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Saturday, June 04, 2011

Beldar on Emanuel on Obama on Israel's future

If you're Barack Obama, then by the time you've run and won a presidential election campaign, you know better than to defend your disastrous Middle East policies with the old cliché, "Some of my best friends are Jewish!"

Instead, you get your loyal vassal and bannerman — until recently your chief of staff, now returned to your and his hometown cesspool of politics, Chicago — to declare, "Hey, I'm a Jew, and Barack Obama's one of my best friends!"

That's the entire explanation for, and most of what you need to know about, Rahm Emanuel's WaPo op-ed this week. Emanuel would have had the same concluding paragraph no matter what:

As an American and a Jew, however, I am grateful that this president has not given up trying to find a path that would bring the parties back to the negotiating table. I applaud his continued effort to work on and invest himself in this increasingly vexing and dangerous conflict. All who care about a safe and secure Jewish state of Israel should as well.

Emanuel has seen Obama up close, he assures us, and then lists several Obama decisions that can be spun as pro-Israel. Trust me, Emanuel is saying, Obama's really not as anti-Israel as his history and his words and his deeds all indicate.

Uh-huh. But what of the contrary evidence, the calculated undercutting of Israel's negotiating position in Obama's May 19th speech to the State Department?

Emanuel simply pretends that that speech was pro-Israel. 

He (or the editorial staff of the WaPo) helpfully included a link to the May 19th speech. And Emanuel quotes what he calls the "one sentence" of Obama's that has "received the most attention," viz — "The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states." He insists that prior American presidents and Israeli governments have dealt with the notion of swapping land for peace, and that Obama wasn't tilting American foreign policy away from Israel, so this is all much ado about nothing.

But he completely ignores what Obama said immediately after that controversial sentence (emphasis mine):

These principles provide a foundation for negotiations. Palestinians should know the territorial outlines of their state; Israelis should know that their basic security concerns will be met. I’m aware that these steps alone will not resolve the conflict, because two wrenching and emotional issues will remain: the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees. But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians.

The policy that Obama announced on May 19th was "Borders first, Jerusalem/right of return later." No other interpretation of Obama's words is possible. And no American president had ever before proposed that.

In responding to Emanuel's op-ed, was Roger L. Simon hyperbolic in this comparison?

[W]hen we are reading Emanuel’s piece, we are doing more than running our eyes rapidly down another dull oped. We are taking a time trip back into the 1930s when Jews made all kinds of rationalizations for all kinds of behavior. We all know the results of that.

Perhaps so. Obama's not rounding up Jewish families and putting them on trains to death camps, so the behavior that Emanuel is rationalizing isn't as noxious as the Nazi's.

But then again, Mr. Simon's implied (and more apt) comparison is not Obama & Emanuel to the Nazis, but Obama & Emanuel to the American leaders (including American Jews) of the 1930s and 1940s — leaders who took a "hands off"/"It's their problem" attitude over what Germany was doing to its Jews for years before war broke out. I don't think Godwin's Law applies when one's talking about the consequences of the actual Holocaust, including the origins of and the continued need for the State of Israel.

I'm willing to grant that Emanuel is a smart guy. How else (*cough*cough*) could he have turned a degree in ballet from Sarah Lawrence College, with no experience in business or finance, into a post-Clinton investment banking job at a branch office of Wasserstein Perella which netted him more than $18 million in just over two years? And I'm in no position to pass any judgment as to whether Emanuel is compromising his faith or his family or his heritage in his unswerving and, apparently, entirely uncritical support of Barack Obama.

But I'm very, very sure that Barack Obama is trying to turn America away from its best ally in the Middle East. And when someone like Rahm Emanuel tries to deny that, or distract attention from it, by saying, "Trust me, I'm a Jew" — I'm not impressed by that argument. I don't trust Rahm Emanuel, nor his liege-lord either.

Posted by Beldar at 04:22 PM in Foreign Policy, History, Obama, Politics (2011), Religion | Permalink


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(1) Boyd made the following comment | Jun 5, 2011 8:22:31 AM | Permalink

I certainly have no love for Emanuel or Obama, but it seems to me that your analysis of the passages you emphasized is overwrought, and quite strained to reach the conclusion that this is a significant change in policy from previous administrations.

Beyond that, there would need to be much more than a few lines in a single speech to put such a change into place, it seems to me. But I'm about as far from being a foreign policy wonk as one can be, so what do I know?

(2) Beldar made the following comment | Jun 5, 2011 8:56:28 AM | Permalink

Boyd, I've quoted, with context, directly from Obama's speech. The speech was a formal prepared address, specifically devoted to announcing American foreign policy, and delivered at the State Department. I've linked the whole speech at the White House website. I've linked commentary about the speech, and about Prime Minister Netanyahu's response on behalf of Israel, and if you've even skimmed that, you'll know that many people interpreted the speech to be much more radical than I did; I'm only taking Obama by what he actually said. If you think I'm "overwrought," you're certainly entitled to that opinion, but it's going to take more than a couple of throw-away, nonspecific lines of criticism in your last comment to persuade me of that. Others, of course, can make up their own minds.

(3) Neo made the following comment | Jun 6, 2011 1:00:10 PM | Permalink

The Obama speech at the State Department which indicates that negotiations should be "based on the 1967 lines" looked pretty non-pro-Israel until I watched the press conference and follow on address to Congress by Benjamin Netanyahu, which made Obama look like a blunderer at best. The follow on had the world watch Netanyahu give Obama a lesson in foreign policy ... the master schooled the pupil.

(4) Beldar made the following comment | Jun 8, 2011 11:07:27 PM | Permalink

Neo (#3): "Pro-Israel" would perhaps have been to say, "based on the 1968 lines" (the year after the Six-Day War of 1967) or "based on the 1974 lines" (after the Yom Kippur War of 1973). What Obama really meant was "the lines which existed between the Israeli's successful war of independence in 1948 up until the Six-Day War broke out in 1968." The phrase "1968 lines" is an intentionally spun one precisely because it suggests something fairly modern and reasonable. It's just not.

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