Obama’s Conversion

By David Isaac

In “Weinberger’s Conversion,” (June 3, 1983), Shmuel Katz wondered at then-US Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger’s intriguing “metamorphosis” from someone who had publicly hectored and engaged in “outrageous behaviour towards Israel” to “a great admirer of Israel who cannot find a hard word to say about us.”

Of course, “Weinberger’s Conversion” wasn’t a conversion at all, but “transparently an expression of the new tactics of the administration as they have matured in the last couple of months.” After the failure of “the great Master Plan,” which was to see Israel bullied into negotiations to hand over Judea and Samaria, “it was no doubt a relief to be able at least to mend a fence with Mr. Begin,” Katz writes.

Has Obama converted to Zionism?

One can’t help draw similarities between “Weinberger’s Conversion” then and Obama’s “conversion” this week in his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Obama described the bond between the two countries as “unbreakable.” Unfortunately, Obama’s “conversion” is about as genuine as was Weinberger’s, in reality, simply old strategy clothed in new tactics.

Remember, it was only in March that the president unceremoniously ushered Netanyahu in through a back door, denied him a photo op, and then left in the middle of the meeting to go have dinner with his family – behavior that everyone agreed was unprecedented. It was also the president who demanded a “total settlement freeze” and sent his Secretary of State to harangue Israel’s prime minister, demanding a stop to all construction in Jewish neighborhoods built in Jerusalem after 1967.

The Obama administration’s change in attitude is partly motivated by election concerns. Not only did polls in Israel show that a very high percentage (75%) of Israeli Jews felt Obama’s behavior toward Israel was unjustified – making the possibility of forcing a change in Israel’s leadership unlikely – but also on the domestic front Jewish support was eroding.

As important as Netanyahu may have felt this meeting was in order to satisfy an electorate back home that feels dependent on U.S. support, Obama needed it far more in order to shore up American Jewish support for the mid-term elections.

Another, more worrisome, reason behind Obama’s new approach is Israeli weakening on key issues. In this sense, the meeting is a reward to Netanyahu for “seeing the light.” Weinberger’s “conversion” was also in part motivated by Israeli softening on key issues. We see the same sort of bending over by Israel today. Obama mentioned Gaza during the meeting, ‘commending’ Netanyahu for allowing more goods into the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. We don’t yet know what other concessions Netanyahu might have made behind closed doors.

Remarkably, in an interview with CBS News’ Katie Couric the day after his meeting, Netanyahu vociferously defended Obama. Couric brought up the fact that “71% of the Jews in Israel surveyed said they dislike President Obama.” Netanyahu responded, “Well, maybe they don’t have the opportunity to have the kind of conversations that I had. And maybe they’re not aware also of the ongoing cooperation between Israel and the United States.”

So here we have an Israeli prime minister who has the people of Israel on his side, providing him with the sort of popular backing he needs to resist American pressure, and rather than take advantage of it, he undermines it and bolsters what is clearly the most anti-Israel administration yet.

The fact is, when it comes to brass tacks, or “tachlis” as they say in Israel, nothing fundamental has changed. Obama continues to call for “two states living side by side in peace and security” – a fantastical scenario which ignores the Arabs’ true, and oft-repeated, aim to wipe Israel off the map.

At the same time, we hear Netanyahu going on about how committed he is to peace, promising to push the “peace process” forward within weeks, adding for emphasis, “When I say the next few weeks, that’s what I mean.”

Reading Shmuel Katz’s writings, one is struck by a disturbing similarity between Benjamin Netanyahu and Menachem Begin. Shmuel says that Begin had convinced himself that he was the man who would bring Israel peace. In the end, he lost Israel the Sinai peninsula and paved the way for further withdrawals.

Whatever was going on in Begin’s mind seems to have also infected Netanyahu. He, too, has made peculiar sounds over the years to the effect that he is uniquely positioned to bring peace. His last such remark was two days after his meeting with the president while speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations. Netanyahu said he intended “to confound the skeptics and critics” when it comes to ‘negotiating a peace’.

Where Israel’s leaders are concerned there has been more than enough confounding. Honesty with the Israeli people and the courage to stand up to American pressure would be far more surprising… and appreciated.


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