Barack Obama is Not Anti-Israel

Written for the Emory Wheel:

I hear the conversation everywhere.

Well, I suppose it isn’t so much a conversation as it is a statement. My Jewish friends say it all the time: “I’m voting for Romney because Obama doesn’t support Israel.” More often, the statement comes in a blunter form: “Barack Obama hates Israel.”

Each time, I cringe. Each time, I’m perplexed.

There is no nation on earth that this country, under this administration, supports more comprehensively and more fervently than it supports the State of Israel. Barack Obama does not hate Israel.

At a meeting in February 2011, the month’s U.N. Security Council president entertained a resolution condemning Israeli construction in the West Bank.

When more than 115 nations moved to pass the condemnation, only one delegate from one country raised her hand: American Ambassador Susan Rice. Because America’s status as a permanent member affords it veto-power (and as per the policy of Rice’s boss), the vote failed and the draft-resolution vanished from the international docket.

Last November, President Obama was recorded having what was meant to be an off-the-record conversation with French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy. Obama told Sarkozy that the United States would “have to impose economic sanctions” if the September 2011 Palestinian bid for statehood went through. In a room bereft of TelePrompTers and absent of television cameras, the American president affirmed his support for policies of the Jewish state.

That same month, Assistant Secretary of State Andrew J. Shapiro – a de-facto representative of and spokesperson for the Obama Administration– delivered a speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. In his remarks, he declared that “Israel is a long time democratic ally and we share a special bond.”

Shapiro went on to note that “some skeptics are questioning whether that’s enough of a reason to continue to spend hard earned American tax payer dollars on Israel’s security.” His rejoinder was frank: “We don’t just support Israel because of a long standing bond,” he said. “We support Israel because…ensuring Israel’s military strength and its superiority in the region is (critical) to regional stability and as a result is fundamentally a core interest of the United States.”

The cash sum that the United States spends on aid to Israel has increased steadily since Obama’s first year in office. According to the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, in 2009, the administration spent about $2.81 billion on aid to Israel; in 2010, it spent about $3.04 billion; in 2011, about $3.49 billion. That’s an average eight percent increase in each of those three years – not to mention a 14 percent increase between the second and third years.

Israel is the single largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid since the second world war.

Obama has preserved and prolonged that commitment; his budget request for the 2013 fiscal year consists of $3.1 billion in aid to Israel, which includes $99.8 million specifically allocated to joint American-Israeli missile defense development.

President Obama has also sculpted American foreign policy to quell the existential threat posed to Israel by Iran. In his first appearance at the United Nations as president, Obama asserted that if Iran chose to “put the pursuit of nuclear weapons ahead of regional stability…then they must be held accountable.”

He echoed such sentiments in comments during his 2010 and 2011 U.N. remarks. And just last month, he told delegates, “a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained,” and vowed that “the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

And if Obama’s words speak, his actions scream. During the summer of 2010, Obama signed into law the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISADA), which enacted severe penalties for companies who do business with the Iranian petroleum sector. And under the Iranian Transactions Regulations as amended by the Obama administration in March 2012, anyone involved in breaching said laws may be slapped with up to a $1 million fine or jailed for up to 20 years.

Last August, Obama signed yet another set of crippling sanctions against Iran. The law, according to the Wall Street Journal, “closes loopholes in existing sanctions law on Iran, and adds penalties…(and) broadens the list of available programs under which sanctions can be imposed on Iranian individuals and entities.”

A representative of AIPAC recently told me that these Obama administration policies are “the most severe sanctions the U.S. has imposed on any country – even the Third Reich.” Barack Obama does not empathize with the Iranian regime.

The Obama years have seen no adverse change in the way of American policy towards Israel; and yet, Obama’s stronghold on Jewish voters (who traditionally support Democrats overwhelmingly) slips from his grasp each day.

The president’s support among Jewish voters has dropped 19 percentage points since last election season, from 78 percent in 2008 to just 59 percent today.

Why is there a disparity between steps Obama has taken and the approval he’s gained? In truth, today’s underlying “tensions” between Israel and the United States amount to a handful of personal gripes between leaders, a series of ultimately trivial comments on West Bank settlements, and hyperbolic questions surrounding Obama’s ties to the Islamic religion.

These conditions have acted as a frustration in the realm of PR and messaging, but by no means have they given rise to a real shift in policy.

Every day, I hear it from close friends, in op-eds by billionaire Jewish donors, pervading the blogosphere: President Obama is anti-Israel; he exercises evasion in the face of the Iranian threat; his policies are crippling or harmful to Jews, Israelis, or Zionists. I respond to my Jewish friends in a voice that I hope will resound: Any such claim is a rash one, based on perceptions plagued by exaggerations and misreadings. We know anti-Israel; we have seen anti-semitism. President Obama embodies neither.

If you intend to support Governor Romney in this election because you believe that the top 2 percent of the American populace should see its taxes decrease, or that women should have their bodily decisions checked and regulated by wealthy men, or that immigration reform should begin by way of expulsion, I wish all the power to you. But if your allegiance to Israeli security is holding you back from casting your ballot for the Democratic ticket, it’s time to rethink your vote.

Election Guide

If you think that more minorities belong in jail, vote Republican tomorrow.

