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February 28th, 2017

Reality Check

Obama's False Choice on Israel

Jonathan Tobin

By Jonathan Tobin

Published Nov. 12, 2014

Obama's False Choice on Israel

Part of the fallout from the controversy over "senior administration officials" telling journalist Jeffrey Goldberg that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a "chickensh*t" is the revival of an ongoing effort by Obama apologists to convince American Jews that they would be wrong to try and hold the president accountable for his obvious disdain for the Jewish state's government.

This prompted Tablet magazine to publish an editorial claiming that it was wrong for both Israel's defenders and administration cheerleaders like Goldberg to ask Jews to choose between liberalism and Israel. But their plague on both your houses approach to this debate misses the point.

No one, at least no one serious on either side, is really asking Jews to choose between liberalism and Israel. The choice here is between loyalty to the president and Israel. And that is not one that anyone in the pro-Israel community, no matter what their political affiliation, should have much trouble with.

Though I am no friend of the political mindset that we associate with modern American liberalism, there is no inherent contradiction between its advocacy and support for Zionism and the defense of Israel's security. Indeed, some liberal Democrats in the House and the Senate are ardent and reliable friends of the Jewish state.

The pertinent question is whether pro-Israel Democrats are prepared to grade Obama on a curve and give him a pass for his propensity for picking pointless fights with Israel or undercutting its position at times of extreme peril (such as cutting off arms delivery during the Gaza War or persisting in supporting libels against the conduct of the Israel Defense Forces even after the U.S. military has debunked them) or in pursuing appeasement of and even détente with the anti-Semitic regime in Iran.

As we saw in 2012, most Democrats were perfectly willing to do so provided the president called a temporary halt to his incitement against Israel with a Jewish charm offensive that didn't last much beyond his second inaugural.

Faced with the arms cutoff, the Iran appeasement, and the chickensh*t insults, it is increasingly difficult for any principled Jewish Democrat to repeat the arguments put forward for the president's reelection with a straight face. While it is too late to atone for their mistake in giving this president a second chance to undermine the alliance, they can still stand up to criticize his policies on both the peace process and Iran without fear of losing their bona fides as either Democrats or liberals.

To claim that fidelity to either prevents them from speaking out when the president is making nice with an anti-Semite like Iran's supreme leader while trashing Israel's prime minister is to present with the sort of false choice that is Obama's favorite public speaking meme.

But even more insidious is the attempt by Obama cheerleaders like Goldberg to flip the argument and to claim that the president is somehow a better judge of Israel's security that its people or their elected leaders. He does so by arguing in his latest Bloomberg View column that by anyone who agrees with Obama that the status quo with the Palestinians is "unsustainable" must acclaim him as a true friend of Israel while those who disagree with the idea that the Jewish state must be pressured to make concessions are actually undermining its security.

No one in Israel, whether on the right or the left, thinks the status quo is desirable. But in the absence of any indication from the Palestinians-either the supposedly moderate Fatah led by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas or his Hamas rivals-that they are ready to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, Obama's efforts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their direction and to pressure Israel to withdraw from the West Bank makes no sense.

No Israeli government of any political party will repeat the mistake made in Gaza when Ariel Sharon withdrew Israeli soldiers and settlements.

Another Palestinian terror state like the Hamasistan in Gaza is an invitation to carnage.

Goldberg accepts that such a withdrawal is a bad idea but then says Israel must do more to improve conditions on the West Bank. He's right, but that is actually a position that Netanyahu has championed. He has urged the West to stop obsessing with a peace process that Palestinians don't want and to concentrate instead on economic development.

Until the political culture of the Palestinians undergoes a sea change that will make peace possible, talk about what Israel must do is a waste of time. The overwhelming majority of Israelis who, unlike Obama and many American Jews, have paid attention to the Palestinians' consistent rejection of peace understand this and are prepared to wait until then.

Considering that the status quo has lasted for decades after we first heard arguments about it being unsustainable, it is not unreasonable to think that it can go on for a very long time indeed without Israel being obligated to endanger its security in order to avoid its continuation.

That's a position that all friends of Israel, whether liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, should be willing to accept even if it goes against our instinctive American belief that all differences can be split in a spirit of compromise that even moderate Palestinians still dreaming of Israel's destruction don't share.

The only real choices facing Jews and other friends of Israel is whether they are prepared to give the president a pass for his destructive attitude toward the alliance because of his party affiliation or if they are so detached from a sense of Jewish peoplehood that they will tolerate the mainstreaming of anti-Israel attitudes that are growing dangerously close to anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.

Any argument to the contrary is merely a partisan attempt by Obama apologists to change the subject.

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JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of Commentary magazine, in whose blog "Contentions" this first appeared.

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