The Berman notes — a closer look


 I posted Howard Berman’s pro-Israel talking points for Democrats. Here’s a quick analytical run-through without (hopefully) replicating the length of the notes.

  • "Jewish" state of Israel. I don’t see how Obama has mentioned this more than his predecessors; Israel’s emphasis doesn’t precede Tsipi Livni’s stint as foreign minister, starting in 2006 (she introduced the emphasis.) President Bush almost immediately took it up, and with vigor.
  • Iran: Obama indeed deserves credit for enhancing multilateral sanctions. Detractors might say that these don’t add up to much, but Bush also tried, and didn’t get the U.N. Security Council this far down the road.
  • Not sure how Dems quantify how Obama has spent more time trying to block Iran than anyone else, but it strikes me as true — the complaint of the pro-Israel community during the George W. Bush administration was not that he was not concerned about Iran, but that he was distracted by Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama, by contrast, had made it a front and center issue.
  • "President Obama and Democrats in Congress have provided Israel with every single penny of foreign assistance appropriations that Israel has asked for." This is a big "so what." So has everyone else. I wouldn’t even mention it, if I were a Dem — it suggests that aid reduction is on the table.
  • QME: Obama gets deserved points for enhancing the qualitative military edge, and it’s Israelis I hear this from.
  • Quoting Bibi: Another "so what." Praising the incumbent is protocol.
  • Keeping the Goldstone Report from gaining traction. Obama gets these points, on the one hand; On the other, it’s hard to see any American president not keeping the report from going forward. On the third, since some conservatives routinely accuse Obama of being "the worst president" for Israel, ever, cross my heart, since before time, it’s worth yanking folks back into the reality that he is maintaining a broad pro-Israel protocol.
  • Stood beside Israel on allowing it to pursue an investigation of the flotilla incident, and keeping the international wolves at bay. Yes, but see above. Also, the White House has made it clear that Israel had better produce credible results, otherwise it may well go international. I don’t think the Bush administration would have made such admonitions public.
  • Stayed out of Durban II, which was a hard call for the country’s first African American president. Interesting point. It doesn’t stop questions about what exactly the United States has gained by rejoining Durban’s sponsor, the U.N. Human Rights Council.
  • Walked Israel into the OECD, but so would anyone else — but see the point about Goldstone.
  • The Cairo speech and bringing Holocaust awareness to the Arab world. Obama definitely gets these points. Before we dredge up the nonsense of why he didn’t include a disquisition on Ahad Ha’Am, what other president has done this? That’s the real question.
  • Increased back and forth between high-level figures in both governments. Provably true, and it includes greater intelligence sharing.
  • The Juniper Cobra exercise, the largest joint military exercise ever. Nice, but in the works since Bush. Is the point that Obama didn’t nix it? Again, not a corner I’d think Dems would want to draw for themselves.
  • Joint missile technology enhanced. Again, nice, but in the works since the last Bush administration.
  • Iron Dome short range anti-missile system. Full points to Obama on this one.
  • U.S. penalized Turks for penalizing Israel. Full points to Obama. I honestly wonder whether Bush or John McCain, considering Turkey’s importance in a number of regional arenas, would have done same.
  • Reaffirmed sanctions against Syria. Yes, but Berman doesn’t mention that Obama has rescinded one sanction, and is sending an ambassador back to Syria. The Obama explanation here is worth putting forward, as it isn’t quite spin: State Department officials say that having a team in place is not an award, it’s simply a utility for advancing U.S. interests and preventing crises. I heard this from State Department types in the immediate aftermath of Hezbollah’s launch of the 2006 war: A better enabled U.S. representation in Damascus might have cottoned onto Hezbollah plans — and that might have kept the war from happening.
  • And of course, what the document leaves out is as important than what it gets in: Obama’s is the first administration since Bush I to not only demand expansive settlement freezes, but to make such demands public — handing Israel’s enemies and rivals a pretext to slow down their own efforts at reconciliation and concession (such as these may be).

One could also argue that Israel’s settlement activity has the same results — that Obama’s public, angry demands for a settlement freeze wouldn’t matter if settlement building was frozen.

I may get to the talking points about Congressional Dems later.

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