A Fine Distinction – Obama’s Conversation With Sarkozy


Several newswires reported today that President Obama did not come to the defense of Israel’s head of state in a private conversation with French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy last Thursday. During a break between meetings at the G20 summit in Cannes, Sarkozy – unaware that his microphone was live and being broadcast to journalists on the other side of the room – confided in the American president.

“I cannot bear (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu. He’s a liar,” Sarkozy told Obama.

Obama didn’t object or disagree. In fact, he piled on, expressing similar frustration with Netanyahu’s inflexibility. “You’re fed up with him,” Obama responded, “But I have to deal with him even more often than you.” The response was far from an exoneration of his Middle Eastern ally.

Thus, in proper explosive fashion, the pro-Israel world has erupted in a poised, almost predisposed rage. Obama’s words have quickly boomeranged as a forceful “I told you so” regarding the President’s oft criticized stance on Israel.

“Obama’s true face was revealed,” remarked Danny Dannon, a member of the Likud party and the Knesset, “As (were) his cold and disrespectful policies toward Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

The social media were rife with jabs like “So Obama is good for Israel, huh?” and the like.

Senator John McCain, a self-proclaimed “great admirer” of Netanyahu – told reporters today that he would have “fire some aides” if he had slipped up like Obama had. He noted that the incident “really is indicative of the attitude and policies that this administration has towards Israel.”

Abe Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s outspoken director, noted that “President Obama’s response to Mr. Sarkozy implies that he agrees with the French leader,” and that he hoped the Obama administration could “reinvigorate the trust between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu” that is necessary for their mutual benefit.

It is only logical to assume that – after that point in the discourse between Sarkozy and Obama – everyone stopped listening.

In actuality, the conversation had not yet ended. Obama then shifted to another topic. He reprimanded the French president for his country’s affirmative vote for Palestinian statehood in UNESCO. “It weakened us. You should have consulted us,” Obama told Sarkozy, adding “You have to pass the message along to the Palestinians that they must stop this immediately.”

Perhaps if the pro-Israel community had heard only the latter segment of the conversation – or had they heard that segment at all – its response might have differed. Obama’s words and political undertakings on the global stage are reflective of a vigorous effort to stabilize a region with a precarious proclivity. If Sarkozy failed to communicate Obama’s will to the Palestinians, the United States president warned the United States would “have to impose economic sanctions” on the new state.

Those who have reacted in a similar vein as Danny Dannon and John McCain are ignoring a fine and exceptionally important distinction: the difference between the state of Israel and its leader. Few would find fault in the notion that one can love America and passionately hate its president. Members of the Tea Party would like nothing more than for President Obama to pack his bags and leave Pennsylvania Avenue tonight. They’ll express that sentiment with a microphone on or off. But in spite of a monstrous opposition to its leader, the Tea Party actively fights for and supports (what it believes are) the core tenets and essence of the country.

It would be pleasant if Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu had a beer together every Saturday, or had each other on speed dial, or made each other mix CDs. I have little doubt that much of the crowd who reacted to Obama’s comments as described above will take issue with the following, but that reality on its own dictates this truth: President Obama doesn’t need to be a friend to the man if he defends, protects, and supports the state and its people.