Obama and the daylight between US and Israel – Benjamin Weinthal, Asaf Romirowsky/The Hill
This week’s AIPAC conference will place the fractured Israel-US relationship front and center in the American public’s focus.
Of all the promises that the Obama White House has failed to keep regarding US-Israeli relations, it is breaking its undertaking that there will be “no daylight” between the two allies that has above all solidified the growing wedge between Washington and Jerusalem.
There is a soft/active boycott coming out of Washington as a result of the “tough love” message that Barack Obama has been peddling around since his talk in Jerusalem in 2013 and during his speech during Jewish American Heritage Month at Adas Israel congregation in Washington last year, where he stated:
“I have high expectations for Israel the same way I have high expectations for the United States of America,” Obama said, explaining this is the reason he feels “a responsibility to speak out honestly about what I think will lead to long-term security and to the preservation of a true democracy in the Jewish homeland.”
He continued, “And the rights of the Jewish people then compel me to think about a Palestinian child in Ramallah that feels trapped without opportunity. That’s what Jewish values teach me. That’s what the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches me. These things are connected.”
Obama may claim to seek policy proscriptions from the Judeo-Christian tradition, but the moral equivalency that he draws between Jewish history and what he would like the Arab-Palestinian narrative to be has become the bedrock of his misreading of history.
U.S.-Israel ties, which have long been built on bipartisanship, are gradually losing this characteristic, because of the Obama administration’s approach. This is continuing during the presidential campaign, as all candidates feel compelled to either support the White House’s approach, or to oppose it.
In particular, presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has included fighting BDS (Boycott, Sanctions, Divestment) targeting the Jewish state as part of his campaign platform, stating, “as president, I will stand unapologetically with Israel, prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and cut off federal funding to any institution that adopts BDS measures.”
Cruz was also part of the bipartisan group of 36 senators protesting the recent European Union decision to label Israeli products coming out of the West Bank, together with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) taking the lead in sending a letter of objection to the EU in November.
“As allies, elected representatives of the American people, and strong supporters of Israel, we urge you not to implement this labeling policy, which appears intended to discourage Europeans from purchasing these products and promote a de facto boycott of Israel…,” wrote the senators.
Donald Trump has remained silent on BDS and has said regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “Let me be sort of a neutral guy.” His comment about not supporting a key U.S. ally was paraded in March on a German talk show, “Maischberger,” by his spokeswoman. She was preaching to largely Israel-hostile German viewership and her message meshes well with Obama’s posture toward the Jewish state.
Trump and Clinton are slated to speak at AIPAC.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Western Europe is a bastion of anti-Israel sentiments. There are, however, some slices of encouraging resistance to BDS. The mayor of Vienna, Michael Häupl, rejects BDS, as do student groups at the University of Vienna that labeled BDS anti-Semitic. The city council of Munich pulled the plug on an award to an anti-Israel group. The mayor of Bayreuth, Brigitte Merk-Erbe, opposed the city’s “tolerance” award given along with €10,000 to the U.S. extremist group Code Pink.
Code Pink trafficked in a Holocaust denial and anti-Israel conference in Tehran and calls for BDS against Israel. The Bayreuth city council overruled Merk-Erbe’s decision.
Most disturbingly, the Obama administration has endorsed the anti-Semitic EU policy to demarcate Israeli products from the settlements. Sadly, Obama’s Israel policies have helped to embolden the hardcore anti-Israel left in Europe.
Back to U.S. presidential politics: One key litmus test for a reset of U.S.-Israel relations will be a decision to take the lead in blunting the BDS movement.
Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Romirowsky is the executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.