Even if He Can’t Part the Seas, Obama Is No Plague on Israel
‘Why is this president different from all other presidents? Because this president doesn’t support Israel.’
Such an exchange might come up at Passover seders this evening, and if your Jewish family is anything like mine, a common ritual is to draw parallels between the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt and Jewish current events. Oftentimes it comes towards meal’s end — somewhere between fishing around for afikomen cash and noticing that Elijah didn’t touch his wine. But it will happen. And, from the Toulouse killings to Iranian nuke progress, the world is unsettling enough for Jews without painting the U.S. president like a member of Hamas. So if an uncle brings up our ‘anti-Israel’ president, here’s how you can respectfully correct him.
Ever since the 2008 election, a GOP talking point has been that Barack Obama has the “worst relationship with Israel of any president in history”; that, as Mitt Romney insists, he “throws Israel under the bus.” (Better than strapping it to the roof of the bus in a crate, I suppose.)
It’s baloney. Please toss it out and replace it with some charoset and maror. Obama’s solidarity with the Jewish state has been convincing where it really matters. Just ask Israelis. In 2009, Obama enjoyed the support of just eight percent of the Israeli public, a number that has climbed to a stunning 54 percent after three years in office. The man’s gone from being within the margin of error of Pharaoh to wishing he could run for reelection in Tel Aviv.
So, what happened? I asked a former colleague from my time in Israel — a right-wing Likud party member, in fact. “Well,” he said, “it’s pretty simple. We just didn’t know who he was. Now we do.”
Israelis loved President Bush, and were nervous about a new guy marketing himself as the anti-Dubbya. Add that to the fact that Obama spent some of his childhood in a Muslim country and has Hussein for a middle-name, and you land in the single digits. “We live on the edge of a knife here, you know?” the colleague said, “so when we don’t know the U.S. leader, we’ll believe some rumors and speculation. But we know now, he stands with us.”
Still, there’s an election in November and somebody told the Republicans there are a few Jews in Florida; thus, the litany of alleged [disasters!] between Obama and Israel. The cited instances have been overblown, and mostly are the result of procedural and symbolic faux pas, rather than substantive policy shifts.
First, yes — Obama could have visited the Jewish homeland as president, and probably should have (he did so as a senator). When he made the high profile 2009 visit to Cairo, with an address to the Muslim world as its centerpiece, many Jews took his failure to make a similar appeal in Israel as a slap in the face. The President obviously felt the U.S. had more damage to undo in the Arab world than in Israel, which was true. The understandable disappointment, however, was more a matter of propriety than relationship severing.