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Words Speak Louder Than Actions: Rhetoric, Israel, and the Obama Presidency // Parker Mantell // 12.05.2011

Beyond the President’s blatantly naïve views that have consistently been expressed towards the Middle East throughout his presidency, the most worrisome component of Obama’s rhetoric is that it is uttered on behalf of the American people. From the moment that he took the oath of office back in January of 2009, Barack Obama, like his predecessors, simply forfeited the ability to only speak as an individual. However, President Obama serves in an era in which his influence is tremendously heightened by the growth of the media and its instant social subsidiaries. It is due to this that the responsibility of the American voter now extends to electing a constant spokesperson (both through verbal and nonverbal communication) that has been embedded within the Office of the President.

This modern role of the president precisely demonstrates the true danger that stems from Obama’s rhetoric towards Israel.  The most notable example of this includes President Obama’s 1967 borders speech which took place in May of this year. While the sentiment of Israel returning to its pre-1967 borders with land swaps may invite room for private disagreement between the respective parties involved (Israel, the PLO, and the United States), the manner in which Obama shared his vision is destructive in a two-fold fashion. By publicly setting these borders as a starting point for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the President removed any and all leverage that Israel had.  Additionally, President Obama’s rhetoric armed those who wish to destroy Israel with the proper means necessary to do so. Thus, as a result of Obama’s speech, anti-Israel activists have been enabled for the first time to factually claim that the United States feels it best for negotiations to start with the prerequisite of an Israeli return to its indefensible pre-1967 borders and land swaps. Israel was virtually paralyzed by President Obama’s benchmark of an acceptable starting point, and forced into a lose-lose situation. For Israel, refusing the proposal would translate into a public perception of stubbornness, while succumbing to the proposal would yield a threat to Israel’s existence.

To those on the left who spuriously insist that Obama merely reinforced the established US policy of former presidents including George W. Bush, I refer you to a 2004 statement from Bush) to then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. This letter (which received overwhelming bi-partisan congressional support reaffirmed that “in light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.” When contrasting the two positions of Obama and Bush, it becomes clear that Bush reaffirmed a realistic position towards the situation. Regardless of whether or not Bush exhibited this opinion during private negotiations, he was well aware of the public repercussions of his words – a trait that Obama lacks. As far as the world knew, America was unequivocally supportive of a realistic plan that ensured the safety and security of Israel during the Bush presidency. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said with the current administration.

AFP/Getty Images

Putting aside the disgraceful treatment that the White House displayed to Netanyahu during his 2010 D.C. visit (Obama reportedly abandoned Netanyahu for dinner with Michelle and the kids), I would like to focus on the most recent example of Obama’s failed tenure as your spokesman.  Only just a few short weeks ago, Obama attended the November G20 summit in Cannes, France. When discussing Netanyahu on a hot-mic during the summit, President Obama reportedly told French President Nicolas Sarkozy that “you are sick of him, but I have to work with him every day.” Beyond the personal hurt and humiliation that Netanyahu and Israelis were bound to suffer after learning of Obama’s statement, its effect is most damaging because of the ammunition that it provides those who wish to see Israel wiped off of the map. Why hasn’t the president been more vocal in shouting these choice words about our real enemies, as opposed to applying them towards leader of a country that mourned during the September 11th attacks? Similarly to Obama’s speech regarding the 1967 border issue, Obama spoke these words on behalf of the United States. Not surprisingly, the President and his press team have refused to apologize, or even simply recognize this insensitive attack on Netanyahu.  I call on President Obama to have the expected decency and respect that President Sarkozy has had in offering a public apology to Netanyahu. Efforts to do so would be a great first step in showing the country, and more importantly, the common enemies that we share with Israel, that this president is truly remorseful for all of the mistreatment that has been shown to Israel and its leader.

An additional crucial Obama spokesman-role botch arrived in the summer of 2010, in which Israel was the recipient of an overwhelming attack from the “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” movement. Hillary Clinton, Obama’s Secretary of State, was disappointingly quick to condemn the Israeli response to the flotilla filled with “peace activists” with ties to Hamas. As a reminder, it is Hamas who has told the world that “we desire death like you desire life”. Even so, Secretary Clinton felt the need to call for a United Nations investigation into the actions of Israel. An additional reminder, the United Nations is the same flawed organization whose Human Rights Commission felt it necessary to condemn Israel in 20 of its 25 resolutions between 2006 and 2010, while only condemning North Korea once. These activists, whose primary goal was to carry weaponry into Gaza for attacks on innocent Israeli’s, were repeatedly warned by Israel of the illegality of such efforts. These activists even went so far as beating IDF soldiers by sending such a quick and clear message to the world (with such shocking disregard for reality), the Obama administration hurt Israel far worse than any of the activists. During the tense flotilla ordeal, the administration regrettably allowed the United States to initially lead the charge in the worldwide media crusade against Israel. In fact, in a repeat attempt this past summer, activists felt so inspired by the Obama response towards their movement that they decided to name one of their ships “Audacity of Hope” after Obama’s 2006 book.  President Obama simply must relinquish his absurd world vision that equates the force of good that Israel is with the force of evil that its neighbors are.

Finally, the most recent example of the Obama administration’s rhetoric-based public defamation of Israel occurred November 30th in Brussels, Belgium. Howard Gutman, Obama’s appointed ambassador to Belgium and hefty campaign fundraiser told those in attendance at a European Jewish Union event that Israel is to blame for Muslim anti-Semitism. Gutman stated that “a distinction should be made between traditional anti-Semitism, which should be condemned and Muslim hatred for Jews, which stems from the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.” Through this statement, Gutman joined with his colleagues in the Obama administration in pardoning the Muslim world for their wrongdoings against Israel. Instead, Obama’s appointee views Israel, the shining example of democracy in the Middle East, as the primary problem. Following suit with the aforementioned errors of the administration, this idea would have been incorrect if believed and discussed privately. However, due to the administration’s fascination with publicly blaming Israel, the damage elevates to being harmfully irresponsible.

It is my hope that those on the left who recognize the importance of a secure Israel in relation to the safety and security of the United States will elect an administration next November who is as pro-Israel publically as it is privately. Certainly the election of New York Republican Congressman Bob Turner in Anthony Weiner’s former House seat provides a small glimmer of hope for those who seek a White House occupant who comprehends the true repercussions of his words in the delicate Middle East region. Israel simply cannot afford another US presidential term that is enthralled in doubt. It is therefore because of the repeated anti-Israel rhetoric that this administration has thunderously screamed (on behalf of the United States) to our enemies – to Israel’s enemies, that has made supporting President Obama and the State of Israel a mutually-exclusive endeavor.

Parker Mantell // University of Indiana at Bloomington // @ParkerMantell


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Comments

  1. “Beyond the personal hurt and humiliation that Netanyahu and Israelis were bound to suffer after learning of Obama’s statement, its effect is most damaging because of the ammunition that it provides those who wish to see Israel wiped off of the map”.

    Oh god forbid Netanyahu (a war criminal) feel any personal hurt and humiliation. Because the Israeli armed forces haven’t been inflicting a genocide on an indigenous population via a 40-year-long illegal military occupation or anything.

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