Sunday, October 30, 2011

Arlene Kushner Rebuts Congressman Ackerman's Pro-Obama Letter

From Arlene Kushner:

October 30, 2011
Motzei Shabbat (after Shabbat) 
"Response to a Letter" 
This posting will have a slightly different format, as it is, quite literally, a response to a letter. 
The letter is from Congressman Gary Ackerman (NY-5th), sent to fellow Jews (how many and whom I cannot say) for the High Holidays.  Congressman Ackerman is the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee on the Middle East. 
The letter circulated and came finally into the computer of a friend, with an introduction about how good it is to know the facts.  I thank that friend -- who was not well pleased by the Congressman's message -- for sending it on to me, so that I might respond to those who received that letter along with her.  
The core of my response -- with some additional comments -- follows here, as it may be useful to some of my readers, who have either seen Ackerman's letter or the arguments it advances.  Beneath it, the original letter. 
The letter from Congressman Ackerman, below, has come to my attention and I believe that in the interests of truth it is important to respond.   
Congressman Ackerman lists a good number of things that Obama has ostensibly done that show that he is not anti-Israel.  But there are a few fallacies built into his argument. 
One fallacy is that everything Obama is doing that seems good for Israel is being done FOR Israel.  It's time for people to understand that a strong Israel is good for the US!!!  Obama is not necessarily protecting Israel for Israel's sake, but rather protecting US interests.  Nothing wrong with that at all -- his job is to protect US interests. But his efforts to do so should not be touted as pro-Israel actions.  
Israel is America's only reliable and stable ally in the Middle East.  G-d forbid a million times, were Israel to fall, US interests in the region would take an incredible hit.  Maybe Obama reacted more quickly now with regard to military assistance than his predecessor had because the situation is so much more unstable now. 
A few things you should know: 
[] The vast bulk of US assistance to Israel requires Israel to use that money to buy military equipment IN THE US.  This means when Obama seems so generous to Israel, he is also bolstering the badly failing US economy.  He is not "giving away" money to Israel -- he is assuring it gets spent in America. 
[] The US BENEFITS from Israeli technological development of defensive weaponry.  Investing in that is another way that the US can be helped.  It's very unfortunate that mostly people believe that Israel "takes" from the US, when the fact is that many times Israel gives.  And I haven't even mentioned Intelligence assistance Israel provides to the US. 
[] The Pentagon is soundly pro-Israel and always has been, because military men -- not former military men who have gotten into politics -- get the picture and understand Israel's value.  Some of the military support for Israel comes from the Pentagon position and not necessarily the president's. 
Most ludicrous of the examples Ackerman gives is the one about organizing sanctions against Iran.  Can Ackerman really believe that it is only Israel that Iran threatens, so that action against Iran is "for" Israel?  The reality is that Iran is after the entire Western culture, and no country more than the US.  It is very naive to imagine otherwise.  It is American interests in the Gulf area that Iran would go for first. 
Another fallacy is that what Obama does "for" Israel comes from sincere convictions.  The president is a political animal.  An election is coming, and he knows that an anti-Israel stance does not play well with the electorate. There has been a discernable shift in his position in this regard.  
Allow me to describe some of the ways in which Obama has worked against Israeli interests:
[] With his policies and actions he has severely weakened the interests of moderate forces in the ME, sabotaged US deterrence power, and rendered Israel more vulnerable to radical forces. He has been obsequious, for example, bowing to the king of Saudi Arabia. He has pushed his philosophy of promoting "dialogue" and "encounters" in a manner that is counter-productive.  Most particularly was this the case with Iran, which he kept on reaching out to, while refusing to state that he would consider a military option against nuclear development because this would interfere with his "outreach" efforts.  
The Arab/Muslim world respects power and strength.  It doesn't value the Obama approach of constant conciliation.  Its leaders laugh at him and see him as weak.  Americans don't see this readily.  
Very dangerously, he has been willing to tolerate or even encourage the radical Muslim Brotherhood.  Members were invited to his speech in Cairo.  
Just as the US needs a strong Israel, Israel is stronger when the US influence in the ME is solid.  You need to know: Obama has destroyed this.  (This works against Israel AND the US.) 
[] Under Obama's stewardship, the US has joined the exceedingly anti-Israel and corrupt UN Human Rights Council; his logic is that the US can have more effect from inside, but that is nonsense, as America is severely outnumbered.  Unfortunately all US membership does is accord the Council greater credibility.  Obama doesn't seem to notice this. 
[] Obama has shown a very obvious tilt towards the PA and against Israel that has worked against the very negotiations he says he wishes to promote. 
The first leader he called after his inauguration was PA President Mahmoud Abbas.  A strange choice and a loud statement if ever there was one.  On the other hand, he openly humiliated Israeli PM Netanyahu during a visit to the White House in March of last year, treating him in a manner that was severely inappropriate for a democratically elected leader of an ally, whether he approves of his policies or not. 
[] It is actually Obama who has sabotaged the peace talks. 
He withdrew from the position of previous administrations with regard to recognition that major settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria would be retained in any final agreement with the Palestinian Arabs.  In fact, he denied there was any US obligation to honor the letter President Bush had written to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on this subject (while lawyers and diplomatic experts say it did carry weight).  Instead he is now promoting the '67 lines -- which were only temporary armistice lines and would not provide secure borders for Israel -- as a basis for negotiations.  
Let this be clear: The settlements take up less than 3% of the area of Judea and Samaria. Another little-known fact.  People tend to think the settlements take up much more area.  But in reality Bush's commitment in writing in no way destroyed the possibility for a Palestinian state to be established.  And also fact: Obama's position goes against Security Council resolutions, which say the border must be determined via negotiations.  It's not for him to say where it should be. 
He has come down considerably harder on Israel than on the PA -- putting the onus on Israel to make concessions to "move the peace process forward" while cutting the PA slack.  He demanded a freeze on construction in Judea and Samaria -- something never demanded before.  (And to which Netanyahu agreed for a period of time, to no effect.)  At the same time, Obama has not made any demands on the PA regarding horrendous incitement in its school books or its honoring of terrorists.  Is this balanced????  Which threatens peace more? Buildings or teaching people that terrorists are to be honored? 
Another fact not well known: Israel is committed to building in the settlements ONLY within existing borders of each community.  More land is not being taken for this building. 
You may not have noticed, but the things Abbas now demands of Israel were things Obama demanded first -- setting the tone that Abbas now has adopted.   For years there were face to face talks between Israel and the PA WITHOUT a settlement freeze and without Israel agreeing up front to use the '67 armistice line as a basis for a border.  
What must be kept in mind is that whether you agree with Israel's current stance or not (and I'd be happy to dialogue about this), Obama's approach has been heavy-handed and counterproductive. And blatantly unbalanced.  If you think it's good for Obama to seek a settlement freeze, you must also think it appropriate for Obama to act to stop the PA from telling its children in their textbooks that "jihad" is praised by Allah.  The message the Palestinians have gotten from Obama is that they can do as they wish, and the president will "take care" of Israel for them. 
This is not how a friend of Israel acts. 
In addition to this letter, I add a few thoughts: 
First, that couching a political message in terms of the sin of careless speech (against the President) seems to me an inappropriate approach.  Dirty pool, in fact.  
And then, Ackerman's comment about Obama's body language, which he conceded has been a "disaster" (and thinks it one of the "mistakes" the President needs to correct).  With this, the Congressman gives himself away.  Body language is not something that requires only a superficial correction, such as a bad haircut or speech delivery might.  Body language works at a sub-conscious level and reveals a great deal about feelings.  As Congressman Ackerman says Obama's body language has been a "disaster," I believe he has inadvertently revealed more about the President's true feelings towards Israel than he intended to do.  
Beyond this, what I said about motivation, above, applies in other matters as well:  
Yes! Obama acted to help bring Israeli security personnel safely out of Israel when our Embassy in Cairo was attacked. And we were very glad for this. But this does not mean he did it "for" Israel.  It does not make him "pro" Israel. Had anything  happened to our personnel, whom Egypt had a responsibility to protect, our necessary actions against Egypt would have been harsh and the result would have been a further destabilized Middle East.  Obama acted for Western interests and US interests in preventing this disaster.  Properly so. 
But leave it at that. 
As to pledging (ever so reluctantly) to veto the PA unilateral action in the UN, he acted again for US interests and not because he is "pro" Israel.  He knows that a Palestinian state would destabilize matters as well, and act directly against his stated policy of fostering a two-state solution. 
Congressman Ackerman's letter: 
Dear Friends:

