The US elections and pandering to Israel

By Bernd Debusmann
September 23, 2011

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

So much for charges from conservative contenders for the 2012 U.S. presidential elections that Barack Obama is not pro-Israel enough — the president just won seals of approval from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his far-right foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, and the U.S. lobby that usually reflects their views.

If the elections, as some predict, will include a contest on who loves Israel most, Obama can use their praise to good effect. How much it will contribute to his legacy is another matter.

The plaudits came in response to Obama’s address to the United Nations on Sept. 21, when he rejected the Palestinians’ bid for U.N. membership in what one Israeli journalist, Chemi Shalev of the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper, described as “probably the warmest pro-Israel speech ever given at an annual U.N. General Assembly meeting by any U.S. president, bar none.”

Its tone differed sharply from his moving description of the plight of the Palestinians in a speech in Cairo in 2009, five months after taking office. For 60 years, he said, they had endured the pain of dislocation and “the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation. Let there be no doubt,” he said, “the situation of the Palestinians is intolerable.”

The Cairo speech raised expectations in the Arab world that here was a president who sympathized with the Palestinians and had the power, global prestige and commitment to succeed where a long line of his predecessors had tried and failed – help create a Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel. It didn’t work that way.

Fast forward to Sept. 21, 2011. No word about daily humiliations, dislocation, occupation, intolerable conditions. Instead, the emphasis was on centuries of persecution of Jews, anti-Semitic Arab school books, Israelis killed by Palestinian rockets and suicide bombs. As Rashid Khalidi, director of Columbia University’s Middle East Institute put it, “He recited a litany of suffering of Israelis with nothing about Palestinian hardships in a conflict whose most recent flare-up in 2008-09 left over 1,300 Palestinian victims and 13 Israelis.”

Netanyahu saw it differently. Obama had won a “badge of honor” with his address. Lieberman, a driving force behind the relentless construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, praised Obama for not mentioning that negotiations on a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be based on the 1967 borders.

The American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) issued a statement expressing its appreciation for Obama’s rejection of the Palestinian U.N. bid and his insistence on the return to negotiations. Off and on, they have dragged on for two decades, during which Israel has tripled the number of Jewish settlements on land that is supposed to become a Palestinian state.


What explains Obama’s transition from Cairo 2009 to New York 2011? In Washington, politics trump policy and Israel has been more of a domestic than a foreign policy issue even before the foundation of the Jewish state in 1948. When President Harry Truman and his top advisers discussed plans for the partition of Palestine in 1945, the experts warned against it. Truman is said to have responded: “I’m sorry, gentlemen, but I have to answer to hundreds of thousands who are anxious for the success of Zionism. I don’t have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents.”

Sixty-six years later, that kind of calculation still plays a role but in the case of Obama, there has been an additional element – a battle of will with the Israeli prime minister in which the leader of the world’s remaining superpower backed down repeatedly, on issues from a demand for a settlement freeze to the territorial lines on which negotiations should be based. The score so far: Netanyahu 3, Obama 0.

Which makes it rather bizarre that the two front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination, Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, are portraying Obama as favoring the Palestinians at the expense of Israel. In language that highlighted both ignorance and the toxic nature of American politics, Perry said Obama had pursued a policy of “appeasement” of the Palestinians.

The term dates back to the 1930s when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain made concessions to Adolf Hitler to avoid going to war against Nazi Germany. In slightly less over-the-top terms, Romney talked of Obama’s efforts to “throw Israel under the bus.”

Whether Perry, Romney and other prominent Republicans manage to turn support for Israel into a wedge issue in 2012 is open to doubt in a race almost certainly dominated by jobs and the economy. But if it does emerge as a campaign topic, Obama can always wave the “badge of honor” awarded him by Netanyahu, to show that he is no different from a long line of American presidents much closer to Israel than to the Palestinians.


