In the wake of Barack Obama’s trip to Israel, Republicans and Democrats wasted no time tilting over the meaning of every word uttered by the man the Democratic Party will nominate for president.

But amid all of the partisan debate, one prominent analyst thought both sides of that argument had it all wrong.


According to New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof, the problem wasn’t whether Obama was supportive of Israel. Notwithstanding the differences he might have with Republican John McCain, it was Obama’s recitation of many of the time-honored clichés of pro-Israel rhetoric that was, in Kristof’s view, unfortunate.

In his July 24 column, Kristof opined that what Israel needs from the United States is the sort of intervention that friends and family of an alcoholic would employ: It must be stopped from destroying itself.

Kristof sees the Jewish state as a sort of schizophrenic country split between its good and bad sides. In his formulation, the “good” Israel is the country of human-rights groups and journalists who sympathize with the Palestinians and defend them against the nation’s security establishment in the courts and the media. The “bad” Israel is composed of settlers who supposedly steal land from Arabs, with an army and government that abuses those Arabs with checkpoints and barriers that divide their communities from those of Jews.

What Kristof wants is for American presidential candidates to stop pandering to the “Israel lobby” and instead “clarify that the [Israel] they support is not the oppressor that lets settlers steal land and club women but the one that is a paragon of justice, decency, fairness – and peace.”

People like Kristof cannot be dismissed as Israel-haters, as some on the Zionist Right might like to do. Nor can Jewish groups like the Israel Policy Forum, Americans for Peace Now and the new left-wing lobbying group J Street be labeled as closet backers of Hamas. When it comes to their support for Israel’s right to exist, they deserve to be taken at their word when they say they want only what’s best for the country.

But good intentions notwithstanding, “tough love” in this case means forcing Israel to make more unilateral concessions to the Palestinians, no matter what the actual conditions on the ground would dictate as rational policy or what the people of Israel think is prudent.

The goal of Kristof and the Jewish groups that seem to agree with him is to splinter the bipartisan coalition that has remained Israel’s ace in the hole in the United States. They may not subscribe to every chapter and verse of Mearsheimer and Walt’s controversial treatise The Israel Lobby, but they share the revulsion the two authors have for the ability of AIPAC and its allies to rally Congress and the vast majority of the American people to head off attempts to strong-arm Jerusalem.

What makes this latest push to “save Israel from itself” truly absurd is how divorced it is from the facts on the ground. Israel has, after all, spent the last 15 years steadily retreating from a maximalist position on territory and security issues. The Oslo accords gave the Palestinians self-government. Oslo collapsed due to a Palestinian refusal to end terrorism or accept a state alongside Israel, but even so Israel three years ago withdrew every settler and soldier from Gaza. Instead of peace, the Palestinians have answered with rockets, missiles and bloodshed.

The “moderate” Palestinian Authority, which Israel and the United States still hopes to use as a negotiating partner, is itself compromised by support for terror. But even if one takes its stand on peace at face value, it is a weak, unpopular structure whose sway only extends to those parts of the West Bank that remain effectively under the control of the Israel Defense Forces. It hasn’t the will or the ability to make peace.

Americans tempted to embrace the “tough love” thesis need to remember that most Israelis are already prepared to hand over most of the West Bank to a Palestinian state that would live in peace with them. But Israelis know that under the current circumstances, any land handed over will simply become yet another Hamasistan terror base.

None of that seems to matter to Kristof or the true believers in the peace process. For them, the only obstacle remains the presence of Jews in parts of the West Bank and in those areas in Jerusalem that were occupied by Jordan prior to the city’s unification in June 1967.


Previous articleLiving In Hope
Next articlePoopa Dweck: Aromas of Aleppo
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS. He can be followed on Twitter, @jonathans_tobin.