The Obama Watch

Obama at AIPAC — Truth in Advertising?

His previous actions and words speak louder than this week's salesmanship.

By 3.8.12

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President Barack Obama's address this week to the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was a remarkable performance of salesmanship. But was there truth in advertising?

Striking all the right notes for his audience, President Obama talked up his record of supporting Israel materially, intoning about Israel's security being non-negotiable, preserving Israel's qualitative military edge "with more advanced technology -- the types of products and systems that only go to our closest friends and allies," and deploying the Iron Dome missile defense system to protect Israel from incoming missiles from Hamas-controlled Gaza. 

Obama also talked up his record supporting Israel diplomatically -- "When the [UN-commissioned] Goldstone report [into the 2010 Gaza flotilla clash] unfairly singled out Israel for criticism, we challenged it.… When the [UN-commissioned anti-Semitic] Durban conference was commemorated, we boycotted it.… When Israeli diplomats feared for their lives in Cairo, we intervened to save them."

And Obama also reassured his audience about Iran's nuclear weapons program, affirming that neither Israel nor the U.S. can accept Tehran possessing nuclear bombs, that consequently all avenues for preventing this outcome, including military ones, are "on the table," and that Israel has a "sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs." 

All of which emboldened the President to conclude, "I have Israel's back" and "as you examine my commitment, you don't just have to count on my words. You can look at my deeds." 

Let's do so. 

Iran
In April 2009, Vice-President Joseph Biden strongly warned Israel of the Administration's opposition to any Israeli military action against Iran. The same month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that American support in countering the Iranian nuclear threat was conditional on Israel making concessions to the Palestinians. Last December, the Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, explicitly opposed an Israeli strike. And if reports are true, Obama is privately warning Israel of penalties for striking Iran if he wins reelection. Nothing here about Israel's "sovereign right to make it own decisions."

For a year, Obama prohibited any new U.S. sanctions to stop Iran developing nuclear weapons. Nor has he laid down any red lines beyond which the U.S. will not permit Iran to advance in its quest for nuclear weapons. Worse, since Israel has fewer military capabilities than the U.S., it also has a smaller window of opportunity to deal with Iran's nuclear program than the U.S -- yet Obama is now asking it to waiting several more months for sanction to have an impact. Whatever else may be on "the table" at that point, Israel's capacity to act might not be among them.

In his AIPAC speech, President Obama took credit for imposing sanctions on Iran's Central Bank. In fact, as of last week, he has not implemented these sanctions, whose passage through the Congress he tried to slow and whose strength he sought to dilute. Numerous Democrats and Republicans from both the Senate and the House have called for him to actually start enforcing the sanctions they passed and which, at the moment, will not even take effect until June. 

Diplomatic support
Obama said at AIPAC that "the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the United Nations" and back Israel diplomatically. And his Administration has -- on the occasions cited above. But such support was scarcely evident when Obama supported the so-called Arab Peace Initiative, which demands not only an Israeli withdrawal to the vulnerable and serpentine 1949 armistice lines and a Palestinian state throughout the West Bank, but also the return of all Palestinian refugees and their millions of descendants to Israel in return for "normalization" (not "peace") -- and only after Israel does all this.

Nor was it evident in 2010 when, unlike Bill Clinton in 2000 and George W. Bush in 2005, Obama permitted the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference statement singling out Israel and insisting it joint the NPT. 

Nor was it evident when Obama agreed to a UN June 2010 Security Council statement he could have easily vetoed which "condemned" the "acts" that led to loss of life on the Gaza flotilla, or when he called on CNN's Larry King show for an investigation into the deaths of "innocent" victims -- actually, Hamas supporters who premeditatedly assaulted the Israeli boarding party enforcing the lawful inspection of ships bound for Gaza. 

Nor was it evident in February 2011, when Obama sought to condemn Israel in the UN Security Council for the "illegitimacy" of Jewish communities in the West Bank. Only when the Arab states refused to oblige and demanded that they be condemned as "illegal" -- a legally baseless assertion -- was Obama compelled to veto. 

And it was still less evident this February, when, having cut US funding to UNESCO in accordance with US law for it admitting the PA as a sovereign state, Obama sought to continue and in fact increase funding to UNESCO. Indeed, by doing so, he encouraged the PA to press ahead with its policy -- unpenalized by Obama -- of circumventing negotiations by seeking sovereign recognition by international organizations.

Israeli security needs: 
Obama said at AIPAC that Israel's security must be "sacrosanct." But this was no-where in evidence when, in October 2010, Obama offered Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Authority (PA) that, if it would only remain in talks with Israel after the expiry of Israel's unilateral 10-month freeze on Jewish construction in the West Bank, he would endorse the Palestinian/Arab Peace Initiative demand that Israel withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines and establish a Palestinian state. 

