Why did the Obama administration decide to escalate its attacks against Israel last week?
What was the purpose of the State Department’s shockingly hostile assault last Wednesday following the Israel Land’s Authority’s announcement that it is publishing tenders to build 323 apartment units in Jerusalem’s Gilo, Har Homa, Pisgat Zeev and Neve Yaakov neighborhoods?
The statement needs to be seen to be believed.
“We are deeply concerned by reports today that the Government of Israel has published tenders for 323 units in East Jerusalem settlements. This follows Monday’s announcement of plans for 770 units in the settlement of Gilo,” it began.
“We strongly oppose settlement activity, which is corrosive to the cause of peace. These steps by Israeli authorities are the latest examples of what appears to be a steady acceleration of settlement activity that is systematically undermining the prospects for a two-state solution.”
The Americans then attacked Israel for advancing plans to build in Judea and Samaria. The projects now on the table involve building apartments in the city of Maale Adumim and in Kiryat Arba and authorizing the already constructed Amona neighborhood in Ofra.
The statement went on to condemn Israel for enforcing its land laws towards non-Jews.
“We are also concerned about recent increased demolitions of Palestinian structures in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which reportedly have left dozens of Palestinians homeless, including children….”
Finally, it concluded, “This is part of an ongoing process of land seizures, settlement expansion, legalizations of outposts, and denial of Palestinian development that risk entrenching a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict. We remain troubled that Israel continues this pattern of provocative and counterproductive action, which raises serious questions about Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful, negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.”
Elliott Abrams, then president George W. Bush’s advisor on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, expressed shock at the statement’s hostility. In written commentary, Abrams hypothesized that the statement was directed towards the Europeans. He offered that it was likely meant to signal to them that they are free to attack Israel as harshly as they wish.
Maybe. But after seven and a half years of the Obama presidency, the Europeans need no such reassurance. They know that the White House has their back when it comes to Israel bashing.
A more likely explanation lies elsewhere. To understand it though, it is important to recognize that the positions expressed in last week’s statement weren’t altogether new.
In January, then defense minister Moshe Yaalon announced the inclusion of a ten acre plot of land adjacent to Route 60 south of Jerusalem within the administrative boundaries of the Gush Etzion Regional Council. The plot in question was lawfully purchased eight years ago from the Presbyterian Church by the late Irving Moskowitz and his wife Cherna Moskowitz.
The State Department reacted with rage to Yaalon’s announcement. Condemning the decision, spokesman John Kirby called settlements, “illegitimate and counterproductive to the cause of peace.”
Kirby continued, “Actions such as this decision clearly undermine the possibility of a two-state solution.”
Irving Moskowitz, who passed away in June, and his widow Cherna Moskowitz are Americans, not Israelis. The American couple privately purchased the ten acre plot, along with eight buildings located on the plot from the Presbyterian Church – a private entity. The sale took place not in the US, but in foreign territory.
US law does not bar bars US citizens from buying land in Judea and Samaria. In fact, in other cases, the administration actually encourages US citizens to purchase and develop land in the areas.
For instance, the father of the Palestinian settlement of Rawabi in the Binyamin district is Bashar Masri.
Masri is a US citizen.
Far from condemning Masri, or the Palestinian Authority which is expanding Rawabi with him, the US government is funding Rawabi. The administration upholds Masri as a hero.
Legally, there is no difference whatsoever between the Moskowitzes and Masri. The only difference between them is their religion.
The Moskowitzes are Jews. Masri is a Muslim.
And while the State Department condemned the lawful purchase of land by the Moskowitzes, and Israel’s incorporation of that land, in accordance with their wishes, within the boundaries of Gush Etzion, the administration celebrates land purchase, appropriation and development of Rawabi by Masri.
There is a name for this type of behavior. It is called discrimination. It is also called anti-Semitism.
Last week’s State Department condemnation was no different.
To understand why this is the case it is important to bear in mind that a few weeks before last Wednesday’s announcements about construction tenders in predominantly Jewish neighborhoods, Israel Lands Authority announced it is issuing tenders for 600 apartments in Jerusalem for Arabs only in Beit Zefafa and additional housing for Arabs only in Beit Hanina.
Whereas the State Department harshly condemned last week’s announcement, it said nothing about the previous ones. In other words, it distinguishes between building for Jews and building for non-Jews. It seeks to trample Jewish civil rights while championing those of Arabs. Indeed, it defends Arab lawlessness.
This too is a policy predicated on bigotry, on anti-Semitism.
