When President Barack Obama gave his major speech on the Middle East this May, I was sitting in a car furiously following along on Twitter and Facebook. As the wave of vitriolic responses rolled in blasting the president for calling on Israel to return to the 1967 borders, I was fully prepared to panic. Such a move would have been a seminal — and in my opinion, disastrous — change in American policy. Yet when I managed to find the text of the president’s speech, I discovered that what he’d actually said bore no relation whatsoever to the fevered responses.
The idea that Obama somehow “threw Israel under the bus” that day has become the cause célèbre for the operatives who quadrennially try to turn Jews into Republicans. Texas Gov. Rick Perry and other GOP leaders are hosting rallies bashing the president’s supposed misdeed’s on Israel. But especially in the wake of the special election in New York for Anthony Weiner's House seat, it is important to point out — loudly and repeatedly — that Obama’s policies have been objectively and decisively pro-Israel.
Let’s start with the issue of the ’67 borders. In his May speech, and repeatedly since then, the president made clear that the ’67 borders would be the basis for negotiations, not their end product. “Mutually agreed upon land swaps” would allow Israel to maintain certain strategic locations and keep most West Bank settlements. This has been settled U.S. policy for my entire lifetime and has also served as the basis for every Israeli peace proposal. There are certain code words in Middle East diplomacy — “secure borders” is one of them — and the president’s decision to embrace that phrasing is important. The president also made clear that any peace agreement must ensure that Israel remains “a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people.” That’s another key code phrase, relating to the “right of return,” and it is one that Palestinian leadership steadfastly refuses to endorse.
Beyond his efforts to restart the peace process, the president has been a stalwart defender of Israel in the international community. This week alone, the U.S. is furiously working to thwart the Palestinians’ unilateral statehood bid at the UN, risking international isolation and opprobrium to stand with Israel, and leading a boycott of the “Durban III” conference. U.S. intervention directly saved the lives of Israeli diplomats recently threatened by a mob in Cairo, and the president has also been at the forefront of efforts to end Iran’s nuclear program. And, American-Israeli military cooperation has never been better, especially when it comes to the development of a multi-layered missile defense shield.
The places where the U.S. and Israel have actually differed are the types of things friends can and will disagree about. They are disagreements about tactics, focus, or appearances; they do not impact in any serious way America’s bedrock support for Israeli security and society. While process issues, such as the argument over the duration and breadth of a settlement freeze, do matter, they aren’t the most important factors to consider when assessing the health of American-Israeli relations.
The U.S. and Israel do not have any fundamental disagreement on their ultimate goals in the peace process; rather, there are disagreements about what the best ways to achieve those common goals are. Hard-right neo-conservatives like Dan Senor can complain about perceived personal slights to Israeli leaders in the pages of the Wall Street Journal or try to turn minor issues into central ones on Fox News, but when it comes to the policies that really matter, they are intentionally missing the forest for a few of the trees.
Progressive, pro-Israel Jewish Democrats have many legitimate grievances with the president, from the debt limit deal to the extension of the Bush tax cuts. His stance on Israel, however, is not one of them. That is why I am proud to be one of the organizers of a grassroots group called Jewish Young Professionals for Obama. We are not part of the Obama campaign, but we are trying to make sure that everyone in the Jewish community gets the whole truth about the president’s record, not distorted and intentionally misleading snippets of it.
I’m confident that when everyone examines the administration’s actual record on Israel, they’ll come to the same realization I did: America already has a pro-Israel president.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons