Until the Obama administration decided to shift its support away from Israel because of a rather torturous interpretation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign rhetoric, it seemed absurd that a major policy decision against an ally would ever turn on the hyperbole of a political campaign.
Even after Netanyahu clarified his remarks, the administration is persisting in its reassessment of policy not toward Netanyahu, but toward the Jewish state.
Contrast this with the administration’s behavior toward Palestinian leaders who routinely advocate genocide, call Jews the descendants of apes and pigs, incite violence against innocents, name parks and schools after mass murderers, and openly allude to peace negotiations as strategic steps towards Israel’s elimination.
Yet the Obama administration has not found that any of this rises to the level to warrant a change in policy toward the Palestinians. American administrations have typically met Israel’s outrage against Palestinian incitement, provocation, and terrorism with cautious patronizing and the urging of restraint.
Days after Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian leader characterized the treaty by alluding to the Prophet Mohammed’s peace of Mecca. Arafat reminded his followers that Mohammed broke the agreement when he felt strong enough to take the city.
The American response was as typical then as it is now—Israel should not overreact to Palestinian hyperbole.
So, why are Palestinian terrorism and verbal evasion met with endless rationalization, while something as insignificant as Israeli campaign rhetoric results in harsh policy changes?
The explanation is quite simple. President Barack Obama has long been looking for an excuse to create daylight between his administration and Israel. The conflict with Netanyahu is not about Netanyahu; it is about the administration grabbing a fig leaf to justify a move toward the Palestinians.
An incision into Obama’s ideology would have easily predicted this outcome. He was reared in the American leftists’ understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict—one that flows from simplistic identity politics. As that narrative goes, Israelis are white-skinned, Western people (in reality they are largely Middle Eastern Jews) exploiting third-world, brown-skinned people.
Israel is characterized as the last vestige of British colonialism, even though Britain did not vote for the creation of Israel and actively supported the Arabs in the 1948 war. Consequently, the Jews have no right to be there, and it is their obligation alone to make concessions.
This fatuous narrative dominates Middle East teachings in higher education.
Obama’s friends not only believed this bad rendition of history, but some were also its major proponents. Obama has displayed a penchant for surrounding himself with
Israel-bashers such as Rashid Khalidi, Palestine Liberation Organization spokesperson and university professor.
From various accounts, Obama made an incriminating, pro-Palestinian speech at a farewell dinner for Khalidi that celebrated his move from the University of Chicago to Columbia University. The Los Angeles Times has refused to make public a video of those remarks.
Professor Zbigniew Brzezinski, who openly advocated shooting down Israeli planes if they try to bomb Iran, is another trusted Obama foreign policy adviser. There is Samantha Power, Obama’s U.N. ambassador, who in a radio interview advocated using American troops to protect Palestinians from Israelis. And no such list would be complete without the inclusion of Robert Malley, an apologist for Arafat’s walking away from Camp David and a man whose father was one of Arafat’s advisers.
In his Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago, Obama associated with ultra-progressive Jews who believed that peace was more likely if Israel, not the Palestinians, were on the receiving end of condemnation. One of Obama’s Jewish neighbors and earliest supporters was Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf. In 1973, Wolf founded Breira, an organization of progressive Jews that was so pro-Palestinian that American Zionists harshly attacked it.
Netanyahu’s campaign statement that “now” is not a time for a two-state solution was evasive campaign rhetoric. This is no different than presidential candidate Obama calling for an undivided Jewish capital in Jerusalem, only to subsequently amend his statement to mean that Jerusalem should not be divided with barbed wire—a phony allusion to Jordan’s cutting the city in two from 1948-1967.
Netanyahu’s statement about responding to high Arab voter turnout was no different from Obama’s cronies lamenting that former Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley’s urban renewal program was making the city white once again and threatening the black political base.
The Obama split with Netanyahu is less a split with Netanyahu than it is a divide with Israel wrought by Obama’s progressive view of the Jewish state. It was inevitable, as inevitable that the relationship between the American and Israeli people will not only survive, but get stronger after this Israel-bashing administration is gone.
Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a distinguished fellow with the news and public-policy group Haym Salomon Center.