Liberals' Israel Crisis
"Netanyahu's Contempt for President Obama," reads the headline of the online version of Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen. The print edition toned it down somewhat, calling the Israeli prime minister's acceptance of a speaking invitation from Speaker Boehner unwise and an example of "Israel Goes Partisan."
Richard Cohen speaks for and to many American liberals, so it's important to follow his line of reasoning. Mr. Cohen is a sincere friend of Israel, but he thinks Benjamin Netanyahu should not offend Americans by trying such in impolite move. "Do not insult my president!" That's the way Cohen sees this contretemps.
Let's see. Candidate Obama broke with all precedent by going to Berlin before his nomination for president. It was there, just 21 km from the site of the 1942 Wansee Conference that planned the Holocaust, that Mr. Obama proclaimed himself "a citizen of the world." There was a time when liberals visited Israel, Ireland, and Italy to show their affection to three of their loyal constituencies. But Obama went to Germany instead.
Sweeping into office with the votes of 78% of the Jewish community, President Obama nominated Rashad Hussain as his special envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Mr. Hussain's main qualification seems to be his committing the entire Koran to memory. We have yet to see any fruits of his special envoying in terms of a lessening of anti-Jewish incitement in any of the 57 members of the OIC. And in every one of those countries, Christians are being persecuted.
Then there is the matter of President Obama's going to a London summit in 2009 and bowing to King Abdullah. This Saudi ruler refused Vice President Al Gore's urgent request in 1998 to get access to the finance chief of al-Qaeda, Madani al-Tayyib (see p. 122 of the official 911 Commission Report).
As king, Abdullah demanded that Israel return to its pre-1967 borders. This was hailed by Western journalists as a great initiative for peace. No one asked if King Abdullah would accept Israel as a Jewish state if it did return to those pre-'67 lines. Longtime Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban called those indefensible lines "Auschwitz borders."
None of Abdullah's Saudi predecessors ever recognized Israel prior to 1967. Or stopped inciting Arab crowds with anti-Semitic propaganda and funding of Jew-hating Wahhabist groups worldwide.
President Obama avoided visiting Israel throughout his entire first term. When Mr. Obama finally did manage to visit Israel, he gave them assurances with a street slogan: "I have your back." That's very nice, Mr. President, but at the moment our enemies are at our throats and going for our guts, the Israelis might have replied.
Richard Cohen thinks Benjamin Netanyahu is insulting President Obama when he accepts a speaking invitation before Congress. Did Cohen protest when the president was picked up on a hot mic responding to French then-president Nicolas Sarkozy? Sarkozy said, "I can't stand Netanyahu." Our president commiserated: "I have to deal with him every day." Was that rude, insulting? Did our president apologize?
More recently, Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic Monthly reported that a high-ranking Obama administration official called Prime Minister Netanyahu a "chickens***!" Was there any effort by this administration to find out who said that? And take official action against him or her? Or is it more likely, as some have speculated, that the source of the quote was President Obama himself?
If it was President Obama, it will come out in time, to be sure. And how will that look in history? Just ask yourself how Jerry Ford's ugly comments about his contemporaries look after he was laid to rest.
Richard Nixon's foul-mouthed rants and anti-Semitic jibes only make some of us wish he'd been impeached five years earlier. It took some decades to learn whom Woodward and Bernstein talked to in that garage at the time of Watergate, but it eventually came out.
President Obama likes to compare himself to President Lincoln. But he needs to read more Lincoln. The Great Emancipator assured one of his radical Republican friends: "I shall do nothing in malice. The business we are in is too great for that."
Harry Truman defied his own State Department to recognize Israel eleven minutes after she declared her independence. His much-admired sec. of state, George C. Marshall, had come close to resigning over Harry's principled action. But Harry Truman stood firm.
After Truman left the White House – with a dismal 23% approval rating – he met Israeli prime minister David Ben Gurion in London. "I don't know how American historians will rate your administration, Mr. President," the Israeli leader said, "but in the annals of the Jewish people, the name Harry Truman will shine like a star forever."
Can Richard Cohen honestly say Barack Obama's name will shine in those annals? If Obama had Truman's steadfastness or Lincoln's charity for all, he would have invited Prime Minister Netanyahu and the leaders of the opposition in Israel's Knesset. That way, the White House could maintain the fiction that the only reason they are shunning Netanyahu is that it's too close to the Israeli elections.
If we believe that story, there's a beautiful bridge in Brooklyn Mayor de Blasio might just sell.
Ken Blackwell is an advisor to the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. Bob Morrison is a senior fellow at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.