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Op-Ed: Bibi 4, Obama 1

[The following Op-Ed was written by Tevi Troy]

Cliff May is right about the Netanyahu speech. It was a strong speech, and Congress warmly, even rapturously received Netanyahu, with 30 standing ovations by my count sitting in the House Gallery. The recent disagreement with the White House over President Obama’s Thursday speech if anything made the congressional welcome even friendlier than it would have been otherwise. 

Netanyahu’s speech was the capstone on the complex five-act play that took place in Washington this past week, one in which Netanyahu scored a decisive 4–1 victory. Act One took place last Thursday, in the form of Obama’s speech at the State Department. If Obama was expecting huzzahs from the Arab world for his speech, he certainly didn’t get them, and the president himself seemed to have been caught by surprise by the strong negative reaction from the pro-Israel side. Still, the Obama speech hit Netanyahu & Co. hard, and has to be seen as a loss for Netanyahu.

But Obama inexplicably chose to give the speech on the eve of Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, which gave Netanyahu an opportunity to reply at their joint press appearance on Friday. In the tense, on-camera exchange of views, Netanyahu seemed to take Obama on a visit to Hebrew school, telling him the basic realities of existence in the tough neighborhood of the Middle East.

On Sunday, Obama spoke to the pro-Israel group AIPAC, and while he did not quite walk back his remarks, he clearly tailored them to avoid restating his most controversial points in order to forestall the very real possibility that he would be booed. He was not, but the cheers were not quite at the level that a president who won almost 80 percent of the Jewish vote would expect. Furthermore, the fact that he appeared to have softened things for the AIPAC audience was a sign of weakness in his apparent effort to stage a confrontation with Israel.

Monday night, both Senate Majority Leader Reid and House Speaker John Boehner gave forceful pro-Israel remarks to 12,000 people at AIPAC, and Politico characterized Reid’s speech as an intraparty “rebuke” to the president. The two speeches constituted a bipartisan statement that Obama is out of step with both parties and with both houses of Congress on this issue.

And then this morning came Netanyahu’s impressive speech to a joint assembly of Congress. Unlike Obama, he did not wiggle or waver, but instead gave a powerful defense of Israel as a vibrant democracy and steadfast ally of the U.S. Even an interruption from a Jewish, pro-Palestinian protester gave Netanyahu a chance to shine, as he noted that such protests are allowed in free countries like Israel or the U.S., in contrast to what he called the “farcical parliaments in Tehran or Tripoli.” The ad-lib earned him another one of his many standing ovations.

All of this should have been fairly predictable to the Obama administration when they started this process last week. They knew Netanyahu was coming; that Obama would have to speak to a potentially skeptical if not hostile crowd at AIPAC; and that Netanyahu would likely hit it out of the park in front of the friendly audience in Congress. The only potentially unpredictable element was the Reid speech, as the Senate majority leader might have had some hesitation about rebuking his party’s leader. But even without Reid’s reproach, the events were not aligned in President Obama’s favor as he embarked upon this course of action with last Thursday’s speech. There was no action-forcing event dictating that he give that kind of speech right before Netanyahu’s arrival. Presumably his own State Department would have invited him whenever he wanted to appear. 

The policy Obama laid out last Thursday remains worrisome. But the lack of strategic sense that led him to give the speech when he did is truly baffling.

Tevi Troy is a visiting senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. A former senior White House aide and deputy secretary of Health and Human Services in the Bush administration, he also served as the White House Jewish Liaison.

The above Op-Ed was originally published in NationalReview, and submitted to YWN by the author.


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5 Responses

  1. Vice President Joe Biden also lost the battle when he was one of the only men in the room that failed to applaud Netanyahu’s statement about an undivided Jerusalem. This too was probably just ‘tough love’ and is no departure from previous administrations (Charlie and nfgo3, right?).

  2. This op-ed is a nice theatrical review, but I think it shows no insight into the real meaning of the kabuki theater that has been the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the capital of Israel’s major ally and supporter. In particular, the author overlooks the most important information that has poured out of the mouths of the two main players, the President of the United States (played by Barack Obama) and the Prime Minister of Israel (played by Benjamin Netanyahu). That information is that (1) the US president wants a negotiated settlement between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority which will provide for (a) defensible borders and (b) recognition of the State of Israel, (2) the US president will not support a proposal – expected to be brought to the UN General Assembly in September – to establish a Palestinian state, and (3) the Israeli PM insists that Israel cannot withdraw to the ’67 borders, which he considers indefensible.

    All the rest of the show is aimed at Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition partners and, perhaps, some American right-wing supporters of Israel, including some Jews and some evangelical Christians. Mr. Troy fails to pick up on the fact that President Obama did not propose an Israeli withdrawal to the ’67 borders, and further fails to recognize the very clear statement that President Obama made to the Palestinian Authority: no statehood without recognizing Israel and agreeing to borders which Israel deems defensible. Mr. Netanyahu has played down that portion of the President’s comments, probably for the purpose of pressuring his right-wing coalition partners to stay with him. If anyone needs some schooling, Hebrew or otherwise, it is Mr. Troy, who cannot see that the US president is standing with the State of Israel as surely as any of his presidential predecessors.

    Commenter No. 1: I did not see Vice President Biden’s alleged applause malfunction, but I feel no need to read anything into it when his boss, the President, has made his position so clear with words. Perhaps if you paid more attention to the words, and less to the applause, you might begin to understand what is going on between Israel and the US. Alternatively, perhaps you are focused on the ambiguity of Mr. Biden’s conduct because the words of his boss are so clear, and so contrary to your preconceived notion that Mr. Obama is Israel’s foe, that you latch on to an ambiguous source of information – Biden’s applause or lack of applause – because it gives you more room to misinterpret things in a way that is consistent with your factless political analysis.

  3. Barack Hussein Obama’s first speech was “the camel’s nose in the tent”. And when the camel got swatted on the nose (so to speak) it reacted as camels do: by spitting in anger.
    When BHO is openly and strongly opposed, especially by some who are excellent speakers – even ad-libbing appropriately and effectively – his outrage and anger become poisonous. This hurts him and – eventually us – because he has only the image of himself and cannot tolerate others ‘sharing the stage’ with him.
    I can imagine him imploding soon – seriously- and I hope those in “the establishment” who basically care about the USA have prepared plans for coping with this. It will not be nice to see.

  4. nfgo3, what you fail to recognize is that Obama did indeed take a pro-Palestinian stance by stating even after returning to pre-1967 borders with some territory exchange for large settlement blocs, the major points of contention – the right of return and the status of Jerusalem – are still left open. For Israel to leave the right of return issue open after giving back as much land as she possibly can is suicidal. The poor Palestinian refugees will be the excuse to continuously bombard the remaining sliver of Israel with terrorist attacks. Besides which, there is no partner for peace anyway, so why talk about it? Pally children are raised from infancy to idolize shahids. Do you except them to accept Israel’s right to exist? The only thing that would satisfy them is to see Hitler’s Final Solution fully implemented.

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