There is one more component to Obama’s actions, which, like his anti-Jewish rationale, has spanned the length of his presidency.
In 2010, then secretary of state Hillary Clinton shocked Israeli society by screaming at Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the telephone for 45 minutes. Clinton upbraided Netanyahu for a decision by a Jerusalem municipal planning board’s to approve a stage in the planning process towards building new apartments in the Ramat Shlomo, an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem.
Israelis – and many Americans – were shocked by her behavior because no previous administration had ever treated neighborhoods in Jerusalem as controversial. Everyone, including Obama himself acknowledged that like the major population centers in Judea and Samaria, these neighborhoods will remain part of Israel in perpetuity.
Yet suddenly in 2010, Clinton and Obama began castigating them as “illegitimate settlements.”
In other words, they expanded the meaning of “settlement” to include all Jewish communities located in areas that had been under Jordanian occupation between 1949 and 1967.
Last week’s State Department’s statement made clear, yet again, that it is official US policy to view Gilo, a neighborhood of 40,000 people, and Maale Adumim, a city of 40,000 people, as indistinguishable from a few mobile homes in the middle of nowhere with ten 20-somethings camped out in them.
For the past seven years, the US has viewed these residential areas all as equally evil, equally “corrosive” and equally “illegitimate,” despite the fact that their only shared quality is that they all house Jews.
To be clear, none of this has any connection to international law. This is why the administration prefers the meaningless term “illegitimate” to the term “illegal.”
The administration argues that it discriminates against Jews to advance the cause of peace. But as Abrams made clear, this claim is completely absurd. Again, the Obama administration itself acknowledges that these areas will remain part of Israel under any possible peace deal.
Then there is the awkward issue of the Palestinians. The Americans reject Jewish civil rights and blame Israel’s respect for those rights for the absence of peace at the same time as PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is spewing blood libels about Jews at the European Parliament and suing Great Britain for the Balfour Declaration.
In other words, they are accusing Israel of destroying prospects for peace when it is clear to everyone – including Obama’s own negotiators – that the only side unwilling to make peace is the Palestinians.
Some argue that the administration’s condemnations are geared towards setting the conditions for a UN Security Council resolution against the settlements. Obama, they warn intends to enable such a decision to pass after the presidential elections in November.
But these condemnations can just as easily make it politically difficult for Obama to carry out his plan. By condemning Israel in such an openly bigoted manner, Obama opens himself up to denunciations by Israel’s many friends in Congress, and indeed, in presidential politics. These allies can easily demand that Democratic nominee Clinton reject his anti-Semitic policies. In doing so, they will ensure that even if an anti-Israel resolution passes in November, it will be forgotten the moment Obama leaves office.
Given the fact that the US public does not share Obama’s hostility towards the Jewish state, prudence would recommend that he advance his bigoted aims as quietly as possible.
So what is he up to?
Since the Europeans don’t need a US condemnation to act, and anti-Israel resolutions at the UN are best advanced through quiet diplomacy not public condemnations of a popular ally, the only remaining option is that Obama actual target audience is the US itself.
With three months until the elections, Obama is focused on legacy building.
Last week’s statement demonstrates that shaping the US’s future policy towards Israel is a major component of the legacy he is building. And what is the shape he is giving to that policy through his actions?
By openly employing anti-Jewish policy rationales, Obama shows that the legacy he intends to pass on to his successors is a US policy towards Israel based neither on US interests nor on American values. Rather, it is predicated on unabashed anti-Jewish discrimination.
In other words, Obama’s presidential legacy is the promotion of anti-Semitism as the guiding principle shaping and informing US Israel policy.
This is, to be sure, a stunning – indeed shocking – conclusion. It points to the depth of Obama’s hostility to Jewish national and civil rights. But as his administration’s statements make clear, the conclusion that anti-Semitism is the guiding principle of his policies is unavoidable.
Those running to succeed Obama should be urged to denounce his bigotry and renounce his legacy. By the same token, the Israeli pro-Palestinian Left, and the American pro-Obama Left should be urged to distance themselves from him.
As long as they refuse to do so, as long as they continue to support Obama, they make clear that for them, anti-Jewish bigotry is no big deal. As far as they are concerned, Jewish rights should only be respected when doing so advances their political goals.
This means that Obama’s supporters can no longer claim to be liberals. Now that we understand that anti-Jewish bigotry, and the rejection of Jewish civil rights is the rationale informing Obama’s policy towards the Jewish state, it is clear that it is no longer possible to be both a liberal and an Obama supporter.
This is his legacy. And this is their choice.