By George E. Birnbaum
Recently on FOX News Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu adroitly sidestepped host Chris Wallace’s question about Israel’s interest in the upcoming American presidential election. And rightly so. Whatever the outcome of the election here in the United States, the long-standing relationship Israel maintains with this country is of singular importance that has a direct bearing on Israel’s safety and security. And while the values and principles shared by the people of both countries will continue to be all important, it doesn’t mean that Israelis don’t have a preference, but for the sake of the long term relationship that preference is better left unstated. The hypothetical question then of how Bibi Netanyahu might vote if he were a U.S. voter is one that’s interesting to ponder because, in effect, it is a question that also speaks to how the Israeli polity feels about the United States at this point in time.
I have not talked to the Prime Minister about this, but in my years serving him as chief of staff, I feel there are some issues that would particularly resonate with him if he were focused on a personal vote instead of being charged with a national mandate. The fact is that Obama Administration policies developed and implemented over the past three years have raised serious doubts about the direction and depth of this administration’s commitment to Israel. Here are some of those issues that I think are notable, warrant concern and might have a bearing on how Bibi and most Israelis feel about the Presidential campaign here.
• Two weeks ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Egypt and listened to the new Egyptian foreign minister declare his belief that the Camp David Accords of 1978 conferred upon Palestinians something he called a “right to have their own state on the land that was – the pre-June 4, 1967, borders with Jerusalem as its capital.” There is no such provision in those documents and Secretary Clinton, as a party to those agreements, ought not have let those comments stand without comment. It is hard to believe that a Kissinger or Eagleburger or Shultz or Powell or Rice would have allowed those assertions to stand unremarked.
• The Obama Administration just convened its very own “Global Counterterrorism Forum” and invited 29 nations to meet on this subject. Israel was not one of them. Bowing to Turkey’s insistence to exclude Israel from the conference, the U.S. further insulted Israel when U.S. Undersecretary of State Maria Otero failed to even mention Israel as a country that has experienced terrorism, while reading a long list of other nations that did. This was a U.S. sponsored event, not a UN one where behavior of this type is expected as a matter of course.
• The Obama defense budget for fiscal Year 2013 excludes funding for the promised U.S.-Israeli initiative “Iron Dome,” a jointly built missile defense shield designed to secure Israel from Iranian missiles. This despite the platitudes spoken by both Obama and Clinton in the weeks leading up to the budget submission that the U.S. budget would continue to ensure Israel’s ability to defend herself. This brings into question the long-standing predisposition of the United States to guarantee Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region.
• Lest the above actions be misconstrued, President Obama has, on a number of occasions, signaled this attitudinal change towards Israel, starting with his speech in Cairo in June 2009. There, after insisting that the Muslim Brotherhood be present for his speech, he apologized to the Arabs for three decades of U.S. policy in the region. There was little question that the U.S. would no longer be the strong ally on which Israel could rely; nor is there any doubt that this didn’t in part set the stage for Iran’s continued development of its nuclear weapons program, in the absence of any potentially serious challenge from the U.S.
• President Obama was one of the first Western leaders to embrace the Arab Spring, which has less to do with democracy than with Islamic fundamentalists taking control of their respective
nations. Even today, the U.S. continues to cling to the fiction of democratic change. The result of this disastrous U.S. miscalculation? Iranian-dominated states, likely to become the next generation of terror proxies in the region.
• And then there is the continued fixation by the President with Israel’s boundaries. From an assertion that Israel be forced back to the 1949 Armistice Lines (the pre-June 1967 borders) to a pre-occupation with what Israel builds where, while there is no similar concern for Arab construction in the very same areas, this Administration clearly signals its desire to shrink Israel to a point where it may not be able to effectively defend itself.
For more than six decades, from the administrations of Harry Truman through George W. Bush and all of those in between, U.S. Presidents have demonstrated their commitment to Israel’s safety and security. Some have been stronger in that commitment than others, but both Democrats and Republicans have supported that objective. In just three short years, Barack Obama and his administration have developed and implemented policies, uninformed by the Congress and the attitudes of most of the American people, that bring that commitment into question.
Prime Minister Netanyahu won’t be declaring his support for either candidate any time soon, but it’s difficult to see how he and most Israelis aren’t more inclined to be in favor of a change in the Presidency at this time.
George E. Birnbaum is the former chief of staff to Benjamin Netanyahu.
This article first appeared in “Family Security Matters.”