You Call That a Crisis?

Secretary of State John Kerry and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, April 9, 2013. (Photo: Matty Ster.)

Secretary of State John Kerry and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, April 9, 2013. (Photo: Matty Ster.)

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) responded Wednesday to Jeff Goldberg’s article in The Atlantic that quoted a senior U.S. official referring to Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as a “chicken**t”:

There should never be any doubt that the special and strategic bond between the United States and Israel remains strong, steadfast and secure. In such a relationship, cooperation is celebrated and differences should be aired in confidence.

Unsubstantiated reports of inappropriate criticism and unprofessional name-calling are outrageous and unacceptable. And if proven true, the responsible individual should be held to full account. Whether they agree or disagree, friends engage with respect.

Dialog and professional engagement are essential to meeting the growing challenges that both Israel and the United States face. I hope that this moment provides an opportunity to reaffirm the distinct and critical relationship between our two countries.

The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) said similar things:

Even in informal conversation, the use of the term was unprofessional and does not meet the standard of civility and deference that has typified the Administration even in disagreement with its long-time ally.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has the right and responsibility as the freely elected leader of a sovereign nation to conduct Israel’s foreign and domestic policies as he determines are in the best interests of his country and its people. Likewise, the United States has a strategic interest in pursuing peace, prosperity and security for Israel. Cooperation between the two countries has never been stronger.

The personal frustration that is reflected in the anonymous source’s ad hominem attack should be channeled to constructive engagement rather than rhetorical flourishes.

As pro-Israel advocates, even as we condemn this unacceptable name-calling, we must understand what was behind it.

We are in a difficult position because the current government in Israel also bears some of the blame for the rift in U.S.-Israel relations. It is not “anti-Israel” to recognize this reality any more than it is “anti-American” to recognize the flaws of the current U.S. government’s policy.

We have heard tales of rifts and snubs almost since the day President Obama was elected. Yet, the Obama administration has taken U.S.-Israel military and intelligence cooperation to unprecedented levels: He provided Israel with record aid, including enthusiastic support for Iron Dome, which the George W. Bush administration was “frosty” on, and while continuing U.S. policy on settlements and Jerusalem that have been in place since 1967, he has not let this decades-old disagreement affect the U.S. strategic and diplomatic support for Israel.

During the Gaza War, even while calling for a cease-fire, Obama resupplied Israel with munitions. The delay in delivering Hellfire missiles, which have now been delivered, did not adversely affect Israel, which did not use those during the war.

The undeniable reality is that the U.S.-Israel relationship remains strong, and it is almost a testament to the strength of the relationship that the worst that President Obama’s critics can point to is name-calling. I would take name-calling over the tangible damage previous administrations have done to Israel any day.

No one in the Bush administration ever publicly referred to the prime minister of Israel as “chicken**t,” but let us not forget what did happen during the Bush tenure.

Bush rejected requests from Israel for special bombs to attack Iran and violated an agreement with Israel to maintain its qualitative military edge by selling arms to Arab states.

In 2002, Bush demanded that Israel stop its military offensive in the West Bank “now, not tomorrow.”

In 2006, when Israel invaded Lebanon, the Bush administration said, “We are urging restraint on both sides, recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself,” almost word for word what the Obama administration said during Israel’s invasion of Gaza.

The Bush administration pressured Israel into allowing Hamas to participate in the 2006 Gaza elections, thus conferring on Hamas a legitimacy it could not have otherwise achieved. The Bush administration rescinded $289.5 million in loan guarantees for Israel as punishment for what Bush considered illegal settlement activity.

The Obama administration has never pressured Israel to act contrary to what Israel perceives as its best interests. If the Obama administration is in a crisis with Israel, we should only wish the Bush administration had similar crises.

President Nixon postponed the sale of 25 Phantom jets and 80 Skyhawks to Israel, and complained that “the f**king Jews think they can run the world.” President Ford called for a “total reassessment” of the U.S. policy toward Israel. As Lenny Ben-David wrote in The Jerusalem Post, the Bush 41-James Baker animus toward Yitzak Shamir “was so hot it could melt snow on Pennsylvania Avenue.”

Nothing that is happening now comes close to the animus and venom that Menachem Begin displayed toward Ronald Reagan in 1981.

If you can think of a Republican administration that has been better to Israel than the Obama administration, I am all ears. Anyone who thinks we are at a low point in U.S.-Israel relations either has forgotten history or has conveniently chosen to forget.

So why the hatred of Obama from some of our Republican friends? Even psychoanalyst Richard Kaufman is not sure:

I wish I could understand the blind, irrational, paranoid rage so many people nurture toward Obama.

A lifetime in psychiatry, neuroscience, and psychoanalysis does not help me to figure out where this wrath comes from in otherwise sane, reasonable, loving, compassionate, highly educated, intelligent people.

I dislike, disrespect and disagree with many, if not most, politicians. But I don’t hate them. Perhaps the hypertrophied reaction to Obama is a type of monosymptomatic delusion? I do not know.

I do not know either, but let us keep the current tensions in perspective. We were told before President Obama’s election in 2008 that he would turn on Israel. It never happened. Then we were told that once re-elected in 2012 he would turn on Israel. It never happened either.

Instead, Obama visited Israel, becoming only the fifth sitting president to do so, and continued building the international coalition without which sanctions on Iran would not be effective. And he not only championed Iron Dome from the beginning, but he asked Congress for additional funding during the recent Gaza War, thus saving thousands of Israeli lives.

The U.S.-Israel relationship has always had its ups and downs. By any historical measure, the Obama administration, with all personal tensions, remains among the ups.

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  1. Susan Moses says

    Anyone who doesn’t understand where the irrational rage against President Obama comes from should turn on talk radio for a few minutes. The hosts are very skillful at firing up listeners’ emotions. And my understanding is that when a person is convinced of something by reason, he can change his mind when presented with new facts or viewpoints. But when a person’s opinion is based on emotion, no amount of reason or facts can change it.

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