The “special relationship” between the United States and Israel has been cultivated and strengthened by every American president since the 1950s.
President Kennedy promised that “we will never turn our backs on our steadfast friends.” President Johnson extolled our “common love of human freedom” and “common faith in a democratic way of life.” President Nixon spoke of Israelis courage, tenacity, and firmness in the face of great odds which “makes us proud to stand with Israel.” President Ford said that America’s foreign policy interests “will never be done at the expense of America’s commitment to Israel,” labeling the relationship “essential to a stable peace in the Middle East.” President Carter urged the world to never doubt that “we have a special relationship with Israel.” President Reagan labeled the relationship as an “ironclad bond” defined by “unbreakable ties.” President Bush helpfully reminded everyone that “the emotional bond of our people transcends politics.” President Clinton promised that the relationship “would never vary from its allegiance to the shared values, the shared religious heritage, the shared democratic politics” that have made it special, wonderful relationship. President Bush said “the source of our friendship runs deeper than any treaty,” it is built on a common history of struggle and sacrifice. And President Obama has often had to remind a leery peoples that the “friendship between the U.S. and Israel remain as strong and unshakeable as ever.”
Sadly, recent events have called into question whether these statements continue to be true. The relationship is still there, but is it still special? The ties remain, but are they unbreakable? The friendship runs deep, but is it unshakeable?
President Obama’s words and deeds have led many in Israel to question whether or not they can trust him. When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted an invitation to speak to Congress the White House was incredulous. President Obama scheduled a videoconference while Netanyahu spoke. Secretary of State John was too busy negotiating with Iran. And Vice President Joe Biden, who would normally have at next to the Speaker of the House during such a speech, said weeks in advance of the speech that he would be travelling abroad.
It’s one thing to snub a world leader and purported friend, it’s quite another to actively undercut him. And yet that’s exactly what the White House did, sending out underlings to actively undermine Netanyahu’s credibility and dismiss his speech. Obama’s national security adviser called the speech “unfortunate” and “destructive of the fabric of the relationship.” John Kerry, attacking a straw man, said, “You can’t bomb knowledge into oblivion unless you kill everybody. You can’t bomb it away.” And White House press secretary Josh Earnest accused Netanyahu of influencing negotiations in a way that “is counterproductive and certainly something that we are not appreciative of, to put it mildly.”
Despite the cold-shoulder treatment, Netanyahu gave a rousing speech that managed to be both gracious and powerful. And yet, as if to add insult to injury, President Obama reacted peevishly, dismissing it as “nothing new” and complaining that it “didn’t offer any viable alternatives.”
In spite of, or perhaps because of, the White House’s scorn, Netanyahu won his reelection campaign handily. In a move that speaks volumes about the chilliness of their relationship, President Obama couldn’t even be troubled to make a congratulatory phone call until two days after the election, and even then he refused to praise Netanyahu directly, opting instead to congratulate “his party’s success.”
If the call was a pat on the back, the administration’s later comments were a slap in the face. The White House said they would need to “reevaluate their options” after Netanyahu’s victory. One of those options apparently is to remove Israel’s diplomatic cover on the United Nations. When questioned on the issue, U.S. officials would say only that “we haven’t taken the option off the table.”
The White House’s decision to air its dirty laundry and issue a public rebuke earned the criticism of many Republicans.
“Allies have differences, but when allies like Israel, when you have a difference with them and it is public, it emboldens their enemies to launch more rockets out of southern Lebanon and Gaza, to launch more terrorist attacks, to go to international forums and delegitimize Israel’s right to exist,” Marco Rubio said on the Senate floor, accusing the Obama administration of “a historic and tragic mistake.”
Given past president’s near-unflagging public support of Israel it certainly would be historic. And history too, will ultimately judge whether it’s a tragedy.”