Barack, Bulworth & Bibi

Getty Images

David Axelrod is the man who, more than any other, could be called Barack Obama’s brain (though Axelrod would be publicly horrified by the honorific, and would hasten to assure Valerie Jarrett that he has never been in communication with the editors of this magazine). In his new book, Axelrod describes a moment late in Obama’s first term where Obama acknowledges having a “Bulworth” list of “issues on which he felt he had been insufficiently forthright,” but about which he would be more candid in his second term. (The reference is to the Warren Beatty movie in which a candidate finally decides to tell the truth.) About what issues was Obama now going to be honest? One of them was Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, with regard to whom Obama “felt he had pulled his punches .  .  . to avoid antagonizing elements of the American Jewish community.”

One’s first reaction is that Obama needn’t have worried, since major elements of the American Jewish community seem more committed to staying on good terms with Obama than to forthrightly defending Israel. But Obama perhaps mistakenly assumed that behind much of the Jewish community’s bark there was some bite, and kept his true views under wraps until reelected.

No longer. The Obama White House’s amazing assault on Netanyahu in recent months has culminated in the attempt to make sure, as one Obama aide put it, that “there will be a price” for the prime minister’s accepting the invitation of the speaker of the House to address Congress. That price will not be limited to Netanyahu personally, though there has been no shortage of personal attacks on him. That price will also be exacted on the state of Israel. Why? Well .  .  . why not? The Israelis elected Netanyahu. Even the Israeli opposition parties say they won’t give back all the “territories”—which includes the Old City of Jerusalem—to allow for the establishment of a terrorist-friendly or terrorist-dominated Palestinian state. Even the opposition parties seem to take seriously what Obama has said but doesn’t himself mean, that an Islamic Republic of Iran with nuclear weapons is unacceptable.

Obama wants to claim that his problem is with Netanyahu. Obama’s political allies on the left and his credulous well-wishers in the nominally pro-Israel parts of the Jewish community want to believe his problem is with Netanyahu. But his problem is with Israel, a state founded by a bunch of folks who Obama believes were unjust to the Palestinian Arabs living there and that is now inhabited by a bunch of folks who keep getting in Obama’s way. Obama doesn’t have a Netanyahu problem. He has an Israel problem.

This is nothing new and nothing to panic about. The Jewish state and the Jewish people have survived far more formidable threats than Barack Obama. Still, dealing with a hostile American president isn’t easy for the prime minister of Israel. But surely the worst way for Netanyahu to deal with Obama’s hostility would be to succumb to bullying and cancel the speech he’s been invited to deliver. Which means that friends of Israel, of whatever political party and whatever degree of hawkishness or dovishness on Iran, the Palestinian question, or a host of other issues, need to stand with Netanyahu. In doing so, they stand with Israel.

As a joint statement by Christians United for Israel and the Emergency Committee for Israel (which I happen to chair) put it,

Some Senators and Congressmen are now threatening to boycott the speech. Whatever their intentions and reasons, their action will be construed, at home and abroad, as a victory for the enemies of Israel and the enemies of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. .  .  . Welcoming Israel’s Prime Minister to the halls of Congress is the least that those who claim to be friends of the Jewish state should do.

Welcoming the prime minster with courtesy and respect as the leader of a democratic ally is the least we should do, but it’s not all we can do. We can also learn from him. Netanyahu has spent many years on the front lines of the war on terror. As a young man, he was fighting terror while Barack Obama was fighting boredom. As an adult, while Obama was community-organizing his way to the presidency, Netanyahu was a participant in the civilizational struggle in which both Israel and the United States, as leaders of the West, are engaged.

While he may be less familiar than Obama with fictional movies like Bulworth, Netanyahu is undoubtedly familiar with the following historical moment: Just over 75 years ago, on September 2, 1939, Arthur Greenwood, deputy leader of the Labour party, rose in the House of Commons in response to remarks by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to speak for Labour. Greenwood was famously interrupted by the Conservative backbencher and fierce critic of appeasement Leo Amery, who startled the House by shouting across the aisle, “Speak for England!”

In that spirit, and in sad recognition that we can expect no such thing from our own president, we say to the prime minister of Israel: When you speak to Congress, speak for the West.

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
Read More