In order to avoid being accused of bias against Israel while opposing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before Congress, President Barack Obama’s supporters clung to the assertion that the GOP had displayed undue favoritism toward him and his party. It would be unseemly for the American government to indicate thorough its actions that it had a horse in this race by offering Netanyahu a platform like the Capitol Building just two weeks before Israelis went to the polls.
“I’m declining to meet with him simply because our general policy is, we don’t meet with any world leader two weeks before their election,” Obama told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria in January. “I think that’s inappropriate, and that’s true with some of our closest allies.”
Loyal Democrats backed Obama up. “A number of respected Israeli national security and political leaders have criticized the address as improperly mixing American foreign policy with Israeli domestic politics,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) in a statement announcing his intention to boycott Netanyahu’s speech. “Creating such an impression is not only disrespectful to the Israeli electorate, it also undermines the institutional values that Congress should uphold.”
Of course, the Democrats’ case was undermined by the fact that Obama’s supporters also insisted that the president had been disrespected (a tired and often repeated refrain) when Republicans “failed to observe proper protocol” by not consulting with the president before inviting Netanyahu. Nevertheless, the president maintained that it was his administration’s policy to appear outwardly neutral to the Israeli government so as to not influence the elections.
It was an absurdly cynical charge. As Obama and his supporters were castigating Republicans for backing Netanyahu, members of the president’s 2012 reelection campaign with access to State Department funds was busily at work on the ground in Israel attempting to unseat the prime minister. (Via the Washington Free Beacon):
Last month, the Free Beacon reported on a private memo drafted in December by the nonprofit Ameinu, which outlined a plan for a coalition of groups to help increase Arab voter turnout in Israel.
Ameinu said in the memo that it was consulting with President Obama’s 2012 reelection team on the initiative. Obama’s former campaign aides, including the strategist Jeremy Bird, have been assisting an anti-Netanyahu voter drive led by V15 and OneVoice, Haaretz first reported.
The Ameinu proposal is strikingly similar to the [The Abraham Fund] Initiative’s “Broad-Based Action Plan to Increase the Participation of Arab Citizens in upcoming Elections for Knesset,” which it recently published on its website.
Anecdotally, reports have indicated that many average Israelis believed that Obama was far from a neutral observer of their country’s electoral politics. Some have noted that the revelation that members of the American president’s former campaign team were working with groups opposed to the Likud-led government was a big story, although it barely registered in the United States. We can quantify exactly how much of an effect this story had on Israeli voters.
According to a poll sponsored by The Jerusalem Post in February, twice as many Israelis say the president directly interfered in the country’s election than say he did not. 62 percent of respondents believe Obama was meddling in that country’s political process.
It is darkly humorous to recall that the bleating of Obama’s allies who warned that Republicans might be seen as interfering in Israeli politics were, as ever, projecting in order to deflect criticism from Obama for the same offense. More ironic, former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Danny Ayalon recently said that Obama’s intrusion into Israeli affairs constitutes a violation of a universally understood “red line.”
“If this is true, this is really crossing a red line because a democracy does not interfere with other democracies’ democratic process,” he told Newsmax host Steve Malzberg just before the vote. “Indeed, if this is true and will be exposed, it may backfire because the Israel public, like other democratic societies, [does not] appreciate outside or foreign interference.”
As a result of intemperance, petulance, and pique, the president has badly damaged America’s bilateral relationship with Israel.