Finding Obama guilty of insufficient devotion to Israel

The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg conducted what he’s calling an “interview” with Barack Obama regarding Israel, but it sounded much more like an inquisition. Goldberg repeatedly demanded that Obama swear his devotion to Israel and affirm prevailing orthodoxies (“I’m curious to hear you talk about the Zionist idea. Do you believe that it has justice on its side?”; “Go to the kishke question, the gut question: the idea that if Jews know that you love them, then you can say whatever you want about Israel, but if we don’t know you –- Jim Baker, Zbigniew Brzezinski –- then everything is suspect. There seems to be in some quarters, in Florida and other places, a sense that you don’t feel Jewish worry the way a senator from New York would feel it”; “Do you think that Israel is a drag on America’s reputation overseas?”; “If you become President, will you denounce settlements publicly?”). Afterwards, Goldberg pronounced himself satisfied: “Obama expressed — in twelve different ways — his support for Israel to me.”

Marty Peretz, after a telephone conversation with Obama devoted primarily to Israel, similarly clears Obama of any suspicions of disloyalty, approvingly noting that Obama “recognizes” that Israeli settlements of the West Bank are not “the core problem” for the conflict with the Palestinians (to Peretz, such settlements “are very much a side-issue”). Peretz further decrees that Obama’s “exhilarating experience with American Jews and with their bonds to the dream and realities of Israel” was evident in both Goldberg’s interview and in Obama’s call with Peretz.

Needless to say, Obama’s vows of devotion to Israel were not enough for the right-wing polemicists who endlessly play on the fears of American Jews and exploit Israel-related issues for political gain. GOP leaders in the House — such as Minority Leader John Boehner — issued highly inflammatory statements regarding Obama’s interview with Goldberg, condemning Obama for describing Israel as a “constant sore” when, in fact, Obama used that term to describe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — not Israel (that lie by Boehner and others was so severe that Goldberg, to his credit, embraced Andrew Sullivan’s description of Boehner’s statement as a “flat-out lie” and added that it was “mendacious, duplicitous, gross, and comically refutable”).

But beyond the outright lying, right-wing condemnation of Obama’s desperately pro-Israel remarks is highly revealing. David Frum complained yesterday that while Obama embraced the notion that “the Zionist idea has justice on its side,” he followed that up with a “disclaimer.” What was the “disclaimer” that so upset Frum? This:

OBAMA: That does not mean that I would agree with every action of the state of Israel, because it’s a government and it has politicians, and as a politician myself I am deeply mindful that we are imperfect creatures and don’t always act with justice uppermost on our minds.

Hideous! We can’t have an American President who reserves the right to do something other than “agree with every action of the state of Israel.” Frum generously declares that Obama is not anti-semitic, but finds him guilty of being “cavalier with Israel’s security” (this blogger pronounces Frum correct and adds this “condemnation” of Obama: “I do not believe that the man hates Israel, but he doesn’t love it either


All of this is grounded in the unexamined premise that failure to love Israel with sufficient passion or to be sufficiently devoted to its interests ought to be disqualifying by itself — presumably since, as everyone knows, the Founders intended the first obligation of the U.S. President to be to preserve Israel’s security, just as George Washington said in his farewell address:

In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave.

As is typical for neoconservatives of Frum’s strain, he pretends that he is some sort of spokesman for “pro-Israel” voters generally, notwithstanding the fact that the vast majority of American Jews (and even large numbers of Israelis) reject Frum’s core political beliefs about the Middle East. Says Frum:

Obama’s declared position on Israel fails to reassure friends of Israel because it is so incongruous with the other things he says and thinks . . . He may consider himself Israel’s friend. But he will be a dangerous friend — made all the more dangerous by the reluctance of many in the pro-Israel community to ask searching questions of this supremely evasive politician.

Frum’s conceit in thinking that he speaks for “friends of Israel” is manifest. A recent Gallup poll found that among American Jewish voters, Obama destroys McCain (61-32%), virtually the same margin by which they would favor Clinton over McCain (65-27%). The neoconservative views of Frum, a former Bush speechwriter, are representative only of a small minority of American Jews, just as they are representative only of a small minority of Americans generally. He doesn’t speak in any way for “friends of Israel,” and virtually nothing that he and his comrades favor have been “good for Israel” in any meaningful sense.

But what’s most striking about the reaction is how explicit this strain of neocons has become about the fact that being “pro-Israel” is their overriding political concern. It also reveals, yet again, that there is no issue that permits less free debate than ones related to Israel.

Barack Obama runs around proclaiming his devotion to this other country; virtually wraps himself in its flag; vows to shun its enemies (who are not our enemies); is forced ritualistically to “express[] — in twelve different ways — his support for Israel” to the likes of Israel-centric war supporters like Jeffrey Goldberg and Marty Peretz; tells Palestinians to their faces that — to use his words — “if you’re waiting for America to distance itself from Israel, you are delusional”; affirms every one-sided piety applied to Israel-related issues; has compiled large numbers of prominent Jewish supporters for whom Israel is a top, if not the top, issue; and still . . . the dominant narrative among neocons and in the establishment media is that, deep down in his heart, he may be insufficiently devoted to Israel to be President of the United States. Has there ever been another country to which American politicians were required to pledge their uncritical, absolute loyalty the way they are, now, with Israel?

(Continue reading: Glen

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Posted in Elections, US - Israel relations

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