Sunday, November 27, 2016

Obama's legacy on Israel

Now that Obama's term is almost over, can we finally put to bed the preposterous notion, advanced by many of my more right-wing co-religionists, that "Obama is the worst president for Israel ever"?

Obama's actually been a pretty good friend to Israel, having her back at the UN, increasing military aid, and never, ever pressuring Israel financially like Reagan and George HW Bush did. His relationship with Netanyahu has been frosty, but the blame for that lies more with Netanyahu than with Obama.

So what was Obama's crime? Apparently it was criticizing settlement expansion and pressuring Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians. At best, Obama has been accused, in the words of one recent critic I exchanged comments with as "[approaching] the peace process with complete naivete, and many assumptions that are simply not true".

Obama approached the peace process exactly like his two predecessors did. Perhaps that that doesn't work anymore, but Bill Clinton and George W Bush both did the same things, so Obama's approach was hardly unprecedented. They all pressured Israel to negotiate and to freeze settlements. They all criticized Israel publicly, albeit mildly, when Israel did things they deemed unhelpful.

Perhaps the peace process, as begun with the Oslo agreement (driven by Israel herself, not the US), is a failure and a new path needs to be expored. Perhaps Obama's "crime" was continuing longstanding American policy when the Middle East was changing drastically. But keeping a steady hand on the tiller hardly equates to throwing Israel under the bus.

History will judge the Jewish right-wing's hand-wringing over Obama's relationship with Israel as overblown partisan hysteria. I hope that our community can have a calmer, fact based view in the future.