Forward Thinking

Obama to AIPAC: A Matter of Trust

By Jane Eisner

  • Print
  • Share Share
getty images
President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama was more than half way through his address Sunday before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee before he mentioned the issue of the hour: Iran. That may well be because public officials tend to leave the thorniest subjects to later in their speeches. But it struck me as an apt metaphor for American Jewish reaction to the president in this white-hot election year.

Here’s why. Obama devoted the first and largest portion of his Aipac speech to a robust defense of his administration’s policies toward Israel, essentially repeating the phrase he mastered in an interview with Atlantic magazine a few days earlier – that is, he’s got Israel’s back. Anyone who believes this argument will very likely believe the subsequent pledges he made about Iran, because they are logical, systematic, and hold up to the facts as presented.

And those American Jews (and their evangelical Christian counterparts) who don’t believe that this administration has been as staunch an ally of Israel and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as it should be will simply not believe Obama on Iran, either.

In the end, it’s a matter of trust. And politics.

It’s clear that Obama and Netanyahu do not trust each other in the easy, open way in which we mortals would want allied leaders to behave. Both came to office around the same time, but Netanyahu had already served a stint as prime minister of Israel, and is a shrewd political infighter, with initially more experience on the world stage than the young American president. Obama was clumsy and overreaching in his first foray into Middle East diplomacy, caught in the thicket of that region’s Byzantine politics, not helped by an indecisive Palestinian leadership.

But it’s also fair to say that Netanyahu has never gotten along well with Democratic American presidents, and his alliances with Republicans have grown even more explicit during the time this Democrat has been in the White House. So it is possible that the personal relationship between these two leaders never would be warm and trusting. (Let’s pay attention to the body language at their meeting Monday.)

The question for American Jews, and the many other Americans who care about Israel, is whether that should make any difference at all.

Besides being openly sympathetic to Netanyahu’s position during his Aipac speech, Obama spared no effort to defend aggressively his administration’s support of Israel in the political, diplomatic, economic and military spheres. He asked to be judged not only by words, but by deeds.

“So there should not be a shred of doubt by now: when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back,” he declared. And, with regards to the Palestinians, “I make no apologies for pursuing peace.”

With that stage set, Obama then explained and defended his strategy to persuade Iran not to develop nuclear weapons: to pursue ever-tightening sanctions and international diplomatic pressure against the Islamic republic, while not ruling out a military option. The president is facing domestic pressure from a Congress that seems ever-eager to pick a fight with Iran, spurred on by some American Jewish leaders worried about Israel’s security, and by Republican presidential candidates looking for a way to exploit any apparent weakness in the president.

Still, Obama confidently held his ground before Aipac and warned against “too much loose talk of war”:

“For the sake of Israel’s security, America’s security, and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster; now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in, and to sustain the broad international coalition that we have built.”

Whether one believes him on Iran depends on whether one believes him, period. Most Jews have done so, and, I predict, will show that they still do when it comes to November’s election.

Obama stepped lightly in this speech, asking nothing of Israel except to tone down the rhetoric on Iran, never mentioning the previously contentious issue of settlement activities as a legitimate obstacle to peace. Even so, that won’t be enough for some American Jews, whose anxieties over Iran are being stoked by a well-funded, highly partisan rightwing campaign to discredit Obama more broadly.

The president seemed to underscore that in his interview with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, when he noted:

“This is one of the few times in the history of US-Israeli relations where you have a government from the right in Israel at the same time you have a center-left government in the United States, and so I think what happens then is that a lot of political interpretations of our relationship get projected onto this.”

It sure does.

(This post also appears on The Guardian)


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: iran, nuclear, benjamin netanyahu, aipac, american israel public affairs committee, barack obama

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.