Obama Clearly Offered Israel a Kid-glove Ultimatum

Every Israeli should take to heart and internalize: The issue is not what America wants but what Israel must do for its own good.

Yoel Marcus
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President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pictured together in 2010.Credit: Reuters
Yoel Marcus

Can I tell you something? Watching the interview with President Obama on TV Channel 2’s “Uvda” (“Fact”) magazine filled me with envy. Why don’t we have leaders like that, without tricks and gimmicks, ones who present their core beliefs without waving around silly diagrams and illustrations? How soothing it was to listen to a leader who doesn’t trigger an anxiety attack after every sentence he utters, by imparting a feeling that our end is nigh.

He didn’t even look like French President Charles De Gaulle, who called us “our friend and ally,” yet imposed an arms embargo on the eve of the 1967 war. With one stroke he broke off the wonderful friendship we were so sure was there for eternity, sending us straight into the bosom of the “Orient.” How could we not understand that the “Orient” for French diplomacy was always biased toward the Arab world?

When asked by his interviewer Ilana Dayan whether he holds a grudge against Bibi, especially after his shameful conduct in deciding to appear before the United States Congress, he hesitated for a few seconds. It was clear that if he is angry, he would not express it during that interview. “Imagine if I came before the Knesset without an invitation and negotiated with the Labor Party and its leader.” Then he paused, smiled and moved on. “I understand you’re not a hugger,” Dayan suggested helpfully.

The president was unwilling to retract positive words he had said about Netanyahu in the early stages of the latter’s term. He was willing to add a few statements that every Israeli should take to heart and internalize: The issue is not what America wants but what Israel must do for its own good; the issue is who is acting in a way that will make Israel secure; I was there when Israel’s security was on the line; I have to tell the truth as I see it; there is a politics of trust and one of intimidation. He added another important point: I’m appealing to the Israeli public. In other words, not to Netanyahu.

Obama is not a back-slapping, chummy kind of team player. Between the lines it was evident that he doesn’t really appreciate being bad-mouthed by Netanyahu in the U.S. He won’t behave as De Gaulle did, telling an enthusiastic million Frenchmen who gathered to welcome him in Algeria that he understood them, only to go ahead and do the opposite of what they wanted, repatriating settlers – excuse me, Frenchmen – to France.

On a personal level, the relations between Bibi and Obama are at an unprecedented nadir. What has transpired in Europe, with its various types of boycott, is gradually creeping into the U.S., starting with isolated pockets of opposition on campuses and continuing with a sharp turn in the attitude of U.S. media toward Israel. This includes professional journals that refuse to publish work by Israeli academics.

We are digging our own pit. The harsher the criticism becomes, the harder it will be to stop it. That’s what it was like in South Africa during the apartheid years. This writer remembers the words of a senior official in the apartheid regime, who said that if South Africa had five million South Africans in the U.S. (the number of Jews there at the time), no one would boycott it. He was wrong, as is anyone else who thinks so. The creeping sanctions against Bibi’s Israel may reach a point at which it is too large even for [influential billionaires] Haim Saban and Sheldon Adelson.

One can’t rule only on the basis of intimidation – you are a country that was established on a basis of human rights, the president complimented us. He views the neutralization of a nuclear Iran as his greatest task. Let me get this deal done, he said, since it’s a good one. When I finish I’ll return to the peace process here.

That’s what the president is telling us: I’ll get you security in all areas but, my friends, you are losing the world and the values that underpin your independence. It wasn’t difficult to understand - this was a kid-glove ultimatum.