If you’ve seen your share of nature and have come to terms with letting the rest of it go, vote Republican tomorrow.

If you think that no one else should benefit from your success, that you and your money are better off in the a secluded bubble of wealth, vote Republican tomorrow.

If you believe those who are different should be sent away, ostracized, or persecuted, vote Republican tomorrow.

If you know which religion is best, vote Republican tomorrow.

If you think that not all Americans have the right to health insurance, if you think that only those who can afford it should have it, and that you are not somewhat responsible for the well being of your neighbor, vote Republican tomorrow.

If you believe that the government doesn’t serve any critical function, or if you feel the deep desire to give up your compensation when you retire, if you have the concrete knowledge that you’ll never lose your job and you’ll never be in need of financial assistance–why bother having welfare?–vote Republican tomorrow.

If poor people are none of your concern and poverty–you’re sure–is a back burner issue, vote Republican tomorrow.

If you believe that there is a right way and a wrong way to love, that the distinctions are clear, that the government should dictate to Americans who they can and can’t love, and  that feelings should be in the hands of Congress, vote Republican tomorrow.

If you believe that corporations shouldn’t be held accountable for deeply destructive environmental policies and financial irresponsibility that has proven detrimental to millions, vote Republican tomorrow.

If you’re under the impression that the subprime mortgage crisis couldn’t have been  prevented by regulation and oversight, vote Republican tomorrow.

If you don’t believe in the American Dream and instead believe that those seeking it should be sent away en masse, vote Republican tomorrow.

If you know that we need more wars, vote Republican tomorrow.

If you believe that Texas oil billionaires need more money, that large companies should be able to fund major political campaigns, vote Republican tomorrow.

If you’re sure that old white men should make decisions about what does or doesn’t happen to bodies of young women, vote Republican tomorrow.

But if you’re interested in a future antithetical to the one just described, you may want to reconsider your vote. I cast my vote for the Democratic Party in 2010.

“Change We Can Believe In”

My brother and I both want a certain candy bar, but he just won’t give it up. So, I tell him that I’ll do his chores for a week if he hands over the candy bar. I get the candy bar and he doesn’t have to do chores. It’s an entirely ethical win-win situation. Right?

There was a similar contest going on in Pennsylvania: incumbent Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter faced unprecedented competition leading up to the May 18 Democratic primary. Congressman Joe Sestak was on his tail all the way up to election day, on which he defeated the octogenarian.

Rep. Sestak confirmed, weeks ago, that the White House offered him an administration-level job, on the condition that he would drop out of the PA Democratic race. (He would give no specific details.) Pundits have alluded to this being an unethical and/ or sly move on the part of the Obama administration. I think, however, that if any type of move of this sort is carried out in the absence of law breaking, dishonesty, or some kind of irrefutable transgression, this is just your run-of-the-mill quid pro quo; it’s just like the candy bar swap. If Sestak was qualified for the admin job, then the move was just political and could ultimately have also been a win-win.

With all that said, Barack Obama spent two years campaigning on the platform of “change” and promised a break from “politics as usual

This is politics as usual. It may not be particularly devious or cunning, but it embodies the kind of politics (for better or for worse) that Obama claimed to have been so vehemently opposed to.

I extend to President Obama the same principles he extended to us, the American people, on the night of the South Carolina primary:

“We’re looking to fundamentally change the status quo in Washington. It’s a status quo that extends beyond any particular party and right now that status quo is fighting back with everything it’s got, with the same old tactics that divide and distract us from solving the problems people face.”

You’ve got to work with what you’ve got. You’ve got to work on the problems. So, yes, President Obama, we appreciate that you do your job ethically.

But there’s always a little bit more you can do to ensure that we’re in good hands and that our government is focused on solutions, not opportunism.


Elvis Costello was supposed to play two concerts in Israel this summer. But, now, he writes, as “a matter of instinct and conscience,” he has cancelled both concerts.

“…There are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act that resonates more than anything that might be sung and it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent,” Costello pontificated.

Well let me tell you something, Elvis Costello.

There are also occasions when having your name publicly removed from a concert schedule is interpreted as a cheap, mindless political act. Instead of using your vast musical influence to inspire unity, you’ve decided to zero in on issues of colossal triviality? It’s people like you, people who cite the settlements as the preeminent roadblock to a two state solution, who shrug off the Palestinians’ abuse of the Israeli people with statements saying that their violent acts of brutality are justified because they’re doing it “in the name of liberation,” who are ultimately impeding on the peace process in the Middle East. Get off of your high horse and cut out the holier-than-thou pose.

Through your effort to be stylishly vague, you’re setting a double-standard for yourself and other figures of potential persuasion. Are you trying to say that you’ll refuse to hold a concert in any country that has internal conflicts? Or any country that is controversial in the eyes of the world? Greece is still engaged in a farcical naming dispute with Macedonia, causing the Macedonians much economic turmoil…but you’ve got a concert there.

Or perhaps you’re trying to say that you won’t play your music in a country whose leader is controversial? You’re playing three concerts in Italy, whose Prime Minister is the sleazy, corrupt, womanizing Silvio Berlusconi…but you won’t play a concert in Tel Aviv.

Note to the world: Please don’t try to make a political statement for the sake of making a political statement. Think about who you’re affecting.