It has been a unique week in U.S.-Israeli relations. After first trying to kill a bipartisan Senate sanctions bill directed against Iran’s Central Bank, U.S. Administration officials decided to “work” with the two Senate leaders on the legislation - Bob Menendez and Mark Kirk - to “improve” the bill. Then when a new bill was drafted as an amendment to another piece of legislation, incorporating the administration’s preferred language and waivers, the White House chose to fight it anyway. The weaker bill was passed, and the administration will now either veto the bill when it comes out of Congress, or if such a veto is overridden, use the waivers in the bill to ensure no action against Iran’s Central Bank occurs.
Now we have three more slaps at Israel from the U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, Howard Gutman, from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and from U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. The logical question to ask is why the sudden abuse of an American ally?
First the details. Howard Gutman is an ambassador for one reason only: as a reward for his service to the Democratic Party and President Obama in the 2008 campaign. Gutman was one of the biggest “bundlers” for Barack Obama in 2008, raising more than $500,000 for the campaign. This week he told an audience of European Jews that unlike traditional anti-Semitism, Muslim anti-Semitism is different - it is caused by Israel’s mistreatment of the Palestinians. In other words, Muslim anti-Semitism is excusable.
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Gutman’s statement demonstrated ignorance -- especially of history. After all, Muslim anti-Semitism dates back to Muhammad, and went on for centuries before there was any such thing as a Zionist movement. Such statements by an ambassador are, except in the very rarest of circumstances, never made off the cuff, representing only the views of a political appointee. Gutman’s comments should also not be seen as those of an ambassador “going rogue,” and speaking his own mind. In the diplomatic world, such speeches by ambassadors would have to have been cleared with the State Department, and always reflect the views of the administration. Gutman also remarked that there was one way to reduce Muslim anti-Semitism - for Israel to make peace with the Palestinians, presumably by making big concessions to them. The remarks make it clear that the ambassador is blaming Israel not only for Muslim anti-Semitism, but presumably for blowing up the peace process, another falsehood.
Why would Gutman make these remarks? It turns out he is not alone in blaming Israel for the failure of the peace process. Leon Panetta, the U.S. secretary of defense, chided Israel to “return to the damn table,” as if it were Israel, and not the Palestinian Authority, which has avoided negotiations for three years. Panetta also claimed Israel was increasingly isolated amidst the Arab Awakening (new vernacular that has just been introduced by the administration to replace the Arab Spring). Panetta seems to believe that Israel has not done enough to ingratiate itself with the new Islamist regimes winning power all over the region. The U.S., on the other hand, seems not only to have made peace with the Islamist takeover in Egypt and Tunisia, and probably Libya and Morocco as well, but even encouraged a speedier turnover of power to the new Islamist parties.
Panetta, however, went further, suggesting that Israel needs to behave like a good ally of the U.S., which entails responsibilities. One of them is not to take any action against Iran which could be troubling to the Obama administration. Amir Oren summarized Israel’s new responsibilities:
“Do not bomb Iran because you will undermine an essential interest of ours. Return to dialogue with the Palestinians - in other words, make more concessions than Netanyahu has so far agreed to. Improve your relations with key countries in the region: Turkey, Egypt and Jordan. Consider yourselves, along with the necessary operational measures, as part of the region that is finally moving toward democracy.”
An Iranian nuclear program might be an existential threat to Israel, but a good ally will wait for the administration to take care of this, or more realistically, to do nothing, and to kill any effort by Israel’s friends in Congress to do something.
Finally, there were the caustic remarks by Hillary Clinton (the 2008 Democratic presidential contender who was supposedly better for Israel than Obama) who saw fit to blast Israel this weekend for denying rights to women, and for straying from democracy by trying to limit foreign financing of NGOs actively undermining the Jewish state. Maybe next week, Clinton will opine on the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia (don’t hold your breath).
It is a virtual certainty that the three blasts at Israel in the past few days were not coincidental, but rather part of a new tack for the administration, which has, for most of its three years, relied on the pretext of Israeli misbehavior on settlements as an excuse for unloading on the Netanyahu government. Of course, these prior pretexts (such as an Israeli official announcing step four in a seven-step approval process for new housing in Jerusalem), were treated by White House officials as of enormous consequence, with Israeli officials dressed down by the administration publicly in every venue.
One begins to get the idea that the administration has been in testing mode for a few years, seeing how far they could go in trashing Israel without political consequences. It appears that the lesson they learned was they can push pretty hard with very modest political consequences. Most Jews seem addicted to the Democratic Party, with both their votes and their campaign cash, for reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with Obama’s views on Israel or the Democratic Party’s support for Israel. The issues that make Jews into Democrats include preserving abortion on demand in the last months of a pregnancy (liberal Jews must think there are too many Jewish babies being born in the U.S.), redistributing wealth (Jews must have too much money), and favoring environmental policies designed to ensure that the economy will shrink in order to reduce emissions and better preserve Mother Earth (and keep millions out of work and the U.S. more dependent on Saudi oil and borrowing from the Chinese.
The lesson the administration has learned is that the organized Jewish community will take the abuse hurled at Israel lying down, and this undoubtedly has led to the step up in Israel bashing seen this week.
But again the question is why now? The president is off to Hawaii, where he will be on vacation for 17 days, and can do less damage to the country than when he is working. My guess is that the administration is concerned that the U.S. public is seeing pictures and reading stories about what is going on in Egypt that are not consistent with the warm and fuzzy view of the Islamist takeover that the administration prefers. The administration thinks Egypt will be another Turkey, a model for the Muslim world. In other words, Egypt’s leaders will be good Islamists, unlike those in Iran or al-Qaida. Bashing Israel serves both as a distraction from Egypt’s brave new world, in case this is not selling domestically, and also as an outreach to the Islamic world, something Obama really cares about. The signal is “we cannot stand Israel either. And just wait to see what I do with Israel in my second term.”
The Obama campaign team, which at this point controls the president’s policy decisions on all issues, seems to have reached a conclusion that they can trash Israel publicly and all the time, with only minor consequences politically and without engendering any significant push back from the organized Jewish community, which is dominated by liberal Democrats, who care more about all things other than Israel.
There is a scene in the movie "Animal House" where a fraternity pledge is spanked repeatedly on the behind by a sadistic member of the fraternity, and like all new initiates, responds to the harsh paddling with these words: “Thank you sir, may I have another.” If the organized Jewish community and the Democrats in Congress who claim they are pro-Israel do not push back hard against the Obama team’s assault on Israel, then they are as pathetic as the fraternity pledge, and Obama’s cynicism about the community will be proven to be the appropriate judgment.
Richard Baehr is the co-founder and chief political correspondent for the American Thinker, and is a visiting fellow at the Jewish Policy Center.
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