"Barack Obama is the best thing Israel has going for it right now. Why is that so difficult for Netanyahu and his American Jewish allies to understand?" This is how New York Magazine's cover story begins from John Heilemann.
Heilemann chronicles in his story how President Obama has come to be characterized, unfairly, as "as the most ardently anti-Israel president since Jimmy Carter" when in fact he could be considered, by some measures, as the most pro-Israel president in the nation's history. (These are not measures with which I entirely agree, but measures that are worth noting.)
The striking element that Heilemann points out, and which I and many others here at Daily Kos have pointed out, is Obama's continuing to go to bat for Israel and Netanyahu – something that is about to dramatically happen again at the U.N. – despite being disrespected and mistreated by Netanayhu and despite the diplomatic damage such support is about to do to American interests in the Middle East.
Below are a few money selections from Heilemann's story, with a bit of my commentary. This first selection comes after Heilemann chronicles Netanyahu's visit to Washington in May, when Israel's leader spoke before Congress and, in an alliance with right-wing Republicans, twisted Obama's words and disrespected him on live television:
Obama was furious with Netanyahu, who in choosing to ignore the crucial qualifier about land swaps had twisted Obama’s words beyond recognition—the kind of mendacious misinterpretation that makes the presidential mental. The seniormost members of Obama’s team felt much the same. Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Bob Gates, Bill Daley, the former Mideast-peace envoy George Mitchell: All were apoplectic with the prime minister, whose behavior over the past two years had already tried their patience. “The collective view here is that he is a small-minded, fairly craven politician,” says an administration source deeply involved in its efforts to push the parties to the negotiating table. “And one who simply isn’t serious about making peace.”
The Obama administration has known, since 2009, that Netanyahu has not been serious about making peace, and yet the president has largely stood by Israel and its leader in the public sphere, despite the lack of reciprocation.
But that's not what makes Obama the "first Jewish president," according to Heilemann. It's that Obama has been, despite standing solidly behind Israel, has been willing to engage in some "tough love" in order to try and save the Jewish state in ways that Israel's own leaders have failed to do.
Heilemann notes that Obama has been willing to be tougher with Israel on the issue of settlements than other presidents and has been willing to actually articulate 20 years of American policy regarding the future borders of a Palestinian state (based on 1967 with mutually-agreed land swaps). And in doing so, the characterization is that Obama has been engaging in tough love despite the fact that such moments have prompted American Jews and "pro-Israel" organizations to cast Obama as anti-Israel:
For Obama, such assessments would be funny [the he's anti-Israel] if they weren’t so frustrating and absurd; and for the Jews who know him best, they are simply mystifying. In the last days of the 2008 campaign, the former federal judge, White House counsel, and Obama mentor Abner Mikva quipped, “When this all is over, people are going to say that Barack Obama is the first Jewish president.” And while that prediction has so far proved to be wildly over-optimistic, there is more truth in it than meets the eye.
In attempting to apply tough love to Israel, Obama is trying to make a stalwart ally see that undertaking the painful and risky compromises necessary for peace with the Palestinians is the only way to preserve the Zionist dream—which is to say a future as a state both Jewish and democratic. His role here is not that of the callous assailant but of the caring and sober brother slapping his drunken sibling: The point is not to hurt the guy but to get him to sober up.
The characterization is particularly mystifying to me, given my strong criticism of Obama for not going nearly far enough as a central broker between the Israelis and Palestinians. For not only has the administration failed to demand that illegal settlement construction stop, it has simultaneously demanded that the Palestinians give up their current U.N. push recognize Palestine as a state in the face of stalled negotiations (which are largely the fault of Netanyahu's intransigence).
And as I've written many times recently, Obama is about to severely damage America's standing in the Middle East – and thus damage a central foreign policy goal of gaining more legitimacy in the region as it convulses and shifts – by vetoing the upcoming Palestinian effort to achieve full member status at the U.N.
The U.S. is about to isolate itself in the world when it does so, and will irrevocably fracture its already-shaky standing in the Middle East with the vote. And why will Obama do so? Because he's going to bat for Israel. Again.
The electoral consequences of the Jewish vote aren't insignificant. While Jews only make up 2% of the U.S. population, they make up 4% and 5% in Pennsylvania and Florida respectively – two critical swing states.
And so Obama will go to bat for Israel at the U.N. in the coming weeks, despite this being against our interests.
And for that, he's being characterized by the right as anti-Israel.