Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Obama and Israel

The following post was forwarded to me from a friend. This letter is a response to all of the negative, fear mongering, truth bending emails which have been directed against Barack Obama regarding his position on Israel. The letter speaks for itself.

I’ve always said I’d criticize Obama if he departed from America’s pro-Israel positions, and now he’s done it—today he announced that he’s forcing Israel to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula. Oh, wait. That was President Eisenhower in 1956.

But consider this: Today Obama announced that he is suspending the delivery of F-16 fighters to Israel and is supporting a UN resolution condemning Israel. Oh, wait. That was President Reagan in 1981 after Israel bombed the Iraqi reactor at Osirak.

Here’s the ticket: Today Obama announced that he’s opposing loan guarantees as long as Israel continues settlement in the West Bank and Gaza and that he opposes new “settlements” in the West Bank or East Jerusalem. Oh, wait. That was President George H.W. Bush in 1991 (Bush complained that he was “one lonely little guy” up against thousands of lobbyists on the Hill).

Now we’ve got him: Today Obama announced that he’s denied Israel’s request for specialized bunker-busting bombs needed to attack Iran’s main nuclear complex and that he’s denied an Israeli request to fly over Iraqi airspace to reach Iran’s main nuclear complex at Natanz. Oh, wait. That was George W. Bush—the same Bush who pressured Israel to allow Hamas to participate in Gaza elections against the advice of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, thus conferring on Hamas a legitimacy it never could have otherwise obtained.

But I know Obama’s done something bad. I just know it. My Republican friends are sending so many emails. Ah, here it is. Not actions, but words. Check out this quote:
Israeli settlement activity has severely undermined Palestinian trust and hope. It preempts and prejudges the outcome of negotiations and, in doing so, cripples chances for real peace and security. The United States has long opposed settlement activity. Consistent with the report of the committee headed by Senator George Mitchell, settlement activity must stop.
Oh, wait. That was Bush’s Secretary of State, Colin Powell, in 2001. But here’s the smoking gun against Obama. The non-partisan Jewish Forward reports:
a growing apprehension over the widening gap between Jerusalem and Washington on the matter of settlements…the administration, from the president on down, continues to insist on a “total freeze” on settlements, in accordance with the road map, and rejects Israel’s insistence on continued expansion of the settlements within the limits of their “natural growth.”
Oops. My mistake. That Forward article was from 2003, reporting on an upcoming meeting between Prime Minister Sharon and George Bush. Darn Google.

I’m going to try one more time. If this doesn’t convince you that what’s going on now is unprecedented in the history of U.S.-Israel relations, nothing will. The Jerusalem Post reports that the Secretary of State herself said that:
"the United States doesn't make a distinction" between settlement activity in east Jerusalem and the West Bank and that Israel's road map obligations, which include a building freeze, relate to "settlement activity generally."
I almost got that one right. The quote was indeed from the Secretary of State, but it was Bush’s Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, on January 8, 2009.

You get the point. Some of you reply to my emails, using all caps and exclamation points to show how much you mean it, that Bush is not the issue. But Bush is the issue, along with other administrations, for two reasons.

First, without historic perspective, it’s impossible to assign significance to Obama’s recent statements on settlements. Judging from the hysteria of some of our Republican friends, you’d think not only that the sky was falling, but that the stars themselves were landing in our backyards. The truth is that U.S.-Israel relations have been far rockier under other Presidents, and that Obama is simply restating long-standing U.S. policy on settlements.

What’s different about Obama is not his position or public statements on settlements, but that unlike so many other administrations, he’s not taking action against Israel. This is a disagreement between two allies, nothing more. You want pressure—what Eisenhower, Reagan, and the Bushs did was pressure. They coupled words with actions wholly inappropriate for the strategic and moral alliance that defines the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Second, characterizing the American position on settlements as “Obama’s position” undermines a cardinal principle of pro-Israel advocacy: Support for Israel should be bi-partisan. If Obama does something wrong, we should call him on it, but to argue that Obama is not pro-Israel because he articulates, sometimes almost word for word, the same policy as his predecessor is counter-productive. I’ve even had some people tell me that Obama’s statements “prove” that he was influenced by Rev. Wright. Could be. And maybe George Bush attended Wright’s church too—after all, Bush’s policies on settlements were the same as Obama’s. Come to think of it, maybe Eisenhower, Reagan, and Bush Sr were there too—turns out that Wright was a regular Billy Graham.

