Rep. Michele Bachmann was the first out of the chute to blast President Obama for his comments on Israel picked up on a hot microphone. The Associated Press reports:
In the conversation reporters heard, French President Nicolas Sarkozy says he can’t stand Netanyahu and calls him a liar. Obama responds, through a French interpreter: “You are sick of him, but I have to work with him every day.” . . .
“I call on President Obama to immediately apologize to Prime Minister Netanyahu and I also believe that the president should demonstrate leadership and demand that the French President Sarkozy do the same,” Bachmann said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney had no comment on the conversation.
Bachmann said that Obama is putting too much space between the U.S. and Israel. “And now president Obama has put Israel further at risk by allowing Iran the time Iran needed to get closer to obtaining nuclear weapons,” Bachmann said. She cited a report Tuesday from the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency that says Iran is secretly acquiring know-how and gear needed to create nuclear weapons and preparing for tests.
Mitt Romney also released a statement blasting Obama: “President Obama’s derisive remarks about Israel’s Prime Minister confirm what any observer would have gleaned from his public statements and actions toward our long-standing ally, Israel. At a moment when the Jewish state is isolated and under threat, we cannot have an American president who is disdainful of our special relationship with Israel. We have here yet another reason why we need new leadership in the White House.”
On one level, none of this is surprising. Obama’s irritation with the Jewish state and personal distaste for Netanyahu have been apparent nearly from the start of his presidency. This is just as we would imagine Obama would sound in private.
It’s nearly impossible to image Presidents George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan saying such a thing for the simple reason that neither held our democratic ally is such low esteem. They looked upon the democratically elected leader of our ally with respect and affection.
Obama’s comment put liberal Jews once again in a tight spot. It seems like only last month that the Anti-Defamation League was clucking at citizens to take Israel off the table as a subject of discussion in the 2012 election. But yesterday the ADL trudged back to the topic, obviously glum that Obama had once again revealed himself to be less than a sympathetic friend to Netanyahu and to Israel. A statement read:
We are deeply disappointed and saddened by this decidedly un-Presidential exchange between Presidents Sarkozy and Obama.
President Obama’s response to Mr. Sarkozy implies that he agrees with the French leader. In light of the revelations here, we hope that the Obama Administration will do everything it can to reassure Israel that the relationship remains on a sure footing and to reinvigorate the trust between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, which clearly is not what it should be.
What is sad is that we now have to worry to what extent these private views inform foreign policy decisions of the U.S. and France — two singularly important players in the peace process.
Perhaps if the ADL spent less time hushing Americans it wouldn’t be surprised when Obama acts like Obama.
It should be even less surprising that, in a country that is heavily pro-Israel, the presidential contenders from the GOP (which is overwhelmingly pro-Israel) should take issue with the president on his handling of the Middle East and approach toward the Jewish state. It’s an “issue” only because Obama’s Middle East policy has been a disaster and the president is out of step with the country at large and with a bipartisan consensus that has existed on Israel since its founding.
So rather than express disappointment that Obama’s true feelings came out, perhaps the ADL would do better to point out, as Jackson Diehl did yesterday, how biased is Obama’s perception of the players in the Middle East:
Netanyahu has been an occasionally difficult but ultimately cooperative partner. He can be accused of moving too slowly and offering too little, but not of failing to heed American initiatives. And Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas? For five of the six months of the Israeli settlement moratorium he refused Obama’s appeals to begin negotiations; after two meetings, he returned to his intransigence. Rejecting a personal appeal from Obama, he took his bid for statehood to the United Nations, where he may yet force the United States to use its Security Council veto.
France last month joined an appeal from the Mideast diplomatic “quartet” — the United States, European Union, Russia and United Nations — for Israel and the Palestinians to return unconditionally to negotiations. Netanyahu accepted. Abbas said no.
Abbas, it’s fair to say, has gone from resisting U.S. and French diplomacy to actively seeking to undermine it. Yet it is Netanyahu whom Sarkozy finds “unbearable,” and whom Obama groans at having to “deal with every day.”
It makes one wonder if Obama really does, as Jeffrey Goldberg argued yesterday, assess things in the region rationally, let alone with much empathy for the Jewish state. For if Obama can come to believe that settlements are blocking the peace process or that Netanyahu rather than Abbas is the liar, I fear what other non-facts he can talk himself into. As I noted yesterday, better for Israel to look after itself in a pinch.