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A Long Memory


When the next U.S. presidential race kicks off in earnest in a year or so, we will remember today. When the Jewish electorate will be inundated with speech after speech iterating and reiterating what great friends Barack Obama and the Democrats have been to Israel, we will remember today.

The Jewish community will be reminded how the bond between Israel and the U.S. is “deep and unbreakable,” as Vice President Joe Biden declared scant hours before harshly condemning Israel for announcing plans for new housing units in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in north Jerusalem. (The announced plans were for a mere 1,600 units, out of the many thousands of units desperately needed by Jewish families in Jerusalem.)

Indeed, condemnation by the United States has been fast and furious against Israel for announcing this new apartment construction. Not in Judea or Samaria, which always seems to be a source of American agita, but in Jerusalem, which never was – until today.

The battle to reverse Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish holy city is underway and I will most certainly remember today.

Despite immediate Israeli apologies, the message from a seething Biden was followed, a day later, by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s harsh 43-minute reprimand to Prime Minister Netanyahu. Apparently not wanting to feel left out, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg called in Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren to deliver yet another rebuke. And David Axelrod, Obama’s chief political adviser, said on “Meet The Press” that Israel’s action was both an “affront” and an “insult.”

We get it. Barack Obama is mad. Really mad. Things are not going so well economically in the United States; health care legislation is teetering on the brink; Democrats are facing a potential rout in upcoming elections, and now (much to Obama’s surprise, though certainly not a surprise for anyone paying any attention for the last 60-plus years) peace in the Middle East may not come as easily as he had promised.

But is Israel really the best place for Obama to focus his irritation with the current state of foreign affairs? If the power players in Washington really need to show they take their role of world superpower seriously, perhaps Iran, or North Korea, or Syria (or the UN) is a better place to direct this misplaced fury.

Israel has a history of absorbing never-ending American demands, insults and clarifications while rogue nations and terrorist entities get the royal treatment. This is nothing new with this administration. But what has been brewing for a while now appears to have reached a boiling point with Israel’s latest public relations fiasco. Yes, the construction announcement was ill-timed and, yes, it was not diplomatically expedient, but come on – Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.

What right does any country, friend or not, have to incite a public brouhaha over pending construction in another sovereign country’s capital? It is simply absurd.

That Israel apologized is equally disturbing. Israeli officials should have said, “We are not sorry for building homes for our people in Jerusalem, our capital.”

Netanyahu mistakenly thought the matter was put to rest after Biden accepted his public and private (personal) apologies. No. Obama and company have found it necessary to broadcast that they have been pushed to their limit by Israel. It appears the administration intends to use this Israeli diplomatic misstep to push Israel’s back to the wall. We cannot let the president continue down this path.

Things must be really serious; even the ADL’s Abe Foxman released a statement saying, “We are shocked and stunned at the administration’s tone and public dressing down of Israel on the issue of future building in Israel.”

Foxman continued, “We cannot remember an instance when such harsh language was directed at a friend and ally of the U.S. We can only wonder how far the U.S. is prepared to go in distancing itself from Israel in order to placate the Palestinians.”

Well said.

Observing the recent treatment of Israel by Washington, it becomes blatantly clear who is treating whom shoddily. Obama has traveled to more countries than any previous first-year U.S. president. He has visited Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Russia, Egypt (who can ever forget the Cairo speech?) and many other countries around the globe. Israel has so far not made the cut. The president’s failure to travel to Israel is consistent with the foreign policy of his administration, which goes to great lengths to pacify the Arab world at the expense of the Jewish state.

The question begs, if the Jewish community in the U.S. remains silent in the face of such obvious mistreatment, how then can we complain when Israel will be forced to agree to the impossible security concessions we know are heading its way? Our voice must be raised now as the administration places the eternal Jewish capital in play.

“If I forget thee O Jerusalem” is an integral foundation of our Jewish identity. Obama and the Democrats must know we will hold them wholly accountable for the forced division and repartitioning of Jerusalem.

It should be evident that the administration and the powers in Washington are on the wrong side of this issue when the self-loathing defeatist organization J Street praises and encourages the Obama administration’s condemnation of Israel and makes it clear that it – J Street – places the failure of peace talks at Israel’s feet. This position fans the flames against Israel and serves to enable those who condemn Israeli leaders for stubbornly struggling to maintain the safety of their citizens and the stability of their nation.

Let’s not fool ourselves. Obama sees yet another window of opportunity for political success closing on him and is seizing this moment to force a Middle East solution, regardless of whether it is beneficial for Israel. What is abundantly clear is that the battle for Jerusalem is again upon us and Diaspora Jewry will once again be called upon to defend Jerusalem – not from actual Arab enemies but from an uncompromising and shortsighted American administration that has lost its moral compass.

The time is now to stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel and make our position absolutely clear. We must also let Netanyahu know we have his back – unequivocally – and that any attempt to force Israel into a defensive posture will be overwhelmingly refuted at the ballot box. Midterm elections are coming quickly and Democrats are already feeling the heat for the administration’s many ill-advised domestic policies.

The president talks a good game about defending and protecting America’s national security. As a native New Yorker and first responder to the 9/11 terror attacks at the World Trade Center, I can only hope he knows what he’s doing. I’m not convinced. What I do know is that for the past sixty years, protecting and defending Israel has been at the forefront of America’s national security interests. Congress knows it. A recent Gallup poll confirms that the American public knows it too.

It is frightening that as Iranian rhetoric ratchets up to unprecedented levels the president and his State Department focus their ire not on madmen or their centrifuges but on Israeli apartments. Joe Biden is quoted as telling the Israelis, “What you are doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and regional peace.”

Who knew a few apartment buildings in Jerusalem contributed so heavily to the prospects for world war or regional peace?

I will remember today. Will you?

About the Author: Chaskel Bennett is a writer, respected activist and member of the Board of Trustees of Agudath Israel of America. He can be contacted at chaskelbennett@gmail.com.


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