Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman writes in the Jerusalem Post that while he found some of what President Obama said in Monday’s meeting with Jewish leaders reassuring in regard to U.S.-Israel relations, he wasn’t as happy about "the assumptions that seem to underlie thePresident’s approach":
First, is his outreach to the Muslim world. I understand the need to do this as a vital factor in protecting American interests, as long as it is not at Israel’s expense. However, I left the meeting with the sense that the Obama administration believes that after the Bush administration, there is a need for the US to demonstrate that it can be tough with Israel to win back credibility with Muslims. We are seeing it already on the settlement issue and once established as a mode of operation, it can emerge again and again.
What is particularly troubling about this is that it is based on a misreading of recent history. It simplistically describes what happened in the Bush years and rests on assumptions that Bush policy was so one-sided toward Israel that the Arabs have a right to feel aggrieved. The truth is while the policy was strongly pro-Israel it was never a zero-sum game. The enunciation of the need for a Palestinian state, the road map, disengagement from Gaza in 2005, and the Annapolis process in 2007 were hardly one-sided and provided opportunities for progress toward peace if the Palestinians were truly interested. The notion that we have to pressure Israel to show our bona fides to the Arabs is to buy into their distorted version of history.
Foxman goes on to say that he believes the administration is placing too much emphasis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to the exclusion of other issues in the region:
A second assumption that is troubling is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains the key to US interests in the region. To his credit, President Obama rejected the concept of linkage between the Palestinian and Iran issues. I welcome that.
Still, I continue to sense that the administration is putting too much weight on solving the conflict. We all want to see progress and I have no problem with the administration view that the US must be much more engaged to achieve progress. But I am concerned when expectations rise dramatically, as when the president says that he expects the problem to be resolved in two years.
Going back to the Carter administration and Zbiegniew Brzeziniski, the idea of a comprehensive agreement as the centerpiece of American interests in the Middle East invariably led to undue pressure on Israel, a strain in US-Israel relations, without real progress toward peace. This is because the Arab world then, and now, hasn’t been ready to reach an agreement and, if there is a determination at all costs to get there, the tendency is to blame Israel for the stalemate. Once such a process begins, arguments about whether Israel truly serves American interests come into play.
And he concludes by saying that the administration needs to do more publicly to emphasize the strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship:
Finally, I worry about perceptions arising from these assumptions. Anti-Israel forces around the world, those who engage in boycotts, resolutions and propaganda believe they have largely triumphed everywhere but in America. Now right or wrong, because of the lack of clarity coming from the administration, they sense a unique opportunity to separate America from Israel. I think they are wrong but the public rhetoric of the administration is necessary to dampen those aspirations and to make it clear that the special relationship between the US and Israel, which in no way contradicts the goal of an equitable peace and better relations with the Arab world, is alive and well.
I’m glad President Obama reached out to Jewish leaders. It is a good beginning, but there is a lot of work still to be done for full reassurance.