Nor was it apparent when, in May 2011, after the PA had ignored Obama's offer and broke off negotiations for half a year, Obama went ahead anyway by calling for precisely such an Israeli withdrawal with "agreed swaps" -- a caveat that actually gives the Palestinians an automatic veto over Israel retaining anything beyond the 1949 lines. 

And it became less apparent still when that call included something never publicly supported by any previous president -- Israeli relinquishment of the Jordan Valley, whose retention successive Israeli governments have regarded as vital to Israeli defense. (The late Yitzhak Rabin said as much in his last speech to the Knesset in October 1995.) 

Palestinian terrorism & incitement:
Obama has said more than once that he will hold Palestinians accountable for their words and deeds, including incitement to hatred and violence against Israel. But nothing of the sort happened in August 2009, when Abbas' Fatah, which controls the PA, held a conference in Bethlehem, which reaffirmed its refusal to accept Israel's existence as a Jewish state, glorified terrorists living and dead by name, insisted on the so-called 'right of return,' and rejected an end of claims in any future peace agreement with Israel. 

Nor did anything of the sort occur when Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) subsequently urged Clinton to take up the issue with Abbas. Instead, she issued a flat-earth denial, saying that the Fatah Conference showed "a broad consensus supporting negotiations with Israel, and the two-state solution" and that contrary statements by unnamed "individuals" at the conference "did not represent Fatah's official positions."

Nor did anything of the sort happen in January 2010 when terrorists from Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a recognized terrorist group, murdered an Israeli, Rabbi Meir Chai, in a drive-by shooting and Abbas himself sent condolences to the families of the three terrorists subsequently killed by Israeli forces. Obama said nothing, even when specifically informed of these events by the Israeli government.

Nor did anything of the sort happen when, in March 2010, the PA named a public square in Ramallah after Dalal Mughrabi, the leader of the 1978 coastal road bus hijacking, in which 37 Israelis, including 12 children, were slaughtered. (The Administration did, however, condemn Israel for announcing a program of building Jewish homes in eastern Jerusalem the day before.)

Nor did anything of the sort happen when, several days later, Clinton provided the Administration's belated criticism of the obscene glorification of Mughrabi. Quite the contrary, she whitewashed and protected Abbas and the PA by falsely stating it was "a Hamas-controlled municipality" that had initiated the event.

Nor did anything of the sort occur in March 2011, five members of the Fogel family, including three children, were murdered in their beds, their throats slit, by Palestinian terrorists. Nor did anything of the sort happen the next day when the PA held a ceremony to name another public square after the terrorist Mughrabi. Quite the contrary: it took four days before a minor State Department official condemned the event and urged PA officials to "address it" -- but didn't condemn Abbas or his ruling Fatah party, under whose auspices the ceremony took place.

Then there are the intangibles, matters of tone and emphasis when disagreements arise. The Obama Administration has used the terms "condemn," an "insult" and an "affront" when expressing disagreement with Israel's March 2010 mere announcement of a program of housing construction in a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem – a project which violated no agreement with America. "Condemn," "insult" and "affront" are harsh and ugly terms that America and Obama have never used in reference to an ally's actions. To the contrary, when Turkey did not vote along with the U.S. for further sanctions on Iran, the Administration was merely "disappointed." When Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai spoke publicly of considering joining forces with the Taliban, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said it "respected" him. 

Compare that to Gates criticizing Israel last September for giving nothing in return for U.S. military and intelligence support in terms of peace talks and calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "ungrateful." Or his successor Leon Panetta criticizing Israel the next month for not being more pliable, or again, last December rudely urging Israel -- which has been open to negotiations with the PA all along -- to "get to the damn table."

So what is really left of Obama's claims of having Israel's back? A strong -- and mutually beneficial -- defense cooperation actually inaugurated and funded by George W. Bush, which would require Congressional approval to reverse; supplying Iron Dome missile defense systems to Israel for which he has recently trimmed funding; affirming Israel's right to act against Iran that his own senior officials have continuously and publicly opposed; saving Israeli diplomats in Cairo from a mob enabled by his having helped push Hosni Mubarak from power weeks before; and some UN speeches seeking to limit the damage of noxious Arab initiatives he previously encouraged.

The words of the prophet Daniel apply -- "You are weighed in the balance, and are found wanting."

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About the Author

Daniel Mandel is a Fellow in History at Melbourne University and author of H. V. Evatt and the Establishment of Israel: The Undercover Zionist (Routledge, London, 2004). His blog can be found on the History News Network.