Sunday, June 1, 2014

Defining pro-Israel

Sar Shalom

obama1Before long, the primaries will begin for the campaign to succeed Barack Obama. One of the issues in the upcoming campaign will be who is good for Israel. This assessment might seem simple, but that would be deceiving. The reality is that no viable candidate will claim to be anything but pro-Israel. With everyone vying to claim the pro-Israel mantle, how should we determine who would support Israel when it counts and who would bail out?

One part of this assessment would be a review of Obama's record. For all the legitimate gripes we have about Obama's record on Israel, it is important to note that on any matter of providing military equipment or assistance, Obama has never let Israel down acted comparably to prior administrations, including those regarded as friendly to Israel. Is this an attempt to exonerate Obama from the positions he has taken on Israel? No. Rather, this is an effort to bring in all the facts that a view of Obama's record on Israel needs to explain.

What Obama's military assistance to Israel shows is that when the Arabs wage conventional warfare or terror against Israel, Obama has Israel's back. We do not have to ask questions. However, those methods of attempting to destroy Israel are yesterday's war, corresponding to the Arabs' primary modus operandi from 1948-1973 and 1973-roughly 1995. Today's war, which started as far back as the 1960's but became more significant only recently, is the Arab effort to delegitimize Israel and thus gain international support to destroy Israel or at least to change the battlespace enough that they would be able to succeed in destroying Israel on their own through the previous two means. Obama's shortcomings come in his support, or lack thereof, for Israel in today's war.

Obama's response to the notion that he is not supporting Israel in the delegitimization war probably would be along the lines that what he does or says pales in comparison to the facts of what Israel does in terms of Israel's perceived legitimacy around the world. A brief counter response would be that by that reason, no one would ever have reason to hire a lawyer because lawyers only manage the presentation of the facts to the arbitrating body, jury, judge or arbiter, and have no effect on the underlying facts. A more detailed response is that it's the narrative framing the facts that affects whether Israel's enemies can gain traction in their delegitimization campaign through Israel's actions.

The most Israel-hostile narrative I can construct that is consistent with Obama's actions would be that the Jews had a connection to the land of Israel long, long ago, but abandoned and forgot it in ancient history, only to remember it in the wake of the horrors of the 20th century in Europe. While the Jews achieved great things when they resettled their home, one cannot ignore that they had to displace a thriving Arab population in order to achieve it. While such a narrative may or may not be consistent with Obama's thinking, if it is Obama's thinking, it would explain why he would think that there is land that "belongs" to the Palestinians and that it is "illegitimate" for Jews to live there.

Looking back, Obama's 2009 speech at Cairo University provided an indication of such a narrative. It was not anything he said there, whether his mention of the six million who died in the Holocaust, his rebuke of those who deny the magnitude of that event, or even his lament of the Palestinians' circumstances and his call to realize their aspiration for "dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own." Rather, it was what Obama did not say. Obama said nothing about the Jews' origins in the land of Israel. Obama said nothing about the development of Jewish culture in the land of Israel in any era between the compilation of the Mishna and the Enlightenment. Obama said nothing about the Jews sharing with the Muslims in the horrors perpetrated by the Crusaders or the oppression of the Jews by the Muslims. None of this is a reason to ignore the life current life circumstance of the Palestinian Arabs, but it does provide a reason to balance Palestinian dignity and opportunity with Jewish national fulfillment.

More important than what any candidate would permit Israel to do if elected, say in the realm of settling land that the world calls "expansionism," would be the narrative that the candidate offers as a candidate that would effect international perceptions, such as when Israeli construction is called "expansionism." Such a narrative would have to be based on fact rather simply stating an opinion that Israel is receiving a raw deal. This is because an opinion, such as George W. Bush's statement that Ariel Sharon is a man of peace, can be dismissed as indicating someone is out of touch with reality. However, accurate and germane facts cannot be dismissed.

In addition to the Jewish history of the Middle East, such a narrative would need to include a guideline for evaluating the conduct of today's fighting. For instance, we need someone who will say that anyone, whether Muslim, Christian or Jew, who attacks anyone, whether Muslim, Christian or Jew, who is neither a party to the conflict nor in the vicinity of active fighting is a terrorist. By the same token whenever any party party legitimately perceives a grievance and acts to interdict that grievance, the interdiction is not an act of terror, no matter how much collateral damage results. On a cases by case basis it may be possible to say that greater precaution should have been taken to prevent collateral damage, but insufficient precautions do not make the interdiction an act of terror. Likewise, a candidate could point out that we do not consider it to be good sportsmanship for an athlete to fake an injury in order to draw a penalty call from the referee and that it is time that the Palestinians stop receiving a free pass for doing the equivalent. Update: This post has been updated to reflect corrections in the comments.


  1. on any matter of providing military equipment or assistance, Obama has never let Israel down.

    Obama held up the delivery of previously paid for and agreed upon Apache Longbow helicopters for more than 3 years.

    He delayed the delivery of BDU type bunker busters for more than 2 years.

    He caved to Turkey to forbid Israel from gaining any intel from the ABM radar installation in Turkey.

    He caved to the Arabs to to bar Israel from gaining any direct intel from the ABM radar installation IN ISRAEL.

    He disengaged from pressing Russia to stop the deal to sell S-300 antiaircraft systems to Iran and Syria.

    He GAVE Egypt a billion dollars in weapons outside of all other aid agreements (including Apache Longbow helicopters).

    He stopped Israel from selling the Arrow ABM system to Poland.

    He continues to completely forbid Israel from selling advanced radars, AWACS and CiC systems to China.

    He grudgingly relented on allowing Israel to sell a Phalcon AWACS to India after a multiyear delay.

    He delayed Israeli participation in the F-35 JSF program when he forbade Israel from retrofitting their own computers and flight controllers in the airframes.

    He has cancelled NATO or US military drills with Israel 3 times.

    The State department continues to 'pressure' Germany about delivering Dolphin subs in the pipeline at a discounted cost.

    He declined to pressure Germany to deliver engines for Merkava Tanks after Germany decided it had to appease some Arabs and delay or cancel the orders.

    1. Before Yom Tov, I'll update this post to reflect your corrections.

    2. My only point was not to be harsh. It was to highlight that the only bludgeon
      Obama has vis a vis conventional warfare is materiel. And he's played a very dangerous game with that. We all understand that when the GCC states and Saudi Arabia go on the biggest weapons spending spree in history they're in reality less of a threat to Israel than they are to Iran or to each other. But the posture of Israel and its relationship with the US has always been that in lieu of quantitative superiority Israel relies on qualitative superiority. So slight differences in the availability of state of the art versions of various weapons systems is crucial.

      Granted the US did provide a new AC-130 gunship to Israel and these things are the under-appreciated masters of multirole fighting - they are also a great bomb truck. And to be fair, the US hasn't objected to Israeli sales of their world beating drones. And there's some indication that the US has either provided to or developed with Israel, a series of stealth special forces boats called 'sealion' and 'sealion 2'.

      But the issue at hand is the politics of withholding this gear not its efficacy.

  2. I am pleased to note that the Elder has linked to this piece by Sar Shalom.