There is a tiring charade that repeats itself in this administration. The administration engages in some public or private strong-arming of Israel (“condemning” building in Israel’s capital, insisting on negotiating terms Israel has rejected). Concern is voiced publicly by pro-Israel conservatives and grumbled privately by pro-Israel Democrats. The administration rushes forth to spin the all-too-willing liberal leaders of Jewish organizations, who desperately want to alleviate their anxiety about supporting a president with the worst relationship with Israel since the founding of the Jewish state. The Jewish leaders sally forth from an administration briefing (simply being invited sends, shall we say, a tingle up their legs) after some platitude-filled meeting or phone call ( “dedicated to Israel’s security,” “can’t be expected to negotiate with terrorists”) all giddy with confidence. Obama’s solid on Israel! No problems! But the reality is different. The pressure continues. The “leaders” look like dupes.
We’ve seen precisely this pattern since the Arab Spring speech. Despite what the Obama-deployed spin squad says, as Jackson Diehl reveals in a must-read piece ( “Why is Obama so tough on Israel and timid on Syria?” Ummm, he thinks he can do business with Bashar al-Assad but not Bibi Netanyahu?), the administration can’t conceal what is going on here:
It still can’t bring itself to say that Bashar al-Assad, a dictator and implacable U.S. enemy who is using tanks and helicopter gunships to slaughter his people, is not qualified to lead Syria to democracy. . . . Obama the timid suddenly turns tough when the “peace process” comes up. He has spoken in public on Syria just twice since its massacres began three months ago. But he chose to spell out U.S. terms for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations without the agreement of Israel’s prime minister, on the eve of meeting him at the White House and with only a few hours’ notice — arguably the most high-handed presidential act in U.S.-Israeli relations since the Eisenhower administration.
Not just “without” Netanyahu’s agreement, but also when objections to such a formulation were well known by the administration.
“No pressure!” cluck the flock of the gullible Jewish communal heads. But this is ludicrous given the state of relations:
Netanyahu heads a right-wing coalition that would almost certainly collapse if he agreed to Obama’s terms — which, in any case, he opposes. A senior Israeli official last week gave me a long list of fixes he said would be needed before his government could accept the Obama formula — and even then, he added, the proposal wouldn’t fly “unless there was a deep reservoir of mutual confidence” between the two leaders, “which doesn’t exist.”
It would be nice if rather than gobble up the transparently silly assurances of the Obama-spun Jewish leaders, the Jewish and mainstream media would go back to them and ask if they were wrong in their assessment. Are they embarrassed by their naivete? Do they not resent being used to bolster talking points that are demolished within days by reality? Too much to ask, I suppose.
So the Mobius Strip of neverending spin-and-be-spun relations between the Obama team and non-leaders in the Jewish community continue. Meanwhile, Israel, as the Israeli ambassador Michael Oren puts it, is facing an unprecedented array of threats. I’m beginning to think that list of dangers includes self-deluded American Jewish communal leaders and the liberal punditocracy that gobbles up the administration’s propaganda as gospel.