The man working in the Oval Office devotes a great deal of thought and feeling to Israel. The first reason for this is his identification with the enlightened, lost Israel of the Labor movement. The second is his frustration that at present Israel seems to him like a country that has lost its way. The third is the sense of affinity he feels to liberal American Jewry, among whom he rose politically and continues to live today. The fourth is the deep pain Barack Obama feels because many Jews in Israel and the United States think of him as the Jews’ enemy. The fifth is the Iran deal being hammered out in Lausanne, which he aspires to turn into his historic foreign policy legacy. The sixth is the political and moral need he feels to do something about the Palestinian issue. The seventh is Benjamin Netanyahu.
But President Obama is not dogmatic. Pleasant, attentive and businesslike, he is extremely pragmatic. The main thing he has learned over the past six years is the limits of power. The main thing he is still learning is the complexity of reality. Ideological victories are not what he’s after. He seeks practical solutions. Someone to run with, someone to work with. Someone with whom change can be brought about.
For seven different reasons, Obama wants to reconcile with the Israelis and make peace with the Jews. This is why he gave fascinating interviews to Jeffrey Goldberg and Ilana Dayan. This is why he donned a kippa and spoke like a Reform rabbi at the Adath Israel synagogue in Washington. This is why he is ready to go to extraordinary lengths to find an Israel that he can love, work with, and with whom he can put things right. Can things be put right? They must be.
The relationship between the U.S. president and Israel has been studded with mistakes, misunderstandings and missed opportunities. While Netanyahu’s Jerusalem felt that Obama’s Washington doesn’t understand the Middle East, Obama’s Washington felt that Netanyahu’s Jerusalem doesn’t understand the 21st century zeitgeist. While the frontier democracy felt that the democratic superpower was being overly conciliatory, the democratic superpower felt that the frontier nation was becoming more extremist and nationalist.
But all that’s happened in the last few years is nothing compared to what could happen if the Iranian nuclear deal is finalized and signed in the coming summer. If that happens, we will soon witness a head-on collision. On one side will stand a Democratic president determined to leave a mark on the world, and on the other will stand an Israeli-Republican alliance determined to prevent what it perceives as the end of the world. On one side will stand a liberal White House that enjoys overwhelming support of the new, multicultural and open-minded America, and on the other side will stand a conservative Congress that represents the old, white America and is perceived as Israel’s close ally.
If the deal goes through, the shameful shouting and heckling that was showered upon Jack Lew will double and triple among American Jewry. If the deal doesn’t go through, the Jews will be perceived as the ones who thwarted the first African-American president and who forced the United States into a dangerous confrontation with Iran and Islam. Whatever the political outcome of this confrontation, the consequences may be horrendous. Obama, Israel and the American Jewish community will emerge from it battered and bruised.
In the little time that still remains until the moment of truth, the air must be cleared. The incitement against Obama must stop. We must reach out to him. It is not Pharaoh that is working in the Oval Office. It is not Haman that is residing in the White House. It is a true friend. It is absolutely legitimate to argue with the thinking person serving as president of the United States, but that person must be respected and cherished. It’s not too late to restart the ailing relationship. It is a moral and political imperative to do at once.
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