The two contrasting faces of President Obama in his relations with Israel and American Jews were on full display this week.
On Thursday, Obama hosted some 250 Jewish luminaries and high-achievers at an elaborate White House reception to mark Jewish Heritage Month. The administration pulled out all the stops to make this a memorable, first-ever event.
It gave Obama another chance to pump up his charm offensive to persuade Jews who voted overwhelmingly for him to remain lined up behind him. The President spoke about the "unbreakable Israeli-U.S." alliance and pulled out his oratorical skills to dispel any concern that his administration might be going wobbly on Israel.
But even as Jewish leaders basked in the glow of the White House, the president's diplomatic team was busy in New York cutting a nuclear deal at the UN with Egypt and other Arab states that stabs Israel in the back.
With U.S. support and endorsement, representatives of 189 nations adopted a nuclear non-proliferation declaration that calls for expedited action on a nuclear-free Mideast zone, with an international conference in 2012 to get this project moving to fruition. But even before 2012, the declaration already calls on Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and invite UN inspectors' full access to lay bare its nuclear activities.
Israel immediately rejected
the NPT declaration as a "duplicitous" move against the Jewish state. Prime Minister Netanyahu's office denounced it for singling out Israel, while ignoring Iran. As an NPT non-signer, Israel did not participate in the New York conference. A Netanyahu spokesman said the prime minister intends to bring up Israel's objections when he meets with Obama at the White House on Tuesday.
No other nation -- not Iran, which is moving to join the nuclear club and thumbs its nose at UN inspections; not North Korea, the No. 1 nuclear proliferator in the world -- is singled out in the NPT declaration. Only Israel, in a step widely and rightly regarded as signaling a direct threat to the Jewish state's ultimate deterrent -- is supposed to open its arsenal of nuclear weapons.
Israel always has followed a policy of nuclear ambiguity -- its version of nuclear "don't ask, don't tell." Israel doesn't confirm or deny that it has nukes and, until this week, enjoyed full U.S. support in maintaining this guessing game.
No longer. In backstage deal-making negotiations with the U.S. delegation, Arab states cooked up an NPT declaration designed to strip away Israel's nuclear veil of secrecy and deprive it of a nuclear deterrent against the likes of a nuclear Iran, which in the words of its own rulers, is determined to "wipe Israel off the map."
Since NPT conferences can reach decisions only by consensus, every delegation in New York had to acquiesce. Each delegation had a veto. A single "no" would have killed the conference's declaration.
Obama, however, went along, even going so far as to call the declaration "balanced" on wider non-proliferation and disarmament issues.
But to protect his Jewish flank, he quickly put out a defensive statement that "we strongly oppose efforts to single out Israel and will oppose actions that jeopardize Israel's national security."
Not to put too fine a point on it, this was a totally disingenuous ploy -- after the damage was done -- to remain in the good graces of Jewish voters and supporters. Because this clearly was a conference action that directly jeopardizes Israel's national security -- and Obama let it happen. If he didn't want Israel singled out, he could have prevented it and instructed his delegation to insist on removing any reference to Israel as the price of U.S. concurrence.
Moving into full damage-control, Obama added that before there can be a nuclear-free Mideast region, there first has to be a "comprehensive and durable peace in the region and full compliance by all regional states with their arms-control and non-proliferation obligations."
But this again was a U.S. afterthought that leaves intact the U.S.-backed declaration. For its part, Israel also happens to favor a nuclear-free Middle East once all countries in the region live happily and peacefully forevermore. The new U.S.-backed NPT declaration, however, attaches no such pre-conditions to its demands that Israel be required to sign on to the treaty whatever its own security implications might be in the meantime.
Echoing his boss, National Security Adviser James Jones voiced "serious reservations" about the declaration's singular focus on Israel. U.S. Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher said the NPT declaration, which the U.S. had just approved, "might seriously jeopardize U.S. efforts to get Israel to attend the 2012 talks."
Of course, Jones and Tauscher could have spared themselves any worries or the need to distance themselves from a document they had rubber-stamped if Obama had stood fast and insisted that the NPT conference treat every country alike -- i.e. not singling out anyone -- instead of putting Israel, and Israel alone, behind the eight ball.
So we end up with a tale of two Obama personas -- the one that charms Jews at a gala White House event and the other that kicks them in the rear as they leave the premises.