President Barack Obama’s recent threat on the eve of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit that the United States “will be unable to defend Israel” against “international fallout” — coming on the heels of a similar warning by Secretary of State John Kerry — constitutes a complete reversal of the president’s 2012 campaign-year pledge at the AIPAC policy conference  that he “has Israel’s back.”
What Obama is now saying is, in effect, “No, Israel, I don’t have your back.”
On Feb. 1, Kerry asserted at a news conference in Munich that Israel will face “boycotts” and “an increasing delegitimization campaign” unless it quickly makes more concessions to the Arabs. Israel’s leaders bristled at what they understood to be a threat. Kerry’s supporters deflected the criticism by insisting that his words were, as the The New York Times put it, “descriptive rather than prescriptive.”
But Obama’s remarks demonstrate that what he and Kerry are doing is not just predicting a bleak future for Israel — but threatening to help create that future. In an interview with Bloomberg News on March 2, the president said unequivocally that if Israel does not make more concessions, and fast, then America’s ability to “manage the international fallout is going to be limited.”
The problem is not the president’s “inability” to counter the “international fallout” but rather his unwillingness. The first and most important thing an American president could do to assist our ally, Israel, against sanctions or boycotts is to pledge America’s moral, political and diplomatic support for the Jewish State. America is the most powerful country on earth. Its position sets the tone for the civilized world.
But instead of standing shoulder to shoulder with the only democratic country in the Middle East, Obama treats Israel like he treats brutal, expansionist Russia. He made his remarks about isolating Israel less than 24 hours after the White House warned of “greater political and economic isolation” for Russia because of its invasion of the Ukraine’s Crimea region.
Adding insult to injury, Obama delivered his slap against Israel just as Netanyahu was boarding a plane to Washington. The president seems to have a penchant for this kind of ambush. Just as Netanyahu was coming to the United States in May 2011, Obama delivered a speech demanding that Israel basically retreat to the pre-1967 borders. That set off an international controversy and naturally made many Israelis wonder about the depth of Obama’s friendship. His latest comments surely will intensify such concerns.
On the other hand, at least the president’s words will be helpful in clarifying his administration’s position. No longer will Israel or its friends cling hopefully to the vague pro-Israel slogans that Obama uttered in the 2008 and 2012 campaigns. When he says he will not help Israel if the international community gangs up on her, he means it. When he said that Israel should go back to the indefensible 1967 lines, he meant it. When he retracted his support for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2008, he meant it.
In recent weeks, there have been trial balloons about stationing a U.S.-led international force in the West Bank territories. The idea is that this kind of American pledge would assure the Israelis that they will be protected if they withdraw their troops from the region. In the wake of Obama’s latest remarks, how many Israelis will still believe that they can count on U.S. troops, or U.S. promises, to protect them against future Arab attacks? And how many of Obama’s American supporters will continue to believe that he “has Israel’s back”? l
Moshe Phillips and Benyamin Korn are, respectively, president and chairman of the Philadelphia chapter of the Religious Zionists of America (phillyreligiouszionists.org).