This article, by Anne Bayefsky, originally appeared in The Jerusalem Post.
President Barack Obama last Monday met for the first time with leaders of selected Jewish organizations and leaks from the meeting now make one thing very clear. The only free country in the Middle East no longer has a friend in the leader of the free world. Obama is the most hostile sitting American President in the history of the state of Israel.
This was the very first meeting with Jewish community’s leaders. Earlier requests for an audience with major Jewish organizations had reportedly been ignored. Six months after taking office the President finally got around to issuing an invitation – to stop the bleeding. Increasing numbers of Jews – even among the overwhelming number who voted for Obama – have been voicing serious concern about his real agenda.
The meeting, however, did not showcase the President’s trademark engagement and dialogue routine. Instead, he decided to cherry pick his Jewish audience to include pro-Obama newcomers with little support in the mainstream Jewish world, such as J Street, while blackballing the Zionist Organization of America. The oldest pro-Israel group in the United States, with an important presence on Capitol Hill, was not a voice Obama wanted to hear. This leaves the President willing to engage Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but not ZOA President Mort Klein.
The growing alarm in the Jewish community was also something the White House was bent on covering up. They refused to put the meeting on the President’s public schedule until it was outed. The White House demanded strict confidentiality and issued a terse couple of lines that it occurred when it was all over.
But there is no papering over the distressing reality that emerged. The President told his listeners that he preferred putting daylight between the United States and Israel. His reported justification: “there was no light between the U.S. and Israeli positions for the last eight years, and no progress was made.”
Evidently, unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip, 21 settlements and 9,000 residents counts for nothing. The Palestinian terrorist leadership and street have refused to accept a Jewish state for the past eight years (and the previous fifty-three) because the United States did not add sufficiently to Israel’s isolation. Palestinians are more likely to end terrorism, incitement to violence and rampant antisemitism if the United States applies more pressure on their victims.
Even if Obama doesn’t get it, Mahmoud Abbas does. He is now refusing to negotiate anything with the new Israeli government until President Obama’s settlement conditions are met.
During the meeting the President repeatedly described his new policy in terms of one of Yasser Arafat’s favorite mantras, “even-handedness.” That’s diplotalk for a moral equivalence between an Arab war against Jewish self-determination launched from the day of Israel’s birth – decades before any “occupation” – and the conditions of third-generation Palestinian “refugees” kept in limbo pending Israel’s destruction. But Obama’s even-handedness was no slip of the tongue. In his Cairo speech, the President equated the Holocaust to Palestinian “dislocation.”
The President promoted his strategy of putting hard public “pressure” on Israel as a means to build more credibility with Arab states. He must have meant the kind of credibility that comes from his policy of leaving an “open door” to Iran after its discredited election.
Obama then claimed that the widespread perception of an anti-Israel agenda was all the media’s fault because the media is only interested in a “man-bites-dog” story. When an administration sends a U.S. ambassador back to Syria though it is still listed as a key state sponsor of terrorism , hosts terrorist kingpins pursuing Israel’s annihilation, and was caught trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction, the story is far-fetched story alright – but true.
The president joked that Al-Jazeera often airs pictures of him wearing a yarmulke at the Western Wall. Except the photo-op during the election campaign had been intended to fool a Jewish audience that is no longer amused.
Reports also quote the President as claiming Israel has yet to “engage in serious self-reflection.” Considering Israel is a democratic country forced to send its children into the armed forces for two to three years and its men into reserve duty for another twenty-five, that isn’t the audacity of hope. It’s just plain audacity.
There is no doubt that the pressure on Israel from the Obama administration is going to get a lot worse, as the President told the group “there is a narrow window of opportunity for advancing the peace process.” Everyone understood the threat. The narrow window is Obama’s self-defined political ambitions bearing no relationship to the realities of the Middle East – or the welfare of either Israel or the United States.