Last week Jeffrey Goldberg argued strenuously that Israel should trust President Obama to, if needed, take military action against the Iranian regime to prevent it from going nuclear. The “hot mic” incident is the latest episode to shed doubt on whether the president is simpatico with the Jewish state. Goldberg’s response to it reveals the increasing difficulty that pro-Israel liberals have in defending the Obama administration.
Goldberg first argues, “The first misinterpretation is one often committed by Obama’s conservative critics, who argue that the president’s feelings toward Netanyahu reflect his feelings toward Israel.” Goldberg protests that “if a verbal assault on Netanyahu is the equivalent of a verbal assault on the Jewish state, then three-quarters of Israel’s politicians are guilty of assaulting the Jewish state.” That’s absurd.
Respect for and cordial relations with a democratic ally demand that we accept the democratic selection of its leaders and treat that elected leader with courtesy. It’s quite a different proposition for domestic critics to debate and criticize their pols. Obama isn’t a member of the Knesset or a Haaretz columnist; He owes Israel’s prime minister public courtesy and respect that he deserves from world leaders by virtue of his election by the Israeli people. Anything less is indeed a slap at the office of the prime minister and in turn of the Israeli people who elected him.
Certainly, Goldberg would not argue that, because Obama is beset by domestic critics, Netanyahu should feel free, for example, to publicly call Obama an incompetent ignoramus. Goldberg (and I, for that matter) would deem such an insult more than a personal barb at Obama; it would be gravely disrespectful of Israel’s ally.
Goldberg then concedes that Netanyahu “has on occasion bent to Obama’s will, for instance by freezing West Bank settlement growth for longer periods than other prime ministers and by signaling that he’s open to dismantling some illegal outposts, which Obama and Sarkozy both wanted him to do.”
That’s a lot of occasions, actually. It should also include Netanyahu’s affirmation that Israel is willing to accept a two-state solution. Goldberg, however, isn’t willing to take this to its logical conclusion, namely that the hot mic episode reveals that Obama’s view of the Israeli prime minister is distorted, whether by bias or ignorance.
Goldberg then strains to put the onus back on the Israeli prime minister: “If Netanyahu is under the impression that he can’t please Obama no matter what he does, then he will be less inclined to listen to the president’s cautionary words — or to give the president warning of an impending attack.” But wouldn’t that impression, you know, be correct, given Obama’s unjustified swipe at Israel’s level of cooperation?
The episode, of course, undermines Goldberg’s thesis that certainly Obama would act militarily to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and that the Israeli prime minister should just trust him. It’s not Netanyahu’s “impression” that decimates the cogency of that argument; it is the reality of Obama’s expressed view. And it’s downright bizarre to blame physical objects. (“Open mics don’t help.”)
It’s time for pro-Israel liberals to be honest: This president’s animus toward the Jewish state is so evident that only a foolish prime minister would trust him with the survival of the Jewish state. And Netanyahu is no fool. Surely Goldberg could concede both these points?