It seems like this election may have turned many American Jewish Zionists into one-issue voters. I suppose times are desperate, and desperate times call for desperate measures.
If Middle East policy dictates which way American Jewish Zionists pull the lever on Tuesday, then it explains why I often find myself in conversations that open the can of worms of President Obama’s Israel positions. But these conversations quickly become polarizing.
And that’s because American Jewish Zionists hinge their one-sided views on sweeping generalizations instead of embracing the multifaceted nature of Obama’s relationship to Israel.
When we pay careful attention to the president’s first-term track record, we’ll notice it’s not quite possible to accept any one statement about his stance on Israel. There are so many contending details and we must not allow for the ones opposing our views to pale in comparison to the ones supporting our views. Thinking critically and carefully about Obama’s Israel policy invites us to learn in a distinguished way while keeping ourselves dignified. Let’s take a look:
Enter OBAMA SUPPORTER, stage left.
When the Goldstone report unfairly singled out Israel for criticism in 2009, the administration opposed it. When the 2001 Durban conference was commemorated in 2009, and again in 2011, the administration boycotted, refuting the argument that Zionism is racism. When Israel was ostracized after the Gaza flotilla raid in 2010, the Obama administration supported them. When an Egyptian mob stormed the Israeli embassy in Cairo in 2011, the administration intervened to protect Israeli diplomats. And, when Obama stood in front of the United Nations General Assembly in 2011- amidst the UN Palestinian statehood vote- he supported Israel, defending its right to exist and emphasizing threats to its security.
Obama’s support has also helped preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge. Congress allocated $205 million from his 2011 budget to deploy the Iron Dome missile defense system which protects Israel from raining rockets and ballistic missiles. Additionally, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has repeatedly praised Obama and shared with CNN this past July: “But I should tell you honestly that this administration, under President Obama, is doing in regard to our security more than anything that I can remember in the past.”
Exit OBAMA SUPPORTER, stage left.
Enter OBAMA CRITIC, stage right.
But just a few weeks ago, when Obama stood before the 2012 United Nations General Assembly, he challenged Netanyahu’s Iran red line, counter arguing that there is still time for sanctions and deferral of military action. Not too long before that, the Democratic Platform at the Democratic National Convention did not initially include any reference to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. When Obama first came into office and met with Benjamin Netanyahu, he requested to curb all settlement activity, opposing Netanyahu’s suggestion to allow building within existing settlements. A few weeks later, when Obama addressed the Muslim world in Cairo, he criticized the way Israel wields its power and the situation under which Palestinians live. After his Cairo visit, why Obama never visited Israel then too is still a lingering question.
Throughout his presidency, Obama has made a strong push for confining Israel to its 1967 borders, exacerbating unilateral trends that invite the Palestinian Authority to avoid negotiations. And recently, the Netanyahu administration has reproached the Obama administration’s performance. “We can say it very clearly, President Obama was not a friend of Israel in the last four years,” opined Danny Danon, the deputy speaker of parliament and a member of Netanyahu’s Likud. “We tell the American people, elect whomever you want but regarding Israel we want to see a different kind of relationship with the White House.”
Exit OBAMA CRITIC, stage right.
There is no single way to sum up President Obama’s relationship to Israel. And that’s not to turn American support for Israel into a political football, nor is it to classify Obama’s stance as untenable. But what it is meant to suggest, is that only acknowledging one-sided sweeping facts is futile and shortsighted.
Digging deeper, we uncover telling nuances about the Middle East’s unrest and Obama’s role. Last year’s Arab Spring destabilized the region completely. There is no clear leadership among the Palestinian groups and no Middle Eastern promises are guaranteed. Even America’s portal into the Arab world- the Egyptian government- has closed. In addition, America acts not as much as a mediator but as a powerful guarantor for either side. Therefore, without that necessary grip on the Middle East, Obama’s role is made much more complex, as he must dedicate many resources to gaining back the trust of the new Palestinian regimes, while also keeping Israel protected.
When we evaluate how friendly or hostile Obama has been to Israel, we must challenge ourselves to find merit in opposing views and uncover the subtleties that complete our examination. This is a productive and noble way to engage in political discourse; the converse is intellectually insulting.
Mia Appelbaum of New York City is an economics major and French minor at New York University.