The Two Sides of President Obama's Support for Israel: Compare His AIPAC Speech with His Actual Deeds
Morton Klein, Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), New York, March 6, 2012
Editor's Note: The following press release from the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) praises President Barack Obama's positive statements about Israel, the U.S./Israel relationship and on the Iranian nuclear weapons issue in his March speech to the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), but expresses grave concern about parts of the President's actual record to date on numerous crucial matters. This is the most comprehensive analysis we've seen of the contradictions between the President's words and deeds.
The ZOA has praised President Obama for emphasizing in his address to AIPAC that Israel is "the historic homeland of the Jewish people" and for affirming that the U.S. is "bound to Israel because of the interests that we share -- in security for our communities, prosperity for our people, the new frontiers of science that can light the world. But ultimately it is our common ideals that provide the true foundation for our relationship. That is why America's commitment to Israel has endured under Democratic and Republican Presidents, and congressional leaders of both parties. In the United States, our support for Israel is bipartisan, and that is how it should stay ... So there should not be a shred of doubt by now—when the chips are down, I have Israel's back."
While noting that the bulk of current U.S. defense support of Israel consists of programs belonging to a 10-year commitment made by former President George W. Bush in 2007, the ZOA has also praised the President for maintaining these programs and stating firmly that "Israel's security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable"; that "Israel's place as a Jewish and democratic state must be protected"; that "We will do what it takes to preserve Israel's qualitative military edge -- because Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat"; and that "there will be no lasting peace unless Israel's security concerns are met."
The ZOA applauds President Obama's noting that security assistance to Israel has been increased; that "We're providing Israel with more advanced technology—the types of products and systems that only go to our closest friends and allies ... We will do what it takes to preserve Israel's qualitative military edge -- because Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat"; that the U.S. has continued to fund and deploy the Iron Dome missile defense system to protect Israel from missiles fired from Hamas-controlled Gaza; that, "When the Goldstone report unfairly singled out Israel for criticism, we challenged it ... When the [anti-Israel, anti-Semitic] Durban conference was commemorated, we boycotted it, and we will always reject the notion that Zionism is racism"; and that "When Israeli diplomats feared for their lives in Cairo, we intervened to save them."
Importantly, President Obama has also stated, "No Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map, and sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel's destruction. (Applause.) And so I understand the profound historical obligation that weighs on the shoulders of Bibi Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, and all of Israel's leaders. A nuclear-armed Iran is completely counter to Israel's security interests. But it is also counter to the national security interests of the United States. (Applause.) ... I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say. Iran's leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon ... Iran's leaders ... should not doubt Israel's sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs." In saying this, President Obama has affirmed that, should diplomatic measures prove fruitless in stopping Iran from its quest to obtain nuclear weapons, the U.S. publicly recognizes that Iran possessing a nuclear weapon is an unacceptable danger to the U.S. and Israel and that Israelis are entitled to resort to military measures to prevent Iran.
However, President Obama also said that his commitment was not a mere matter of "words"; that "at every crucial juncture -- at every fork in the road -- we have been there for Israel. Every single time"; and "as you examine my commitment, you don't just have to count on my words. You can look at my deeds." We do so, below:
- In April and May 2009, Vice-President Joseph Biden strongly suggested U.S. opposition to any Israeli military action against Iran to prevent it obtaining a nuclear weapons' capacity; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared to lawmakers on Capitol Hill that Israel cannot expect strong American support in countering the Iranian nuclear threat unless it moves forward and makes concessions to the Palestinians; and then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told pro-Israel activists that, against the background of the growing Iranian threat, the Obama Administration means to push hard for the creation of a Palestinian state.
- In his June 2009 Cairo speech, President Obama strongly and shockingly implied that Palestinian suffering was equivalent to Jewish suffering during the Holocaust. He also strongly implied the Palestinian situation is equivalent to that of U.S. Blacks during slavery and Blacks during Apartheid-era South Africa. The assumption, just barely left unsaid, is that Israeli Jews are oppressors.
- In Cairo, Obama also spoke of Palestinians being displaced by the creation of Israel—repeating a Palestinian propaganda lie. Palestinians were not "displaced" by Israel's creation—they were displaced by the war they and their Arab neighbors initiated against Israel with the intent of destroying it at birth. Had they launched no war, there would not have been refugees—on either side.
