There are many people in both America and Israel who wouldn’t believe Barack Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security even if he sang Hatikvah, enlisted in the IDF and did reserve duty guarding an isolated West Bank outpost. These people are now dissecting the president’s speech to the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington on Sunday in a way that will offer incontrovertible proof that it ranks a close second after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s pledge to wipe Israel off the map.
For everyone else, including those people who have legitimate gripes about the president’s policy, Obama’s speech was as solid and supportive as could be expected from any US president. It’s true that Obama unfortunately stopped short of fulfilling each and every directive of the various unnamed “senior Israeli officials” who have been ordering him to toe the Israeli line on Iran in recent days, but, frankly, he came rather close. And he will probably go even further in his important Monday meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu at the White House.
Obama reiterated his unequivocal pledge to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. He dismissed any notion that he might accept a nuclear Iran as a fait accompli and adopt a policy of “containment”. He acknowledged Israel’s sovereign right to serve its own national security interests and to act in its own self-defense. He pleaded for more time for diplomacy and sanctions to work, but for the very first time explicitly listed the military among those proverbial options that are always on the table.
And though a negative spin has already been attached to Obama’s statement that “as part of my solemn obligation to the American people, I will only use force when the time and circumstances demand it”, the Talmudic injunction to “infer the positive from the negative” may be applicable here: for the first time the American president is committing himself to using force “when the time and the circumstances demand it.”
Obama lambasted “loose talk of war” and the “bluster” of threats against Iran, and while Likudniks in Israel were quick to take umbrage, the president was apparently referring to his Republican rivals in America rather than Likud MK’s Danny Danon or Ayub Kara who judiciously reacted to Obama’s speech by pointing out that he has no idea what he’s talking about. Obama also made an effort to remind his listeners that when he came to the White House, the international efforts against Iran, managed by a Republican president, were in tatters, and that it was he who forged the international consensus against Tehran, not least of which with the help of his failed “engagement” policy that his critics have been blasting ever since.
Though Obama’s speech was obviously written in turbo-campaign mode, he seemed to be projecting a genuine sense of bewilderment and hurt at what he perceives as his undying efforts for Israel that remain unrecognized and unappreciated by many Jews, including many of those sitting in the audience. “You don’t just have to count on my words. You can look at my deeds,” he said, making sure to mention all of said deeds for those of his listeners who may be too lazy to do it by themselves. “When the chips are down, I have Israel’s back,” he said, knowing full well that Iran may indeed be putting its nuclear chips down in the very near future.
Finally, Obama once again demonstrated how much more familiar and how much more comfortable he is with Jews, with Jewish life and with Jewish culture than any of his Republican rivals. As an antithesis to Michele Bachmann’s hilariously mispronounced “chootzpah”, Obama showed that the words “shtetl”, “Haganah” and “seder” roll off his tongue as if he was once a diligent Hebrew School pupil. And he outdid himself not only by announcing that he will be bestowing the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom on Shimon Peres, but by achieving the impossible – in two attempts out of three – of avoiding the inescapable pitfall of the Hispanic Perez and pronouncing the name of the Israeli president correctly.
Of course, none of this will matter for Obama’s diehard skeptics. For them, the closer Obama gets to Israel, the more understanding he is of Israel’s security needs, the more genuine he sounds in his declarations of love and undying friendship – the more they will double down in their conviction that this is all some master conspiracy of camouflage aimed at deceiving gullible Democrats and liberal Jews. From that point of view, the president’s speech was just as satisfactory and reassuring for them as it should have been for those who have Israel’s true interests at heart.
Follow me on Twitter @ChemiShalev
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