by Avi Davis
One could ask many questions about Barack Obama’s outrage regarding John Boehner’s invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress before first having consulted the White House.
Why has the U.S. administration allowed the President’s contempt for the Israeli Prime Minister to seep into public view?
What does the Administration hope to gain by so publicly insulting Netanyahu (as well, it might be added, Congress) by characterizing the supposed breach of protocol as such a heinous act of betrayal?
When, exactly, was the White House actually informed about the invitation since Boehner’s office has now revealed that it notified the White House of its intentions many weeks ago?
How, in creating a storm of controversy around this issue, particularly when exactly the same set of circumstances occurred in 2011 without a peep of protest from the President, are the United States’ national interests truly served?
The open contempt Barack Obama so regularly displays for the Israeli Prime Minister often skirts the boundaries of credulity. After all, Israel is the one stable democracy in the Middle East; its situation, given the rise of ISIS and a revitalized al Qaeda has given the United States an unquestioned advantage in addressing the threats to both America and to the West from those insurgencies; and its sophisticated intelligence network is an invaluable ear to the ground in a war torn, violent area of the world, necessary for protecting not just Israelis but other Westerners and Americans too.
Should the U.S President, no matter what his personal rancor or feelings towards another head of state, really allow them to color and subsume his statecraft?
Since both men entered their respective offices in 2009, they have famously failed to see eye to eye. Obama and his Administration seems fixated on finding petty and trivial matters with which to flay the Israeli leader while at the same remaining equally committed to loading him with full responsibility for the failures of any potential peace deal with the Palestinians.
Yet the Administration’s veiled threat to the Israeli prime minister – that there are ‘consequences’ for abrogating protocol, coupled with the reminder that the President still has 24 months to serve in office – is a signal of the fear that the Administration possesses of being upstaged by the charismatic and silver tongued Israeli leader.
Perhaps it has good reason to fear. Netanyahu seems to have taken the measure of Barack Obama, knows that the President’s term is steaming towards a conclusion and realizes that the next president of the United States may well be sitting among the gathered senators and representatives on Capitol Hill on March 3rd. Why waste time appeasing the wishes of a churlish, unreliable American leader, who has demonstrated a disturbing nonchalance towards Israeli security issues and has even suggested solutions which would leave the Israelis nakedly exposed? The pressing existential demands of Israeli’s national security with the rise of a nuclear Iran, does not give this Israeli leader the luxury of attempting to mollify an American leader with juvenile antipathies.
Better, it would seem, to deal with an American representative body that has historically been extraordinarily supportive of the Jewish state, has looked skeptically at Arab promises of peace and has vowed to support its democratic ally in almost every crisis it has encountered over the past 40 years.
Is Obama’s petulance and open disdain for the Israeli prime minister then just the manifestation of a fear of irrelevance?
Not entirely. For there is another issue at play here, one that has much less to to do with the personal relations between the two men and much more to do with ideological differences.
And that is Obama’s visceral, deep seated uncertainty about Israel’s moral legitimacy.
Schooled in the politics of the far left, which since at least the Six Day War has traditionally seen the State of Israel as an imperialist force which draws its historical momentum from colonial power, he became emotionally invested in the Palestinian narrative at a relatively young age. He now sees the Middle East, much as his bedfellows on the far left still see it, as a fine Arab tapestry whose interwoven threads were twisted into ugly knots by the intrusion of Zionism. The dispossession of the Palestinians, a people who of course did not exist before 1965, is an international crime which weeps in his mind for justice – and he won’t be deterred nor beguiled by eloquent Jewish statesmen who wish to read to him from another another chronicle altogether which contradicts the one with which he is already so familiar.
This really gets to the root of the Obama Administration stance towards Israel – and no change of Israeli leadership is likely to alter it. It would be the same attitude he would instinctively demonstrate towards any Israeli prime minister who makes clear that his first duty is the protection and security of Israeli citizens and insists on raising the roof about Iranian intentions. In his weak policy towards the Iranian Mullahs and his concomitant lack of will in the fight against ISIS and al Qaeda, Obama has exposed his thinking that the Israelis need to pay for the grave misdeed of their country’s founding which occasioned another peoples’ displacement and that their security concerns must take a back seat to his realist vision of a necessary accommodation of Iranian power. If then their exposure is what is necessary to lead to a greater sense of regional security, it will be the price the Israelis will have to pay.
There is almost no doubt that Netanyahu understands this thinking and has ascertained that this most ideological of presidents cannot be moved. He cannot afford to waste valuable diplomatic capital reeducating him on the realities of the Middle East and though he must know it will bring him into direct conflict with Obama’s own policies, he also knows he has no choice.
Barack Obama has created quite an art out of identifying the wrong enemies of the United States. Contrary to what you might read, our real foes are not oil barons, fracking exponents, Tea Party activists, the Koch Brothers nor Republican congressmen. Our real enemies are the 7th Century barbarians wreaking havoc in the deserts of Syria and Iraq and the beturbaned Mullahs in Tehran baying for the blood of Jews and Americans.
The struggle between Obama and Netanyahu ultimately represents the contest between those who see the world as it is and those who see it as they want it to be. Yet in the coming race to reach the moral high ground on this issue you will see that it is Benjamin Netanyahu who will ultimately triumph – supported by Congress and the majority of Americans. It is this constituency which will come to view the animus of Obama towards Israel as strangely perverse when seen in the context of the decapitated heads and burning corpses left from ISIS’ rampages or in the roaring eliminationist rhetoric of an emboldened Iran.
They will recognize that the President of the United States has allowed his personal animus and skewed biases to color his view of countries and their leaders whom the United States needs most to cultivate. And history will not be kind to that legacy.