Obama and Israel: The Truth
Unfortunately, President Obama got off to an uneasy start with Israel. As a result, he has faced doubts once again in the American Jewish community.
There were a series of missteps. First, while the president went to Cairo and gave an unprecedented speech defending Israel’s existence and condemning Holocaust denial before an Arab audience, he appeared to tie Israel’s creation to the Holocaust and failed to mention the Jewish state’s historical biblical roots.
Then, the president pushed hard — and publicly — with a call for a settlement freeze, including in Jerusalem. This was troubling not only because we should not confront close allies with public demands, but also because a call for restrictions on Jewish residential neighborhoods in Israel’s capital city is something no Israeli government could support.
These actions not only unsettled many in our community, they overshadowed the very positive actions this administration has taken on the issues most important to Israel’s security and survival. They also provided an opening for partisan opponents to peddle the worst characterizations of the president and his policies.
Notwithstanding all the angst created by these events, this administration deserves an honest and clearheaded evaluation.
Since the recent meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, the two leaders are more clearly on the same page than ever before. Both spoke eloquently of bonds that they call “unbreakable” and “unshakable.” The peace process is also on a much steadier footing, with the burden having appropriately shifted to President Abbas to decide whether he will drop his preconditions and enter direct talks.
On Iran, which is the primary existential threat facing Israel, both Israeli and American officials have talked openly about how our governments are closely strategizing to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. This goal has taken an enormous amount of the president’s personal attention, in talking directly to leaders in Russia, China, Europe and other key nations to advance unprecedented sanctions adopted by the U.N. Security Council in June that will block arms sales to Iran, freeze Revolutionary Guard assets and authorize searches of Iranian cargo vessels. The president also signed into law the Iran sanctions bill, which imposes sanctions on insurance, financing and shipping companies that assist Iran in developing its energy sector. This approach will inflict significant economic hardship on the Iranian regime and hopefully get them to see they would be better off not pursuing nuclear weapons.
This administration has enhanced Israel’s qualitative military edge. Joint military exercises, sales of the new F-35 fighter jet and $205 million for the Iron Dome missile defense system against Hezbollah rockets reflect our solid military ties.
The president is also leading the campaign against efforts to delegitimize Israel. At the United Nations, the United States has opposed action on the Goldstone Report, opposed calls for international investigations of the flotilla incident, and fought the anti-Israel bias at the U.N. Human Rights Council and other U.N. bodies.
In this context, I am alarmed by the continuing effort to paint such an extremely negative picture of the president and even of Democrats in Congress.
It doesn’t make much sense. The president’s policies have earned the praise of most people who are following this issue carefully, including the prime minister of Israel and other Israeli leaders. And we should not be offended by his efforts to enhance the United States’ ability to engage with a larger part of the Muslim world and push for more moderation by Arab states.
Yet, I have received so many e-mails and other accusations against the president — from people who consider themselves well informed — that I feel compelled to set out some of the myths and facts.
No, President Obama is not a Muslim; he is a Christian. No, Prime Minister Netanyahu did not enter the White House through a back entrance. This “incident” did not happen, and it has been refuted by the Israeli ambassador and by the prime minister himself. No, the United States did not refuse Israeli nuclear scientists visas — Israel and the State Department have both denied it. No, it was Turkey, not the United States, that withdrew landing rights from Israel at U.S. bases in Turkey. The United States objected and boycotted a joint NATO exercise Turkey planned to host.
I cannot help but think that some of this is being orchestrated by Republican partisans to gain support and undermine Democrats. While this strategy may seek a short-term political advantage, it would be a long-term loss for the U.S.-Israel relationship. Bipartisan support for Israel has been a bulwark of U.S. ties to Israel since its founding. It is a tradition that is in the moral and strategic interests of both our nations.
As Americans who care about the United States and Israel, we must keep our eye on the essential issues that matter most to Israel’s security and survival. Even though I have been critical of some of the president’s actions, I believe the president agrees with us on these core issues and has acted accordingly.
Rep. Waxman (D-Calif.) has represented California’s 30th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1975. He currently chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee.