This past Shabbat morning we had the pleasure of Eric Sachs, Northeast Regional Director of AIPAC, speaking in our congregation and answering questions.
Not surprisingly, 3 of the 6 questions in the Q and A were about the Obama administration and Israel.
AIPAC does not endorse candidates, but many in attendance wanted to know how this administration has measured up in its support of Israel as compared to previous presidential administrations.
Mr. Sacks shocked many and declared Mr. Obama the most supportive President in the last 30 years when it comes to Israeli security, naming Presidents Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II specifically. All this at a time when the Republican candidates are competing for the title of Most Supportive of Israel.
For those who haven't followed actual facts on the ground, Mr. Sachs' assertion was surprising. Yet he argues that for security issues such as missile defense, military aid, intelligence and more, it is true that there has been no more supportive US administration to Israel in the last 30 years than the Obama Administration.
Mr. Sachs noted, as I have in the past, that the Cairo speech at the start of Mr. Obama's presidency was crippling to the "trust" issue between him and the supporters of Israel. The justification for Israel is not the Holocaust, but the ongoing - never broken - connection to and inhabitation of the Land of Israel by the Jewish people. Mr. Obama clearly has adopted or sympathized with major aspects of the Palestinian story. Thankfully, this has not translated to significant policy.
It is a sad delusion to expect the Palestinians to be empathetic of Jewish refugee status after World War II. Not only is that claim to Israeli validity historically insufficient, it is short sighted, and demonstrates a profound lack of understanding of the conflict's own self-understanding. Such an error is deeply rooted in a moral critique of power which equates current suffering with ultimate righteousness. Such thinking is a projection of foreign values onto a political landscape which is entirely unsuited to it.
In truth, both side's NEGATIVE experiences have validity, though not equality. At the beginning, Israel suffered from united Arab attack and threats of annihilation, and continues to suffer threats and attacks on a daily basis. The Palestinians, through remarkably inept leadership, wound up with refugee status of displaced populations instead of peace from the beginning.
Over time, the Palestinians' leaders continued to seek solutions through violence for most of Israel's history. Israel's response was a constant and enduring military presence in their lives. And yet, a Palestinian state with borders and land swaps has been repeatedly offered by Israeli leaders and repeatedly rejected by Palestinian leaders. And now the peace conversation has broken down again as the Palestinians attempt an end-run in the international community by going to the U.N. and other organizations for legitimacy and recognition.
The truth is that the cause of each side's suffering is not morally equal, but both sides certainly have a story to tell. From the Cairo speech it would seem that the negative/suffering side of the Palestinian story resonates more with Mr. Obama than the positive side of Israel's story. Hence the lack of trust among Zionists.
But what Mr. Obama missed or ignored is that both side's simple and POSITIVE arguments make the situation what it is, and must drive the conversation. The Palestinians have a right to self-determination, and security. The Israelis have a right to self-determination and security. Both have moral ethical arguments about those rights. Neither agrees that the morality of the other's argument is equal to their own. Therefore one land does not allow for both, and there must be two states. Everything else is obfuscation.
Yet perhaps Mr. Obama learned his lesson. And perhaps he has come up with a workable long-term and patient plan: Rather than continue to preach the nobility of each side's suffering, which will never be a unifying argument, the Obama administration turned around and began seeking concrete, practical, current, on-the-ground policies to diffuse tensions. Focusing on increasing defensive military aid and cooperation to the Israelis eliminates Israel's need to take aggressive actions.
The thinking is suitably subtle: If Israel is protected and takes no aggressive actions, the Palestinian complaint about oppression will begin to recede on the ongoing timeline. If enough time goes by, the Palestinians' claim to righteous suffering will lose immediate validity. In that circumstance, they will be seen as stubbornly refusing to cooperate. And perhaps then they will return to the table. And in the meantime, Israel will be safer and more peaceable.
Unfortunately for Mr. Obama, all of this will take much longer than the 11 months he has until his next election. Lovers of Israel will have to believe enough in this strategy to give him a Pass on the topic when they vote. Knowing that patience is nobody's strong suit when it comes to the Middle East, Republicans are beating the drums.