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The Sound of Silence

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Keeping the Lights On

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Appeasing Obama on Israel


from the Wall Street Journal, The President Against the Historian by Bret Stephens:


But no Israeli concession could ever appease Mr. Obama, who had the habit of demanding heroic political risks from Mr. Netanyahu while expecting heroic deference in return. In 2010, during a visit from Joe Biden, an Israeli functionary approved permits for the housing construction in a neighborhood of Jerusalem that Israel considers an integral part of the municipality but Palestinians consider a settlement.

The administration took the Palestinian side. Hillary Clinton spent 45 minutes berating Mr. Netanyahu over the phone. Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg “summoned” Mr. Oren to Foggy Bottom and read out his list of administration demands. What follows is one of the more memorable scenes in “Ally.”

“Steinberg added his own furious comments—department staffers, I later heard, listened in on our conversation and cheered—about Israel’s insult to the president and the pride of the United States. Then came my turn to respond.

“ ‘Let me get this straight,’ I began. ‘We inadvertently slight the vice president and apologize, and I become the first foreign ambassador summoned by this administration to the State Department. Bashar al-Assad hosts Iranian president Ahmadinejad, who calls for murdering seven million Israelis, but do you summon Syria’s ambassador? No, you send your ambassador back to Damascus.’ ”

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A Tin Heart

From Commentary Magazine, If He Only Had a Heart:

John Podhoretz comments in Michael Oren’s Book:

His dealings with the elite media were likewise unpleasant. He called the New York Times editorial-page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, after the paper published an op-ed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in which Abbas effectively suggested the Arabs had accepted the UN Partition Plan of 1947. The conversation went thus:

“When I write for the Times, fact checkers examine every word I write,” I began. “Did anybody check that Abbas has his facts exactly backward?”

“That’s your opinion,” Rosenthal replied.

“I’m an historian, Andy, and there are opinions and there are facts. That the Arabs rejected partition and the Jews accepted it is an irrefutable fact.”

“In your view.”

“Tell me, on June 6, 1944, did Allied forces land or did they not land on Normandy Beach?”

Rosenthal…replied, “Some might say so.”

Still, Ally makes it nerve-jangingly clear just how difficult a job it has been for anyone to serve as a guardian of the special relationship between Israel and the United States with a president and a team who are either by default or by ideology effectively hostile toward the Jewish state itself—or the very idea of a Jewish state.

Oren recounts how he himself fell for the Obama Romance in 2008. But this was before he understood the deep and profound coldness within Barack Obama, “a chill” that “distanced him from traditional American allies—not only Israel—whose ambassadors complained to me of the administration’s unprecedented aloofness. ‘Obama’s problem is not a tin ear,’ one of my European colleagues lamented, ‘it’s a tin heart.’”

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Foreign Policy Continuity


from The Wall Street Journal, How Obama Abandoned Israel by Michael Oren

The first principle was “no daylight.” The U.S. and Israel always could disagree but never openly. Doing so would encourage common enemies and render Israel vulnerable. Contrary to many of his detractors, Mr. Obama was never anti-Israel and, to his credit, he significantly strengthened security cooperation with the Jewish state. He rushed to help Israel in 2011 when the Carmel forest was devastated by fire. And yet, immediately after his first inauguration, Mr. Obama put daylight between Israel and America.

“When there is no daylight,” the president told American Jewish leaders in 2009, “Israel just sits on the sidelines and that erodes our credibility with the Arabs.” The explanation ignored Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza and its two previous offers of Palestinian statehood in Gaza, almost the entire West Bank and half of Jerusalem—both offers rejected by the Palestinians.

Mr. Obama also voided President George W. Bush’s commitment to include the major settlement blocs and Jewish Jerusalem within Israel’s borders in any peace agreement. Instead, he insisted on a total freeze of Israeli construction in those areas—“not a single brick,” I later heard he ordered Mr. Netanyahu—while making no substantive demands of the Palestinians.

Consequently, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas boycotted negotiations, reconciled with Hamas and sought statehood in the U.N.—all in violation of his commitments to the U.S.—but he never paid a price. By contrast, the White House routinely condemned Mr. Netanyahu for building in areas that even Palestinian negotiators had agreed would remain part of Israel.

The other core principle was “no surprises.” President Obama discarded it in his first meeting with Mr. Netanyahu, in May 2009, by abruptly demanding a settlement freeze and Israeli acceptance of the two-state solution. The following month the president traveled to the Middle East, pointedly skipping Israel and addressing the Muslim world from Cairo.


No matter how great the differences from the previous administration, such gross lack of continuity erodes any good will from our country for decades.