In a new memoir, former US president Barack Obama detailed his encounters and impressions of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, and Jews in general.
A Promised Land, the first of two memoirs Obama is writing about his time as president, is coming out on Tuesday. A review of the book, in which excerpts of Obama’s often tumultuous relationship with Netanyahu and AIPAC are quoted, was published by Jewish Insider on Friday.
Obama wrote that Netanyahu views himself as” the chief defender of the Jewish people against calamity” and described him as “smart, canny, tough and a gifted communicator” who could be “charming, or at least solicitous” when it benefited him.
As an example, Obama wrote about a conversation he had with Netanyahu after he was elected to the Senate, during which Netanyahu “lavished praise” on him for “an inconsequential pro-Israel bill” he supported when he served in the Illinois state legislature. But when Netanyahu disagreed with his policies during his terms as president, Obama added, he used his know-how of US politics and media to push back against his administrations’ actions.
Obama wrote that his chief of staff at the time, former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, warned him: “You don’t get progress on peace when the American president and the Israeli prime minister come from different political backgrounds.”
Obama also complains about his treatment by the leaders of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), who questioned his policies on Israel, saying that politicians who “criticized Israel policy too loudly risked being tagged as ‘anti-Israel’ (and possibly anti-Semitic) and [were] confronted with a well-funded opponent in the next election.”
The former president also claims that he was “on the receiving end” of a “whisper campaign” that portrayed him as being “insufficiently supportive — or even hostile toward — Israel” during his 2008 presidential run. “On Election Day, I’d end up getting more than 70 percent of the Jewish vote, but as far as many AIPAC board members were concerned, I remained suspect, a man of divided loyalties; someone whose support for Israel, as one of [David Axelrod’s] friends colorfully put it, wasn’t ‘felt in his kishkes’ — ‘guts,’ in Yiddish.”
Obama writes about his connection with Jews dating back to his college years, when he was intrigued by the influence of Jewish philosophers on the civil rights movement and noted that some of his “most stalwart friends and supporters” were from Chicago’s Jewish community. He also expressed his admiration for the fact that Jewish voters “tended to be more progressive” on issues than any other “ethnic group.” He stated that he felt a bond with the Jewish people “a common story of exile and suffering” which caused him to be “fiercely protective” of the rights of the Jewish people to have a state of their own but at the same time his empathy with suffering nations made it “impossible to ignore the conditions under which Palestinians in the occupied territories were forced to live.”
Obama wrote some of the details of the tense moments between his administration and Israel over the Palestinian issue, with Obama saying that he thought it was “reasonable” for Israel, as the “stronger party” to take a “bigger first step” by freezing settlements in the West Bank. But, as he expected, Obama said. Netanyahu’s response was “sharply negative” and an aggressive pressure campaign by the prime minister’s allies in Washington ensued.
“The White House phones started ringing off the hook,” Obama wrote, and his national security team was kept busy responding to numerous calls from lawmakers, Jewish leaders and reporters “wondering why we were picking on Israel.”
Obama claimed that the campaign was an “orchestrated” effort to put his administration on the defensive, “reminding me that normal policy differences with an Israeli prime minister exacted a domestic political cost” that didn’t exist in relations with other world leaders.
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)