Former Ambassador: Obama Incapable of Empathizing with Israel

June 15, 2015  

US President Barack Obama’s radical worldview makes it impossible for him to empathize with Israel’s position, Israel’s former Ambassador to Washington said Monday.  

Former US envoy Michael Oren, who currently serves as a Member of Knesset for the Kulanu party, was speaking at the Yesha Conference in Jerusalem’s Lianardo Hotel, where community leaders and prominent activists from Judea and Samaria (Yesha) were gathered.

Speaking in front of a staunchly nationalist audience, the centrist MK warned that the current American administration was gambling with Israel’s future – particularly vis-a-vis Iran.

“The United States has the most powerful army in all of history, they’re thousands of miles away from Iran, and they don’t feel any direct threat,” Oren noted.

In contrast, “Israel is in Iran’s backyard,” and faces a clear and direct threat from Iranian proxies such as Hezbollah and Hamas, he added. And while the IDF is an undoubtedly strong military force, it simply does not have anywhere near the capacity of the US Army to deter any kind of attack.

That goes a large way to explaining the two allies’ conflicting policies regarding diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capacity, Oren explained.

“Israel has zero room for error” in warding off the threat of a nuclear Iran, while the US “can afford to make a mistake,” and is therefore more prone to being increasingly generous and flexible towards Iran in negotiations.

Oren also pointed to recent comments by Obama in which he insisted Tehran was a fully rational actor, and viewed its leader’s blatant anti-Semitism as politically irrelevant.

“He sees Iran as totally rational – not a North Korea. He believes it is possible for them to be anti-Semitic but rational actors at the same time… We just need to overcome this ‘annoying hurdle’ of their nuclear program.”

Obama’s ‘ideological’ antipathy towards Israel

However, Oren emphasized it was more than strategic and pragmatic considerations which have seen the current White House and Netanyahu-led governments so starkly and consistently at odds with one another.

Oren’s upcoming book – Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide, set for release later this month – is said to lay bare the depth of personal antipathy felt by Obama for the Jewish state, based on Oren’s own experiences as Israel’s US Ambassador.

Though he made no mention of those personal experiences in his address, Oren did underline how the ideological underpinnings of America’s current President had, in his view, dashed any possibility of a Middle East peace agreement.

“He’s pushed both Israel and the Palestinians into an impossible corner,” by placing impossible demands on Israel, and thereby emboldening the Palestinian Authority to take unrealistic positions of its own.

“President Obama came to the White house with a worldview that was different to any other President in American history,” Oren said.

“For him, there is no difference between building a balcony in Gilo [a suburb of Jerusalem – ed.] and a new neighborhood in Itamar [a relatively isolated town in Samaria – ed.].”

Obama was intent on rolling back the famous 2004 commitment made by then-President George W. Bush to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Oren warned, in which the former acknowledged that even under a negotiated “two-state solution” Israel would be expected to maintain the “major settlement blocs” such as Gilo, and other Jerusalem suburbs.

As proof, he cited Secretary of State John Kerry’s famous speech before the Senate shortly after the collapse of Israeli-PA talks last year.

Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry had laid the blame for the breakdown of talks squarely at Israel’s feet, despite the PA having broken off the talks and applying to join UN agencies in breech of previous commitments.

“Israel didn’t release the Palestinian prisoners on the day they were supposed to be freed, and another day passed, and another day, and then another 700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem, and ‘poof’… that was sort of the moment,” Kerry famously remarked.

“Where were those 700 settlements units which supposedly caused the talks to go ‘poof’?” Oren asked. “They were in Gilo, not Itamar!”

Oren also had a word of warning for the Israeli Left, which focused a great deal of its recent election campaign on the premise that under a Labor-led government US-Israel ties would improve drastically.

He warned that Barack Obama views Israel as a whole – “both the Right and the Left” – in the same light; namely, as obstacles to his much sought-after conciliation with the Muslim world, which he outlined in his famous 2009 Cairo speech.

Not all doom and gloom

Despite stressing the vital strategic importance of the Israeli-US alliance, Oren insisted that it is Israel’s “obligation and right to do everything to prevent a bad deal and secure a good deal” – one which would genuinely rein-in Iran’s overt regional aggression, and particularly its designs to annihilate the State of Israel.

And although the current White House was no longer a friendly address for Israel to voice its concern, Jerusalem still enjoys strong support from elsewhere in the American political field.

In particular, Congress is key, he said, noting the wall-to-wall, bipartisan support for Israel in the US legislature – a reflection of the broad support Israel enjoys among the general public it represents. 

“For that reason, I’m not overly concerned over any difference of opinion” between Obama and Netanyahu, he said. “But we can’t afford to rest on our laurels either.”

Underlining that sense of bipartisan support, Oren added that aside from the Republicans, leading Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton would also constitute a more friendly White House if elected, at least in the sense that she has “a place in her heart” for the Jewish state.

But he warned that support was also under threat, if Israel failed to fight attempts to delegitimize it in the minds of the next generation of American leaders, particularly on university campuses.

At the core of the difference between Clinton and Obama was a “generational gap,” which highlights the challenges Israel has faced in the wider political discourse more broadly, he posited.

“It’s a generational issue. Clinton is still of the generation which remembers 1967 well,” he said, referring to the Six Day War in which Israel – the clear underdog – fought off a massive combined Arab invasion.

In contrast, Obama belongs to a generation of Americans who grew up post-1973, when images of “mighty Israel” fighting Palestinian “underdogs” were projected regularly via the media.

Dispelling that false picture of the Arab-Israeli conflict is key to ensuring continued support from the US when the current generation of politicians steps aside, he cautioned.

“It makes a difference whether your first memory of Israel is ’67, or the First Lebanon War or the intifadas,” he said, urging the Israeli government to double-down on efforts treat the fight against the delegitimization of Israel “like a war, which it is.”

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