If you want to disagree with American policy on settlements and Jerusalem, that’s fine. I disagree too. But put the partisanship aside and focus on the policy, not the person or party, unless the person or party is uniquely responsible for the policy. Partisanship absolutely has its place. On many issues, the parties and personalities have significant differences, and we should not hesitate to point those out. But Israel is one of the few issues where bi-partisan consensus remains. Let’s keep it that way.

I don’t want to clutter your in-box with unwanted emails, so if you no longer want to receive these, please hit reply and tell me to remove you from this list.

Take care,
Steve Sheffey

P.S. President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress are advancing a solid pro-Israel agenda. This list keeps getting longer and longer, but that’s the point:
~ No Administration in history has come into office with a Vice President, Secretary of State, and Chief of Staff with stronger pro-Israel credentials than this one.

~ Steve Rosen, AIPAC’s director of executive branch relations for 23 years, has written that Obama's appointments are no cause for concern from a pro-Israel perspective.

~ Rosen was very concerned about Chas Freeman, but that appointment by Dennis Blair was never final and was rescinded--exactly what we'd expect from a pro-Israel administration that listens to the pro-Israel community.

~ Obama fulfilled his campaign promise to boycott Durban II unless ALL of our conditions were met.

~ On May 1, Obama renewed sanctions against Syria because it posed a continuing threat to US interests. Obama, in a letter to Congress notifying it of his decision, accused Damascus of "supporting terrorism, pursuing weapons of mass destruction and missile programs, and undermining US and international efforts with respect to the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq."

~ Obama was the first President to host a seder in the White House. To my right wing friends who try to read “signals” the way the ancients read animal entrails: What signal do you think Obama was sending to the world?

~ President Obama issued a proclamation deeming May Jewish American Heritage Month, the fourth year the president has issued such a proclamation since the House and Senate, spearheaded by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), passed resolutions urging that May be marked in such a manner.

~ Obama will fully fund the development and production of the Arrow 3 ballistic missile defense system. United States officials told Israel of its decision on May 20 during a strategic dialogue between the two countries. The Arrow 3 will be a longer-range version of the Arrow system that the IDF currently operates, capable of intercepting missiles at a farther distance and a higher altitude from the Jewish state.

~ The Obama administration reiterated that it will maintain the US policy of ambiguity on regarding Israel’s nuclear weapons (5/21/09).

~ On June 4 in Cairo, President Obama told the Arab and Muslim world that America’s bond with Israel is “unbreakable.” He told the Arab and Muslim world, a world rife with Holocaust denial, that to deny the Holocaust is “baseless, ignorant, and hateful.” He told them that threatening Israel with destruction is “deeply wrong.” He said that “Palestinians must abandon violence” and that “it is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus.” And he said that “Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel's right to exist.”

~ Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), a staunch supporter of the Jewish state, said in an interview that it was no small thing for a U.S. president to offer an extended defense of Israel before a Muslim audience. “If you’re delivering a speech in Cairo directed to the Arab world and you mention in the speech that Israel has a right to exist and right to exist in security, that it grew from the ashes of the Holocaust and that America has an unbreakable bond, that demonstrates extraordinary courage,” said Engel.

~ Dennis Ross, a key pro-Israel advisor to Obama during the campaign, will be playing a major role in Middle East matters in the Obama administration, the Washington Post reported on June 24:

~ The Obama administration assured Israel it will continue defending Israel at the United Nations despite the allies' dispute over West Bank settlements, Israel's U.N. ambassador said on June 29.

~ On June 30, the United States reapproved loan guarantees with Israel.

