Haim Saban, a proud Jew, staunch supporter of Israel, and noted philanthropist, nevertheless parses President Obama’s record on Israel in The New York Times to deliver a sanitized rendition of a President whose relationship with the Jewish state is unreliable at best and troubling at worst.
Saban’s first device is to give Obama credit for policies that began decades prior to his presidency, like the $3 billion in annual military aid, which started during the Presidency of Jimmy Carter, of all people. Saban fails to mention that the same Camp David peace agreement that produced aid to Israel has also provided Egypt with $2 billion a year.
Saban’s most notable sleight of hand is his astonishing argument that “George W. Bush diverted American attention from Iran — the greatest threat to Israel’s existence — to Iraq, even helping to put a pro-Iranian leader in power in Baghdad.” Saban is surely aware of the 42 missiles fired by Saddam Hussein into Israel during the first Gulf War in 1991. Saddam later paid the families of each Palestinian suicide bomber $25,000 for the indiscriminate murder of Jews. In 2003 the world at large viewed Saddam, who violated sixteen UN resolutions for inspections of possible chemical weapon sites, as the single greatest threat not just to Israel but to world peace, not to mention the greatest murderer of Arab life in the history of the world. At that time the Iran nuclear program was not yet raising alarm bells since the only things that had been confirmed were the existence of a uranium enrichment and a heavy water facility that were under construction.
The same can no longer be said of Iran today. Just last month, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran had “already installed more than 2,100 centrifuges inside a virtually impenetrable underground laboratory, and that it has ramped up production of nuclear fuel” (The New York Times, Aug 30th, 2012). The IAEA added that Iran had produced nearly 190 kg of higher-grade enriched uranium since 2010, significantly up from 145 kg this past May. The Wall Street Journal wrote that Iran’s nuclear ambitions “haven’t been slowed in the least by U.S. or international sanctions. In fact, they are accelerating… Only 50 more kilograms of 20% uranium are needed to produce a bomb, and that’s saying nothing of Iran’s additional large stockpiles of reactor-grade uranium that can also be enriched to higher levels of purity.”
Amid these clear indications of Iran nearing its goal of obtaining nuclear weapons, Saban argues that there is nothing to fear since President Obama is enacting harsh sanctions against Iran. “As Iran approaches the nuclear weapons threshold, Israel’s nervousness is understandable… Mr. Obama has assured Mr. Netanyahu that he will ‘always have Israel’s back.’ Americans who support Israel should take the president at his word.”
Really? The Wall Street Journal reported on July 3rd that American-led sanctions against Iran are so pathetic that all 20 of Iran’s leading trading partners are exempt from them. “If you’re a big oil importer in China, India or 18 other major economies, the sanctions are mostly smoke…. Thanks to lobbying by the Obama Administration, the sanctions law contained several loopholes you could drive a warhead through.”
Then we had Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey warn recently that any Israeli attack on Iran would “clearly delay but probably not destroy Iran’s nuclear programs,” adding, “I don’t want to be complicit if they choose to do it.”
Was the general articulating Administration policy against Israel? Was his reluctance “to be complicit” with Israel a statement that the Obama Administration would refuse to resupply Israel with jets and bombs, or condemn an Israeli strike at the U.N., as the Journal legitimately asked?
Saban likewise overlooks President Obama’s open mic comments to President Medvedev about obtaining greater ‘flexibility’ after his reelection, which would seem to indicate that the immense pressure Obama exerted on Israel in the first two years of his presidency, which slowed after his self-described ‘shellacking’ in the 2010 midterms, would likely return after his reelection. President Obama was also caught on an open mic commiserating with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who called Prime Minister Netanyahu a liar.
But what is most puzzling about Saban’s version of Obama’s record is his ignoring of the President’s posture toward Israel in the first half of his presidency. 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, something that no American president had ever required. Obama largely declared Israel’s settlements to be illegitimate, put near-unilateral pressure on Israel to make peace without any expectations from the Palestinian side, declared at a speech that was supposed to be about the Arab Spring that Israel should return to its indefensible 1967 borders with land swaps, 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, and had Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dress down the prime minister before that meeting, leaking the harsh tone of the conversation to the media.
When the Obama administration publicly upbraided Israel over its policies of building in Jerusalem, 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.”
Saban starts his piece by mentioning he is an Israeli-American devoted to Israel’s security. There can be no question that this is true. Why then does Saban dismiss the opinion of the Israeli people about President Obama? 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. And Obama’s approval rating with the Israeli public at one point dropped to the mystifying low of just 4%.
The truth of the matter is that while I do not question that President Obama is certainly a friend of the Jewish people, he is an utterly unreliable friend of the State of Israel.
At Cairo in June 2009, the President analogized the Holocaust to Arab “dislocation” that resulted from Israel’s creation. “The Jewish people,” he said, “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.”
I have no intention of minimizing Arab suffering. Arabs are my brothers under God. No one wants to see them suffer, whatever the cause. Still, I find it unacceptable that an American President 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 done.
The administration’s rhetoric has been discouraging, as well. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called Israel an “ungrateful ally.” 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.
About three years ago I met Mr. Saban briefly at the CNN Heroes Awards Celebration in Los Angeles where I served as a judge. He was warm, approachable, and patient. I shared with him my admiration for his philanthropic activities and strong commitment to Israel. Even as I disagree with him, I salute his love and public support for the Jewish state at all times. It was, therefore, disappointing to read of his cheap shot at Sheldon Adelson, arguably the foremost supporter of Jewish causes worldwide. Surely Saban believes that two Jewish philanthropists who may disagree politically should still show public respect and support for one another, given the existential threats being faced by Israel and the many enemies arrayed against the Jewish people. We need solidarity in our community, even as we disagree on some issues. And I would assume that Saban salutes a philanthropist who has contributed some $150 million toward bringing 300,000 Jews from all over the world to visit Saban’s beloved Israel.
Rather than creating rifts in the Jewish community or offering a blanket endorsement for President Obama’s Middle-East policies, it might be wiser for Mr. Saban to speak to his friend the President about our community’s reservations about his record and why some of those reservations are not without merit.