Jacob Heilbrunn

Tony Blinken Defends Obama As a Good Friend to Israel

Few charges have been lodged more consistently from the right than the contention that President Obama is hostile to Israel. His early attempts to persuade Israel to halt settlements soured relations between him and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu dressed down Obama in a meeting at the White House, which Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently described as a terrible affront. Netanyahu himself appears to be banking on an Obama defeat in 2012.

Yet is Obama really anti-Israel? The real question isn't Obama's motives, but why he hasn't been able to get anything in return for America's munificent largesse. For the lengths that America is going to are quite extraordinary.

In today's Wall Street Journal, Tony Blinken has a lengthy and persuasive letter disputing the claim. Blinken says the idea is bunk because Obama has done more than almost any president to safeguard Israel's security. Referring to "misleading analyses and outright falsehoods"—strong language for a national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden to employ—Blinken points to Obama's intervention to demand that Egypt rescue embassy personnel who were about to be attacked by a raging mob. Blinken makes a number of other points: almost two hundred defense department officials traveled to Israel in 2010. In the 2011 budget Obama awarded Israel $3 billion in military assistance, an all-time high. Another $205 million, Blinken reports, is devoted to a rocket defense system for Israel. Blinken adds,

we stood up strongly for Israel's right to defend itself after the Goldstone Report on the 2009 Gaza War was issued, and . . . we refuse to attend events that endorse or commemorate the flawed 2001 World Conference Against Racism, which outrageously singled out Israel for criticism. . . . We are working literally around the clock and around the world to try to prevent steps taken at this month's U.N. General Assembly meeting from further isolating Israel or undermining efforts to reach a secure, negotiated peace with the Palestinians.

Our administration is justifiably proud of this record. And we are confident that none of our predecessors has done more for Israel's security than we have.

Now the United States is about to see its reputation suffer a buffeting should the Palestinians ask for statehood at the United Nations. The Obama administration will veto the request and be perceived, once more, as the bad guy in the Arab world. So to argue that it is pursuing a hostile course to Israel does seem far-fetched.

Meanwhile, Congress is going into overdrive to demonstrate its pro-Israel bona fides. As the Washington Post reports:

“The United States will reconsider its assistance program for the Palestinian Authority and other aspects of U.S.-Palestinian relations if they choose to pursue such a unilateral effort,” 58 House Democrats said in a letter to European leaders imploring them to vote against Palestinian statehood and stand with the United States.

“A unilateral declaration of independence is simply rejectionism by another name. It takes away any motivation from the Palestinians to negotiate and deal with good faith with Israel,” Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Friday in a conference call with reporters sponsored by the Hudson Institute and Touro College.

Chabot also pressed for a GOP-led effort to slash or withhold U.S. dues to the United Nations.

In this overheated environment, it's not hard to see why Obama has not been able to move even a semblance of a peace process forward despite America's lavish assistance to Israel. He faces profound obstacles both at home and abroad. Meanwhile, both Israel and the United States are becoming increasingly isolated in the Middle East, a state of affairs that is unfortunate for both parties.