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Zionists had a monopoly on U.S middle east foreign policy for a long time. It is doubtful it will ever change. As long as the U.S Government panders to Zionists and Israel, there will be no peace in the middle east and no peace in the world. There will be no end to terrorism against both Israel and U.S. Meanwhile the U.S economy will unravel. If the U.S economy declines, so will U.S military power. You could expect blood in the street. Not just in middle east. Here in U.S as the starving proletariat turns against the elite including its Zionist members.

Posted by objectivejohn | Report as abusive

Do you write for Al-Jazeera? Never seen such a slanted opinion piece before that ignores the fact that the palestinians tried to wipe out Israel from day one and are not interested in peace.

Posted by USAalltheway | Report as abusive

It’s sad that an American president has to swallow the truth and his heart to cater to Israel. But, this is the sad state of affairs in this country. It’s sad that Israeli-Americans care more about Israel then America. And, it’s even sadder that our politicians are doing the same thing. If President Obama did say the right thing, he had no chance of winning in 2012. What does that say about Israels influence in this country?

Posted by fromthecenter | Report as abusive

I watched Pres. Obamas speech and I was struck by the exact same thing… No mention of Palestinian plight but the full laundry list of israeli suffering. So dissapointing… It was so blatant and no one is buying this gross and imbalanced approach any longer . I aso saw the full speeches today of Abbas & Netanyahu.. I was struck by the backward thinking, fear mongering and the 4000 yr approach to justify statehood, by Netanyahu. His demenor was condescending to the UN members present, and his accusations of isreal being picked on by the UN for 20+ years and, playing the victim were wholly inappropriate. All this in contrast to Abbas who came off as a more credible and honest statesman. Times are changing, the US no longer holds the same diplomatic cards.. the middle east, north africa, Arabian peninsula fledgling democracies will make this a negotiation like no other…

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

I really think that this issue requires an in depth analysis of the real situation. I don’t think that we’re in a position to judge the decisions passed by either the pro Israelis or Palestinians. Because we don’t really know what the real situation is, beyond the politics and power struggle.

Posted by YaredG | Report as abusive

usalltheway, your information is wrong. Israel used terror bombings in an attempt to run the British and the locals out of Palestine(British mandate;est. 500,000 plus refugees 1947-48) Some of these Jewish terrorists arose to head of the Israeli State and many other high posts.

It seems preposterous to me that anyone who arose by the use of the “poor mans tactic of war” should refuse to acknowledge political leaders who arose the same way.

Posted by coyotle | Report as abusive

A remarkable editorial.
Finally somebody dears to write the unspoken truth

Posted by 5485 | Report as abusive

The pandering is really just background noise. One thing that nobody ever talks about with regard to the Middle East is that the PLO, along with not a few governments in that region, were Soviet allies during the Cold War. Israel was a U.S. ally. People might say, “but the Cold War is over.” But you don’t see the U.S. getting close to a lot of groups who acted as Soviet allies and/or proxies. Ask Fidel Castro.

Posted by Bob9999 | Report as abusive

En soutenant de facon aveugle et inconditionnel les agissements d’un etat qui viole a repetition les resolutions des nations unis, qui a transforme Gaza en un immense camp de concentration, les politiciens americains – les republicains en premier – font passer leurs carrieres politiques avant les interets strategiques des etats-unis…

C’est incroyable comme-meme, qu’un peuple dont on etait en droit d’attendre le plus d’humanite en raison des terribles souffrances dont il a ete victime lors de l’holocauste fasse subir le meme traitement a un autre peuple avec la complicite de toute la classe politique americaine.

Les gifles que sert Netanyahu a Obama a chaque fois que ce dernier essaie d’aborder le conflit israelo-palestinien de facon un peu plus objective et impartiale est revelateur du sentiment de la toute puissance qui habite les politiciens israeliens, forts du soutien du tout puissant lobby sioniste. En d’autres termes, Netanyahu est plus puissant que Obama, qui est, il faut le rappeler comme-meme au cas ou on l’oublierait, le president des Etats-unis d’Amerique!

