I just got off the phone with Abraham Foxman, the Holocaust survivor who heads the Anti-Defamation League. He does not agree with the claim by some Republican 2012 presidential candidates and conservative commentators that Obama threw Israel under the bus in his Arab Spring speech yesterday.
The claim by conservatives is based on Obama’s assertion yesterday that an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal must be based on pre-1967 lines with land swaps, which has been widely distorted by the right to mean Obama wants Israel to retreat to pre-1967 borders. Foxman disagrees with that characterization.
“I don’t see this as the president throwing Israel under the bus,” he told me. “He’s saying with `swaps.’ It’s not 1967 borders in the abstract. It’s not an edict. It’s a recommendation of a structure for negotiations.”
Foxman said that the broader characterization of the speech as anti-Israel by some on the right is also off base, citing its insistence on Israel’s right to self-defense, its opposition to the Palestinian statehood at the United Nations, and other matters.
“The speech indicated to me that this administration has come a long way in better understanding and appreciating the difficulties facing both parties, but especially Israel in trying to make peace with the Palestinians,” Foxman said.
Foxman did offer a nuance: He said he doesn’t fault Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for raising concerns about Obama’s decision to articulate the 1967 lines as American policy.
“There is a danger that the 1967 marker, which was always there but has never been stated so directly, may become this year’s settlements issue,” Foxman said. By this he means that he worries that making it central to official U.S. policy could turn it into a core make-or-break issue, just as settlements were, which could make peace tougher to attain.
But Foxman clarified that Obama’s remarks about the 1967 lines were not comparable to Obama’s call for a settlement freeze — which also angered the right — in the sense that the 1967 lines don’t represent a firm proposal. “It’s not an edict — it’s not what he did with settlements,” Foxman said.
Foxman added that all the noise over that one sentence could distract from the fact that much of the speech was positive for Israel. “He said a lot of good things,” Foxman said. “All these things were overshadowed by one phrase. And even that, he put in context.”
“I see a lot of positive,” Foxman concluded. “I see changes in American understanding.”