfair and continued pressure on Israel, Senator Lautenberg is prepared to give the President an EZPass.
And surely we all remember the incident in November 2011 when French President Nicolas Sarkozy, not knowing his microphone was hot, expressed his contempt for Prime Minister Netanyahu, calling him a liar. Rather than contradicting him and rising to the Prime Minister’s defense, President Obama jumped in to commiserate, lamenting the fact that he has to deal with Netanyahu even more than the French. This display of Presidential contempt for the democratically elected leader of the Israeli people was unnerving and unfortunate.
At Cairo in June 2009, the President analogized the Holocaust to Arab “dislocation” that resulted from Israel’s creation:
The Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. … Six million Jews were killed…. On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people — Muslims and Christians — have suffered in pursuit of a homeland.
While I have no intention of minimizing Arab suffering, which was the consequence of their rejection of the original UN partition plan of 1947 and their commitment to destroy Israel instead, I find it unacceptable that President Obama would liken such suffering to the gassing of approximately 10,000 Jews per day through the years of the Holocaust.
Turkey is a member of NATO and America is the very anchor of the NATO alliance. Yet President Obama has been silent while an ostensible ally daily demonizes Israel and accuses it of murder in genocidal proportions, as Turkey has unfortunately done.
The administration’s rhetoric has been just as bad. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called Israel an “ungrateful ally.” President Obama’s new defense secretary Leon Panetta said Israel needed to “get back to the damn table” when it comes to peace negotiations, without pointing out that Israel should hardly be expected to negotiate with a Palestinian Authority that has teamed up with Hamas whose charter calls for Israel’s annihilation and the murder of Jews throughout the world.
Finally, let’s not overlook the fact that Obama has visited, as President, countries all over the world but has steadfastly refused to visit Israel, even when he was only a half hour away in Cairo.
In sum, Senator Lautenberg, whose support for Israel is legend, needs to look less at the rhetoric of Mitt Romney and the Republicans and more at the rhetoric of the leader of his own party and the ostensible leader of the free world, who ought to be showing unqualified support for the Middle East’s only truly free country.
About the Author: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 29 books, including The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
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