Apres les evenements du 11 septembre 2011, beaucoup d’americains se sont poses cette fameuse question: `Pourquoi on nous aime pas?`.
La reponse est a chercher dans cette espece de zele frenetique et irresponsable des politiciens americains, les republicains en premier, a soutenir aveuglement et en toutes circonstances un etat voyou au risque de se mettre a dos pratiquement toute la communaute internationale. Meme l’Europe a revise sa politique a l’egard d’Israel pour opter pour une politique plus juste et plus impartiale…

Le jour ou les politiciens americains auront a coeur les interets des etats-unis plus que leur carriere politique, le jour ou ils mettront leurs culottes pour s’affranchir du tout puissant lobby sioniste, leur jour ou il imposeront aux israeliens et aux palestiniens une solution juste et durable, ce jour-la l’Amerique retrouvera toute sa place dans les coeurs des milliards d’arabes et de musulmans!

Je me suis permis de vous livrer ces quelques verites crues pour vous faire partager les sentiment d’injustice qui anime les milliards d’arabes et de musulmans. Je le fais parceque j’aime l’Amerique, cette Amerique qui m’a fait tant rever!


Posted by poupa | Report as abusive

Virtually the whole world wants peace in the Middle East but the US and Israel seem to thrive on the blood of the dead. It is so sad to watch what was once an inspiration to the whole world turn into a despotic regime.
The USA I grew up with is dead, may the real American people rest in peace.

Posted by Sinbad1 | Report as abusive

If Obama is reelected, with four more years to serve, and nothing to lose since he can’t run for reelection again, he absolutely must hold Israel’s feet to the fire on quick and effective negotiations with the Palestinians. No one is blameless in the whole Mideast mess, and no one has been blameless since the founding of the Zionist state. U N Resolution 242 is subject to interpretation, unfortunately, but, as with all nations, we must protect our own first. That means dragging the Israelis kicking and screaming to negotiations under threat of reduced economic and military aid. We fight wars and prop up dictatorships as a proxy for Israel. Let them fight their own wars. They have nukes and will use them if their veritable existence is under military threat by the other idiots in the region. Israel can defend herself. The U S needs peace in order to reduce our crushing burden of debt caused by our military industrial complex and the stupid political goons that take us into wars against ignorant tribal societies who value life so little that they kill many more of their own than they kill of us. As for the status of Jerusalem, the United Nations needs to declare it an open, internationally defended city available to all religions. They can all make it their capital. Without the U N making a move similar to that there is no hope for the region and the U S needs to let Israel go it alone. The French will protect them. Enough of Israeli arrogance, and the polls show that the large majority of the American electorate feel the same way.

Posted by propensity | Report as abusive

We are the ‘slaves’ of the Israeli state. Their lobbying group is more powerful than the gun group. We are just simply their servants…. Maybe the Tea Party people would change that….

Posted by edgyinchina | Report as abusive

America needs policies that are right for America. That may or may not mean always siding with Israel. It’s time to be an honest broker, not Israel’s pet.

Posted by actnow | Report as abusive

Coming from the keyboard of the man who claimed in a previous op-ed that Israel “seized the rest of British-mandate Palestine” in the 1967 Six-Day War, this irrational rant from Debusmann is nothing if not predictable.

There is apparently something intrinsically faulty with Obama issuing a speech at the UN which recalls the centuries of persecution, pogroms, Holocausts and terrorism suffered by the Jews but no problem at all with Obama issuing a speech in Cairo which suggests that the Palestinians, who have refused all offers of statehood in favor of bloodletting, are suffering equally.

There is the insipid and false assertion of “relentless construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank” when in fact, there has been no new growth in Jewish settlements for years.

There is the misleading reference to “1967 borders” as a basis for negotiations when in reality, there are only 1949 armistice lines — which would leave Israel a mere 9 miles wide and vulnerable to the same type of shelling and rocketing from surrounding Arab states and terror groups she experienced for nearly two decades.