- In August 2009, Fatah held a conference in Bethlehem, whose leaders reaffirmed its refusal to accept Israel's existence as a Jewish state, glorified terrorists living and dead by name, praised the "armed struggle," insisted on the so-called right of return, and rejected an end of claims in any future peace agreement with Israel. The Obama administration reaction? Silence. Worse, when subsequently urged by Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) to take up the issue with PA president and Fatah head, Mahmoud Abbas, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 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."
- In January 2010, Obama claimed in an interview in TIME magazine that Israel has failed to make "bold gestures" for peace and has not been willing to engage in meaningful negotiations with the Palestinians. In fact, the Israeli government accepted in-principle a Palestinian state, frozen Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria for 10 months and repeatedly stated its readiness to negotiate with Abbas' Palestinian Authority (PA). In contrast, in the same interview, President Obama conceded that Abbas' PA has not made any concessions of its own but explained this away by reference to Abbas "having Hamas looking over his shoulder" and without explaining why he therefore supports the creation of a Palestinian state under current conditions when Hamas is by his own admission a major influence on the PA.
- The Obama Administration, unlike previous administrations, supported the declaration by the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which singled out only Israel, calling upon it to sign the NPT. NPT Review Committee declarations are consensus documents, so had the U.S. not supported it, no declaration would have been issued. On previous occasions in 2000 and 2005, the United States refused to join proposed NPT Review Conference declarations because these singled out Israel.
- In January 2010, when terrorists from Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a recognized terrorist group, murdered an Israeli and father of seven, Rabbi Meir Chai, in a drive-by shooting, the PA did not condemn the murder, but did condemn the subsequent killing of the terrorists by Israel. Abbas himself sent condolences to the families of the three terrorists; PA prime minister Salam Fayyad visited the terrorists' families; and Mahmoud Al-Aloul, member of the Fatah Central Committee, also praised the dead terrorists as heroes. But the Obama Administration said nothing.
- President Obama said incorrectly in his AIPAC speech that "When Israel was isolated in the aftermath of the [2010 Gaza] flotilla incident, we supported them." In fact, he did not—in June 2010, he agreed instead to a UN Security Council statement which "condemned" the "acts" that led to loss of life on the Gaza flotilla. Further, on the Larry King show on CNN, President Obama called for an investigation into the loss of so-called "innocent" victims—who were actually killed in self-defense by the Israeli boarding party which was attacked as soon as it boarded the ship. The Obama Administration could have refused and vetoed this or any statement ignoring the illegal attempt by the ship Mavi Mamara to break Israel's blockade of Gaza and the assault on the Israeli boarding party initiated by the Hamas supporters aboard the ship, but did not do so.
- In July 2010, the Obama Administration upgraded the diplomatic status of Abbas' PA by granting its mission in Washington—which is actually a PLO mission—the same status it enjoys in most European countries: that of a PLO 'general delegation.' This was described in the Israeli paper Haaretz as "a major step above what the PA has had until now." The upgrade gave PA officials in Washington something they did not have before—diplomatic immunity. This occurred, despite the complete absence of Palestinian action to arrest terrorists, and end incitement to hatred and murder against Israel in its controlled media, mosques, schools and youth camps.
- The Obama Administration has used the terms "condemn," an "insult" and an "affront" when expressing disagreement with Israel's March 2010 mere announcement during a visit by Vice-President Joseph Biden of a program of housing construction in a major Jewish neighborhood in north-eastern 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, the Administration said it "respected" him.
- The Obama Administration failed to condemn something else that occurred during Biden's March 2010 Israel visit: the PA's naming 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. When at last Secretary Clinton, several days later, provided the administration's first criticism of the obscene glorification of Mughrabi by Palestinians, it was only to whitewash and protect Abbas, Fayyad and the PA by incorrectly stating it was "a Hamas-controlled municipality" that had initiated the event.
- In February 2011, the Obama Administration rightly vetoed a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution, supported by Arab states, falsely condemning Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria as being "illegal." However, the Obama Administration's did that only after its prior efforts to secure the agreement of the Arab states to a different resolution, which it would have supported, condemning these communities as "illegitimate," had failed. According to reports, the Obama Administration was also prepared to consider supporting an UNSC visit to the Middle East, the first since 1979, and commit to supporting strong language criticizing Israel's settlement policies in a future statement by the Middle East Quartet.
