President Obama’s advisors wanted him to get out in front of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress on Monday. So they preempted Bibi’s own peace proposal by having Obama call for Israel to return to its 1967 borders, give or take a few land swaps.
There was one problem with the timing. It overlooked the fact that President Obama is addressing the largest gathering of AIPAC ever this coming Sunday, with 10,000 pro-Israel activists in attendance. It’ll be fun to see what happens. Here is Obama who just became the first president to ever call on Israel to return to the 1967 lines going in front, just three days later, of the largest annual gathering of Jews and Israel supporters. What were the President’s advisors thinking?
The President will no doubt be respectfully welcomed and the organizers have already asked the crowd not to boo. But the President’s speech will have zero credibility and he may as well not bother.
When he last addressed AIPAC in June 2008 Obama had clinched, just the night before, the Democratic nomination for President. I was in the audience and I heard him say the following words:
“There are those who would lay all the problems of the Middle East at the doorstep of Israel and its supporters as if the Israeli Palestinian conflict is the root of all trouble in the region. These voices blame the Middle East’s only democracy for the region’s extremism. They offer the false promise that abandoning a stalwart ally is somehow the path to strength. It is not; it has never been and it never will be.
“Our alliance is based on shared interests and shared values. Those who threaten Israel threaten us; Israel has always faced these threats on the frontlines and I will bring to the White House an unshakable commitment to Israel’s security.”
Hmmm. Unshakable commitment? How, Mr. President? By pressuring Israel to return to suicidal 1967 borders that would give it a girth of just 8 miles near Tel Aviv?
And how could Obama, on the one hand, condemn those who blame all the Middle East’s ills on Israel and on the other hand come dangerously close to advancing the same argument by making the highlight of his talk on the Middle East the call for Israel to transcend its stubbornness and agree to indefensible borders?
This speech at the State Department was supposed to be about the Arab pro-democracy movement. It was meant to convey American support for Arab freedom. Yet, true to Obama’s curious obsession with Israel, its most memorable line, and the one used as a headline by the world’s leading publications, was the change in American policy to pressure Israel back to the ’67 lines without demanding any similar concession from the Palestinians. Couldn’t the President have waited just a little bit before talking about Israel in the same speech as Mubarak, Assad, and Qaddafi? Could he not have devoted just a single speech – without Israel as a distraction – to the momentous and welcome changes in the Arab world in which hundreds of millions of people are tasting freedom for the first time?
In throwing in such an inflammatory demand of the Middle East’s sole democracy and a state that is just a crumb compared to the vast Arab lands that surround it, the President knew full well that his pressure on Israel would dominate the speech and feed the lie that Israeli intransigence is the cause of the turmoil in the Middle East.
What a shame the President gave this foolish speech. He was just beginning to win over many of his detractors by finally showing he had a backbone by killing Osama bin Laden in a daring raid and participating, if not leading, in the bombing of Qaddafi. The day before the speech he had enacted sanctions against Assad of Syria and held him accountable for slaughtering his people. It was a new Obama, standing up to tyranny, sounding the clarion call for freedom, warning tyrants they would face retribution. Now we’re back to the same old Obama, weak on dictators and tough on Israel.
On Assad the President’s remarks were positively stupefying. “The Syrian people have shown their courage in demanding a transition to democracy. President Assad now has a choice: he can lead that transition, or get out of the way.” Huh? Assad? Transition to democracy? You’ve got to be kidding. It’ll be a cold day in hell before that murderer ever relinquishes power.
None of this is credible and the President knows it.
It was to be hoped that the American President would have come out to support the Arab spring as soon as it began. Instead we got Obama’s equivocations on Mubarak and then an endorsement of his departure only after he had been pushed out by the Egyptians. On Libya the President ceded leadership to the British and the French. On Syria he waited weeks before taking any action against Assad and then left the door open for him to remain President, even as he continues to slaughter his people.
How sad that now, months after the Arab uprisings began, when President Obama has finally decided to give a major policy speech supporting the Arab right to be free, he squandered the opportunity by yet again dumping on Israel.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, founder of This World: The Values Network, is the international best-selling author of 25 books, most recently “Honoring the Child Spirit” and “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.