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.

A Rickety House – Why a Science Museum in Oregon Matters in Tomorrow’s UN Vote

On the east bank of Portland, Oregon’s Willamette River sits an expansive complex of buildings. The mostly-brick complex, which welcomes about a million visitors each year, is the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, or “OMSI.” As a child, I made many a trip to OMSI, spending hours exploring the cracks and crevices of center every time I visited my family in Portland. I have vivid memories of ducking my head to gain entry into the submarine exhibit and sending foam balls flying into the air in a giant room full of experimental wind turbines. To an inquisitive youngster, the place seemed like playground with something new around each corner.

One exhibit in particular always caught my attention. On the second floor there was a display that covered the natural sciences. But being little and easily distracted, I would often abandon the tiny writing on the information panels and instead turn quickly to the earthquake simulator. (Now they were speaking my language.)

My brothers and I would hop up onto the platform and underneath the wooden house frame that also rested on it. We would click the red button and a radio would being to omit static, we would hear the sound of shattered glass, and the platform would start shaking vehemently. Just sixty seconds on the platform, and my brothers and I would learn the basic consequence of building a structure on quivering ground: things fall apart.

Perhaps UN delegates never visited OMSI.

Tomorrow, if it so chooses, the United Nations will ignore the basic principle represented by the simulator: a rickety house will topple on a quivering foundation.

Any basis for political communication or – for that matter – national existence is lacking. There are no guidelines in place for economic interaction between Israel and a Palestinian state. There are no guidelines in place for trade between the two nations. There are no diplomatic agreements. There are no military agreements. There are no parliamentary rules. There are no conditions, no concessions. The Palestinian Authority has agreed to nothing, nor has the Israeli government. A rickety house will topple on a quivering foundation.

The Palestinian Authority has continually received substantive and effectual aid packages from the United States. President Obama has remained staunch in his approach to the Middle Eastern conflict. Just yesterday, he told the General Assembly that “a genuine peace can only be realized between the Israelis and the Palestinians themselves,” and that he will not grant the Palestinians the United States’ support on this latest undertaking. A rickety house will topple on a quivering foundation.

Settlement issues remain wholly unresolved. Israelis have built lives throughout the West Bank in regions that have been in question for years, but that still technically lie within the lines of the Jewish State. Violence, even only in past months, is an innate, knee-jerk impulse. Last March, politically motivated Palestinian terrorists broke into the home of a family in Itamar, a West Bank settlement. The terrorists stabbed to death the mother, the father, two children who were asleep, and one who was reading with a lamp on. Whether the land belongs to the Israelis or the Palestinians is inconsequential. If the Palestinians are granted a state tomorrow, it will become debilitatingly harder to make this incident an isolated one. A rickety house will topple on a quivering foundation.

The world has been touched by an upswing of the human spirit that has caused millions to escape the tight grip of oppression. The Israeli government – while it has indeed pondered, if not grazed unjust policy – holds no such grip. A Palestinian state tomorrow runs the risk of both appearing to equate to other upstarts of the Arab Spring and, on the flip side, itself waging a ‘revolution’ against that which it has just been relinquished from. A rickety house will topple on a quivering foundation.

Yes, this is an issue of Zionist significance: in Israel (and in the Diaspora) there exists a religious contingent who believes that Palestinians should not have a sovereign state – ever – because of an age-old doctrine. It is also an issue of diplomatic imperative: many others would contend that Palestinians don’t deserve a state; they have, the argument goes, been offered deal after deal by the Israeli government, but have always failed to bite on comprehensive, workable peace agreements.

They do deserve a state.

In truth, Palestinians need a state. Bibi Netanyahu has said it, just as AIPAC has said it, just as Abbas has insisted upon it. They have the right to declare themselves sovereign. Israel needs Palestinians to have a state. But Palestinians cannot have a unilaterally declared state at the risk or expense of Israel, the United States, or general international accord. Not without concessions, not without agreements, not without Israeli assent, and not in the midst of an earthquake.

Israelis need Palestinians to have a state. But a rickety house will topple on a quivering foundation.

A Pragmatic Oath

Last Sunday, the Israeli Cabinet passed a law that requires all non-Jews who are seeking citizenship to recite and oath of loyalty to “the State of Israel as a Jewish and Democratic state.” (Cut to: broad array of angry and outraged international reactions.)

In typical Israeli fashion, the cabinet was bitterly split throughout debate over the controversial law. Members from all parts of the coalition supported it, just as members from several parties opposed it. In typical political fashion, cabinet members tried to turn the debate to other political struggles like the settlement moratorium and typical tri-party dissent. Officials weighed in from all around the world.

Disregard the other contemporary political issues and look at this through a clear and coherent lens. Let’s examine the legitimacy of the “Jewish and Democratic” oath.

Take note of Israel’s neighbors: Lebanon (hello, Hizballah), Syria (hi, single-party government), Jordan (good day, your Majesty), and Egypt (how are you, president who has been in office for twenty-nine years?). Encompassing these countries are other countries who have been in and out of love affairs with the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, Hamid Karzai, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad–none of whom really bring the word “freedom” to your mind. Israel is the only functioning democracy in the Middle East.

Without getting Biblical, let’s look at Israel through a very simplified modern lens. After World War II and the Holocaust, Jewish refugees needed a place to go. It was a place that they had fought for, occupied, lost, and fought for again throughout thousands of years of history. The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel uses the terms “Jew” or “Jewish” twenty-four times. The state was founded as a Jewish one.

The eleventh paragraph of the Declaration: “Accordingly, we, members of the People’s Council, representatives of the Jewish community…hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.”

Unlike the American pledge of allegiance (which each new citizen must recite), there is no mention of God in the Israeli oath. And just as you don’t need to believe in God to say “one nation under God,” you don’t have to be Jewish to acknowledge that you are, indeed, living in a “Jewish and Democratic state.”