- In October 2010, the Obama Administration offered Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Authority (PA) that, if it didn't break off negotiations with Israel because of the end of the Jewish construction freeze in Judea and Samaria, the U.S. would explicitly support the Palestinian demand that Israel withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines and a Palestinian state be created throughout Judea and Samaria. The PA ignored Obama's offer and did not return to negotiations—and yet in May 2011, Obama ended up calling for the 1949 armistice lines, with agreed swaps, as the basis of future talks anyway.
- In May 2011, when Obama said Israel must have secure, recognized borders "different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967," many missed the point that this means little, when the new borders are to be "based on the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed swaps" and therefore be virtually indistinguishable from those lines. Indeed, with Palestinians unlikely to agree to any swaps, Obama gave the Palestinians a veto over any continued Israel presence beyond the pre-1967 lines.
- Moreover, Obama's May 2011 unprecedented public call for a Palestinian state to have "permanent Palestinian borders with… Jordan" would require Israel ceding the Jordan Valley, whose retention successive Israeli governments have regarded as vital—another first for a U.S. president. Obama has also become the first US president to suggest that issues of "territory and security" be agreed upon first, before proceeding to negotiations on all other matters, including Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees and their millions of descendants.
- Upholding Israel's basic security would mean repudiating the repatriation of Palestinian refugees and their descendants. Bush did so in his May 2004 letter; Obama has not. On the contrary, he has supported the so-called Saudi peace plan, which demands not only a return to the 1967 lines, establishing a Palestinian but also the return of all refugees and their descendants in return for "normalization" (not "peace")—and only after Israel does all this.
- Obama has consistently rewarded the PA, even though he has said on occasion that he will hold them accountable for their words and deeds. He has increased aid to almost $1 billion per year. A Palestinian Media Watch report presented to the US Congress documents that, in May 2011 alone, the PA paid $5,207,000 in salaries to Palestinians in Israeli jails, including blood-soaked terrorists. Last year the US provided $225 million to the general Palestinian budget from which these salaries are paid.
- In September 2011, outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates criticized Israel for giving nothing in return for U.S. military and intelligence support in terms of peace talks and called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "ungrateful." In fact, the U.S. has also benefitted enormously from military and intelligence cooperation with Israel.
- In October 2011, new Defense Secretary Leon Panetta criticized Israel, suggesting it is intransigent and unyielding when he said, "Is it enough to maintain a military edge if you're isolating yourself in the diplomatic arena?" Panetta did the same again in December 2011, when he said, "Just get (Israel) to the damn table, just get to the table." In fact, Israel has been willing to [resume] negotiations for years—it is Abbas' PA that has refused negotiations throughout almost the entire Obama term.
- Contrary to what President Obama said at AIPAC, the Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, has specifically opposed an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, rather than conceding that Israel, due to possessing fewer capabilities than the U.S., may have to act within a shorter time-frame than that available to the U.S.
- If Obama was genuine about holding the PA accountable, he would be demanding the disbanding of Fatah's own Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades—a US- recognized terrorist group. He would demand the abrogation of the PA's unity agreement with Hamas (which calls for a genocide of Jews) as a precondition of any future talks. He has done neither.
- For a year, Obama prohibited any new U.S. sanctions to stop Iran developing nuclear weapons—a looming existential threat to both Israel and the US. Indeed, further measures which must be taken to stop Iran is precisely what Obama left untouched in his recent speeches, including in his most recent address to AIPAC. Also, President Obama did not lay 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 asking it to waiting several more months for sanctions to have an impact, by which time Israel's capability to act may well have vanished.
- In his AIPAC speech, President Obama takes credit for imposing sanctions on Iran's Central Bank. In fact, as of five days ago, 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. Former chief-of-staff to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett, has observed that additional sanctions are available, but that President Obama has refused to use them.
Contrary to the President's claim in his AIPAC speech that "we have continued to insist that any Palestinian partner must recognize Israel's right to exist and reject violence and adhere to existing agreements" the PA has explicitly and repeatedly denied Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state and refused to recognize it—and the Obama Administration has done nothing about it. It has not criticized, penalized or defunded the PA for this long-standing refusal. It has not made a resumption of Israeli/Palestinian talks conditional on this occurring. Moreover, when Fatah and Hamas took last year the first of several steps towards forming a unity government, President Obama said only that the PA must "explain" how this is compatible with peace-making. He did not demand that it abrogate the agreement, not then or since—not even after the February 2011 Doha agreement between Fatah and Hamas.