There is the reference to a remark by President Truman suggesting that he supported Israel, in part, because his constituency included Jews but no mention of the fact that those “experts” who warned against partition were mainly officials from the US State Department who were rabidly antisemitic and beholden to Arab oil interests.

And underlying it all, is the pervasive and patent canard, held by all antisemites, that the Jews control American politics – along with the media, the banks, and possibly the lunar cycle.

But just remember, it was the Saudi King that Obama bowed to, not Benjamin Netanyahu.

Posted by StevenFeldman | Report as abusive

The US administration’s command ship is hijacked by Zionist pirates and their local bible thumper NeoCon accomplices. After the successful high treason they humiliated the skipper Mr. Obama, made him a cabin boy forcing him to clean the ship’s latrines. Then they dressed him up, put a copy of the UN speech in his hand – that was composed in Israel and approved by Mr. Netanyahu – and sent him off to the UN to read it in front of the world.

Posted by boreal | Report as abusive

The Israeli leadership should take this opportunity to turn the world to their side instead of against them.

Announce that they would stop all settlements and remove all settlements erected since the indefada and recognize Palestine in the UN as a nation, if the Palestinians and their leaders immediately rennounce violence and agree to honest negociations for a truly peaceful coexistence.

The baseline would be :

1) to provide Israel with the security it needs, and

2) the Palestinians can return to much of their homeland and true freedom to live their lives as any people do in all free nations

If there is a will there is a way !!!

Posted by guestvisitor | Report as abusive

I watched Pres. Obamas speech and I was struck by the exact same thing… No mention of Palestinian plight but the full laundry list of israeli suffering. So dissapointing… It was so blatant and no one is buying this gross and imbalanced approach any longer . I aso saw the full speeches today of Abbas & Netanyahu.. I was struck by the backward thinking, fear mongering and the 4000 yr approach to justify statehood, by Netanyahu. His demenor was condescending to the UN members present, and his accusations of isreal being picked on by the UN for 20+ years and, playing the victim were wholly inappropriate. All this in contrast to Abbas who came off as a more credible and honest statesman. Times are changing, the US no longer holds the same diplomatic cards.. the middle east, north africa, Arabian peninsula fledgling democracies will make this a negotiation like no other…

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

This may sound harsh and a bit like isolationism but this fight isn’t our problem. Neither country does any significant business with the United States, and this conflict has been siphoning financial and political resources from the united states for decades. Let them figure out there own border disputes. Last time I checked Israel or Palestine aren’t sending money to the U.S. to help with drug related violence at the U.S./Mexico border. If it weren’t for lobbyists in the U.S., our involvement would be much more limited and reasonable. I don’t have a side; my side is let them figure it out.

Posted by jwlee86 | Report as abusive

“Israel” was created in the time the UN was still made up of the colonial powers, hence the “illegal” creation of this colony was made possible.
Nowadays things are different in the UN, mainly because there are more countries, and the colonial powers had to release some of their power (but NOT all, like e.g. the right of VETO !!!).
So the US is using its VETO time and time again.
What the American people should look at, is how much money is spent on “Israel”, because the lobby is SO strong.
MORE money is spent on “Israel” then there is on Afro-Americans, the difference being that Afro-Americans pay huge amounts of US taxes, while “Israel” does NOT …
Given the fact that the economic crisis has MOST effect on those countries MOST in support of “Israel”, it is only a matter of time before the “money”-sucking will. finally stop.

Posted by StopZionazis | Report as abusive

True that Sinbad1…

Posted by coyotle | Report as abusive

When Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, proponants like myself were slapped in the face by almost everyone else. After the UN speech, we were slapped in the face by Obama himself.

Posted by TheTruthy | Report as abusive

Ok, Bernd, would you give Afghanistan to Al Qaeda? Then why would you give a state to HAMAS?

Take Hamas out of the Palestinian government and the Palestinians will have a state.

Posted by Brazilian1 | Report as abusive