~ On July 5, Vice President Biden said that the United States would not stand in Israel’s way if Israel decided to attack Iran. Also: This is not a green light for Israel, but it’s an improvement over the Bush administration’s clear opposition to action by Israel:

~ On July 13, President Obama met with 16 Jewish leaders from 14 key organizations and explained that forceful pressure is being applied to the Palestinians to move forward on the peace process and that he has been very specific with the Arab world on incitement, violence, commitments on accepting the reality of Israel and conveying that to their street.

~ On July 15, Secretary of State Clinton told the Council on Foreign Relations that “we know that progress toward peace cannot be the responsibility of the United States – or Israel – alone. Ending the conflict requires action on all sides. The Palestinians have the responsibility to improve and extend the positive actions already taken on security; to act forcefully against incitement; and to refrain from any action that would make meaningful negotiations less likely. And Arab states have a responsibility to support the Palestinian Authority with words and deeds, to take steps to improve relations with Israel, and to prepare their publics to embrace peace and accept Israel’s place in the region. The Saudi peace proposal, supported by more than twenty nations, was a positive step. But we believe that more is needed. So we are asking those who embrace the proposal to take meaningful steps now. Anwar Sadat and King Hussein crossed important thresholds, and their boldness and vision mobilized peace constituencies in Israel and paved the way for lasting agreements. By providing support to the Palestinians and offering an opening, however modest, to the Israelis, the Arab states could have the same impact. So I say to all sides: Sending messages of peace is not enough. You must also act against the cultures of hate, intolerance and disrespect that perpetuate conflict.”

~ On July 15, Congressman Howard Berman (D-CA), the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called upon Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to “immediately to accept Prime Minister Netanyahu’s proposal for unconditional talks on peace.” Berman said that “As everyone familiar with Israeli politics knows, Netanyahu has taken a politically courageous and substantively important step in endorsing the idea of ‘two states for two peoples,’ and he has also taken significant steps to ease travel and access in the West Bank by dismantling numerous checkpoints and roadblocks.”

~ In its meeting with Jewish leaders on July 13 and in Hillary Clinton’s speech on July 15, the Obama administration left no doubt that it will do all that it can to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

~ On July 24, the Democratic-controlled Senate unanimously approved legislation calling on the president to implement stiffer sanctions on Iran if it does not stop its nuclear program by late this year.

~ On July 31, Obama extended sanctions against Syria.,7340,L-3754953,00.html

~ On August 13, the Jerusalem Post reported that House Foreign Affairs Committee member Shelley Berkley (D-NV), a Democrat and supporter of Obama, stated that "I believe Israel has given up a great deal over the years for peace. It gave up the Sinai to have peace with Egypt. It withdrew from Lebanon and got Hizbullah. It unilaterally left Gaza. So to suggest that natural growth in the settlements is the cause for Palestinian inaction is, I think, absurd. There is nothing in history to demonstrate that if all the settlements went away tomorrow, the Arabs would then be any more willing to recognize Israel's right to exist."

~ House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said on August 13 that the unwillingness of Palestinian leadership to sit down and negotiate with Israel, not the settlements, is the biggest issue impeding the peace process.
P.S. And for the record…

Rahm Emanuel did NOT link progress on Iran to Israel’s willingness to create a Palestinian state: z/what_rahm_emanuel_really_said.php

The Obama administration is NOT spending $20 million on resettling Palestinians with ties to Hamas in the United States.

Obama has been clear that it is NOT his place to decide Israel’s security needs and that no options are off the table regarding Iran:

Obama does NOT believe that the Holocaust and Palestinian suffering are morally equivalent:

Obama’s position on settlements IS virtually identical to George W. Bush’s:

Bush rejected Israel’s request for arms needed to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities:

It is UNCLEAR whether or to what extent Bush reached a secret agreement with Israel regarding settlements:

Several members of the Bush Administration have said that there was no agreement:

Some in Israel say that an agreement was never fully implemented:

Others suggest that the Bush Administration deliberately chose not to inform the Obama Administration about the extent to which there were understandings:

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