Barack Obama is set to visit Israel, the West Bank and Jordan in March, marking his first trip to the region since he became president. The trip comes against the background of Obama’s strained relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and consistent criticism of the Obama administration’s supposed distancing of the United States from Israel. During the recent presidential campaign for instance, Obama was attacked Governor Mitt Romney and others for his failure to visit Israel during his first term and for not supporting it strongly enough.
Yet despite the hysteria in the U.S. any time Obama — or anyone else for that matter — makes even a mild criticism of Israel or acknowledges the suffering of the Palestinian people, claims that he is anti-Israel abound.. In fact, they are simply ridiculous.
Take the speech Obama gave in Cairo in 2009 as an attempt to reach out to Muslims. While he did acknowledge the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians for a state of their own, he began that portion of the speech by reiterating America’s “unbreakable” bonds with Israel, and also went on to explicitly condemn Palestinian violence while making no mention of the violence and attacks carried out by Israel. Again, in announcing the upcoming trip, the White House further reaffirmed the “unshakable” commitment of the Obama administration to Israel’s security. These hardly seem the words of an anti-Israel administration.
But the actions of the administration speak louder than words, so lets look at those. As Steven L. Spiegel noted in Huffington Post late last year, Obama has "established the closest working military and intelligence relationship with Israel in the country's history: joint exercises and training, increased security assistance every year, unprecedented advanced technology transfers, doubling of funding for Israel's missile defense system, and assistance in funding for the Iron Dome system that today intercepts rockets headed for Israel."
Furthermore, the Obama administration continues to block, or vote against, any resolutions critical of Israel in the United Nations. It used its first veto in 2011 in the Security Council to stop a resolution — backed by all 14 other Council members — condemning illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine. In November last year it stood with only nine other states in voting against a General Assembly resolution giving Palestine non-member observer status at the UN. Again, these are far from the actions of an anti-Israel administration. In addition, during meetings and negotiations in the UN, the U.S. delegation has consistently spoken out strongly against proposed actions or comments critical of Israel.
Accusations that Obama is anti-Israel also fail to stand up when he is compared to past presidents. According to the Washington Post, only four of the last 11 presidents visited Israel during their presidencies. Of those that did, Richard Nixon and George W. Bush did not visit until their second terms, leaving only Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton as those who visited in their first terms. Thus, as the Post points out, Obama’s failure to visit to date is not at all unusual.
To view the words and actions of the Obama administration as anti-Israel is to inhabit a fantasy land, one that is out of keeping with the overwhelming majority of world opinion, and in which being anti-Israel translates to anything from actual criticism of Israel to simply failing to show constant and unreserved support for Israel. Moreover, such accusations ignore the actual realities of the Israeli occupation and the role that America’s relationship with Israel continues to play in this.
When it comes down to it, acknowledging the right of the Palestinians to self determination, or the illegality of Israel’s settlements under international law is neither anti-Israel nor pro-Palestine. It is simply acknowledging the facts.