Published March 26, 2010
By now the efforts of the White House to isolate and humiliate Israel because of the latter's decision to approve 1,600 new Jewish homes in East Jerusalem (which is, after all, its capital) are well known: from the scolding language to the leaks about Secretary Clinton's phone call dressing down Prime Minister Netanyahu to the failure to release even one official photograph of the prime minister's meeting with President Obama to much else. One cannot but conclude that this escalation of tensions with Israel is not the result of a misunderstanding or of things spinning unexpectedly out of control. No, what we are seeing is premeditated, calculated, and indefensible.
Among the practical outcomes, this will lead to further Palestinian intransigence. We have already seen this. Thanks to the approach taken by the Obama administration, Palestinians are for the first time demanding as a precondition for negotiations a freeze on settlements, even as they haven't offered any concessions of their own.
It will embolden the enemies of Israel and America. Memo to the Obama administration: we share the same ones. As Norman Podhoretz pointedly once wrote, “the hatred of Israel is in large part a surrogate for anti-Americanism.” And the president's actions will make Israel more reluctant to make concessions of any kind. If Israel's most important ally is undercutting her, then she will feel doubly threatened and significantly more insecure. (One of the reasons Ariel Sharon felt he could withdraw from Gaza was because in George W. Bush, Israel knew it had a strong and faithful friend in the White House.)
The entire theory on which the Obama administration is operating is false. The problem isn't with Israel's unwillingness to negotiate or even any dispute over territory; it is with the Palestinians' unwillingness to make their own inner peace with the existence of a Jewish state.
Yet in thinking through all this, what is most striking to me is the disfiguring of moral considerations. Barack Obama is treating one of our best allies, and one of the most admirable and impressive nations in the world, worse than he treats the theocratic dictatorship in Iran or the anti-American dictator Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Obama bows before autocrats and shakes the hands of tyrants and speaks with solicitude and undeserved respect to malevolent leaders. Yet with Israel he is petulant and angry, unable to detach himself from a weeks-long tantrum. Or, perhaps, unwilling to detach himself.
There is in the Obama administration an animus toward Israel that is troubling and may be unmatched in modern times (though Jimmy Carter, as ex-president, probably rivals it). Because of what is unfolding, there will be significant injury to our relationship with Israel. But it is also doing considerable damage to America's moral standing. At its best, America stands for the right things and stands beside the right friends. In distancing us from Israel, Obama is distancing America from a nation that has sacrificed more for peace, and suffered more for their sacrifices, than any other. It is a deeply discouraging thing to see. And it is dangerous, too. Hatred for Israel is a deep and burning fire throughout the world. We should not be adding kindling wood to that fire.
Barack Obama is an ambitious man. He's undertaking a project to remake America in deep and important ways. Health care is one arena. This, sadly, is another.
Peter Wehner is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. He served in the Bush White House as director of the office of strategic initiatives.