Relations between Israel and the United States are warmer under President Obama than under previous administrations, yet we hear that the President has a “Jewish problem.” The problem is not Obama, but us: In only three years, we’ve lost historic perspective. We’re criticizing Obama for what would have gone unnoticed in other administrations.
Gerald Ford and Henry Kissinger threatened to “reassess” America’s relationship with Israel. Obama has declared that America’s bond with Israel is “unbreakable,” and Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak credited Obama for the strongest relationship between the two countries ever.
Ronald Reagan suspended arms shipments to Israel and supported a UN resolution criticizing Israel for bombing Iraq’s nuclear reactor. Obama secretly sold Israel the bunker busting bombs it requested during the Bush administration and cast the only UN veto of his administration against the one-sided anti-Israel UN Security Council resolution on settlements.
George W. Bush pressured Israel to allow Hamas to participate in Gaza elections and made little progress in stopping Iran’s march toward nuclear weapons. Obama has not negotiated with Hamas. He has mobilized the international community to impose the toughest sanctions ever against Iran and flat-out declared that that he will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, saying no options are off the table.
Obama’s pro-Israel accomplishments compare favorably with any Republican president. Yet we keep complaining.
We say he hasn’t visited Israel as president, forgetting that Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton are the only two presidents who visited Israel during their first terms in office. George W. Bush did not visit Israel until his seventh year as president. Ronald Reagan never visited in his entire life. Obama went to Israel as recently as 2006 and 2008.
We complain that the Obama administration criticizes Israel’s settlement policy, forgetting that every administration since 1967 has criticized Israel’s settlement policy. But unlike George H.W. Bush, Obama never threatened to withhold U.S. aid to Israel because of settlement activity; instead, Obama has taken U.S. financial assistance to Israel to record levels.
We complain about imagined slights to Prime Minister Netanyahu, forgetting that when the chips were down, Obama came through for Israel and Netanyahu. When Israel asked for help fighting the Carmel forest fires, President Obama’s response was “get Israel whatever it needs. Now.”
In September 2011, when the late-night call came from Israel to Obama asking for help in rescuing the Israelis trapped in the Egyptian embassy, Netanyahu himself called it a “decisive and fateful moment,” recalling that Obama “said ‘I will do everything I can.’ And he did.”
The list goes on and on. Obama opposed the Goldstone Report, stood with Israel against the Gaza flotilla, boycotted Durban II and Durban III, and successfully derailed Palestinian attempts to unilaterally declare statehood at the UN. He’s done more than any president to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Yet despite the facts, the despite the historic perspective, it’s almost as if some of us want Obama to be anti-Israel because that would validate our worst fears. Attacking Obama on Israel is like attacking John Kerry on his personal military record. The Swift Boat campaign worked because Kerry and his supporters were too slow to take it seriously and fight fiction with facts. The result was four more years of George W. Bush.
Maybe it’s our nature to complain. But President Obama’s words and deeds prove that he is not only a strong friend of Israel, but that he is willing to stand up for Israel publicly and behind the scenes. That’s what matters, and that’s why most Jews will again vote for Obama in 2012.
The author is based in Chicago.