Obama's Pander

Not Quite A "Badge Of Honor"

Peter Beinart rejects the notion, pushed by Jewish Democrats, that Obama's rebuking of Palestine's U.N. bid was anything but a pander.

I just got an email from David A. Harris, head of the National Jewish Democratic Council. And I got another one yesterday. Both listed a series of quotes from Israeli government officials saying how terrific Obama has been for the Jewish state. Ehud Barak says, “President Obama is doing in regard to our security more than anything that I can remember in the past.” Shimon Peres says, “Mr. President, I know your commitment to Israel is deep and profound.”

No surprise there. As I reported in my book, Jewish Democrats made a conscious decision last summer to begin soliciting and trumpeting pro-Obama statements from Israeli leaders after polling showed that American Jews considered Israelis the best validators of Obama’s pro-Israel bona fides. But the email also includes this quote from Benjamin Netanyahu, who praised Obama for “standing your ground, taking this position of principle… this is a badge of honor.” The quote refers to Obama having in the NJDC’s words, “rebuked the Palestinian unilateral declaration of independence at the United Nations.”

Please. First, while the Palestinian bid for statehood recognition may not have been “bilateral,” it wasn’t “unilateral,” as the NJDC (echoing American Jewish establishment PR-speak) claims. Unilateral acts are ones you undertake without asking any other country’s permission such as, for instance, legalizing West Bank outposts that had been illegal even under your own law. Asking for recognition by the 192 countries of the U.N., by contrast, is the very definition of “multilateral.”

Secondly, Obama only backed the Palestinians’ U.N. bid after Netanyahu angrily rejected his May 2011 proposal for negotiations based on the 1967 lines plus land swaps. Once this last ditch effort to launch serious peace talks that might derail the Palestinian bid had failed, Obama blocked it for two main reasons. First, he feared that if admitted to the U.N. the Palestinians would launch international legal action against Israel, which might prompt Israel to retaliate by annexing parts of the West Bank or taking other measures that could bring down the Palestinian Authority. Second, he wanted to win Florida.

Indeed, Obama’s 2011 U.N. speech “rebuking” the Palestinian statehood bid, which, unlike his previous addresses did not mention settlements and discussed Jewish but not Palestinian suffering, was the opposite of an act of principle. It was an act of expediency and capitulation that, in the words of one Israeli columnist, sounded as if it had been “faxed to his office by the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office.” Of course Netanyahu called the speech a “badge of honor,” since it launched a period of American indifference to Palestinians that has lasted ever since. But if the NJDC really believes that Bibi should be the arbiter of American policy towards Israel, then it shouldn’t be telling people to reelect the President. It should be telling them to elect Romney.