I discovered an odd statistic the other day: of the 43 sins collectively confessed on Yom Kippur, 11 relate to some form of speech. One particular sin, lashon hara, literally, an "evil tongue" or malicious gossip, has been on my mind lately as our national politics grows ever more venomous, and I encounter more and more emails and delusional denunciations of the President and his view of Israel. It seems to me that today, guarding one's tongue should also encompass the all-too-quick pressing of the "send" and "forward"buttons to broadcast or spread misguided or outright mistaken information.

To be sure, I think the President has made mistakes and I've both pressed my concerns to him privately and spoken out to object to policies I thought wrongheaded. In terms of "body language," he's been a disaster. He needs to visit Israel; he needs to take a harder line on Palestinian intransigence and incitement, and he needs to acknowledge that Jerusalem is not a settlement. All of these complaints are legitimate and I remain frustrated that the President has not yet fully taken them to heart. But to suggest that President Obama is anti-Israel is like saying President Kennedy was opposed to space exploration. It's ridiculous and insulting.

Does an anti-Israel President demand Congress supplement Israel's annual $3 billion in U.S. military assistance (the most ever) with $205 million in emergency funds in order to buy Israeli communities near Gaza and Lebanon more Iron Dome anti-rocket protection?

Does an anti-Israel President ramp up the visits of senior military, defense and intelligence officials to Israel and order a significant expansion of our military and intelligence sharing and cooperation to levels unheard of during the administrations of his two immediate predecessors?

Does an anti-Israel President support Israel's development of the David's Sling and Arrow anti-missile systems in addition to the Iron Dome system and the establishment and operation of an advanced American X-band air-defense radar by U.S. forces stationed in Israel?

Does an anti-Israel President respond to Israeli concern that their qualitative military edge had slipped during the Bush Administration by responding immediately-according to Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren-"We are going to address this issue, we are going to make sure that we maintain your QME [qualitative military edge]"?

Does an anti-Israel President allow the largest ever joint U.S.-Israel military exercise (Juniper Cobra) and withdraw American participation from a Turkish-led NATO exercise (Anatolian Eagle) when the Turks refused to allow Israeli participation?

Does an anti-Israel President devote himself to successfully organizing international political and economic sanctions on Iranand sign crippling new U.S. sanctions into law?

Does an anti-Israel President succeed in getting massive multinational corporations like Shell, Total, ENI, Statoil, Respsol, Lukoil, Kia, Toyota,Siemans, GE, and Honeywell to back out of Iran's energy sector?

Does an anti-Israel President drop what he's doing and utilize all the power and influence of the United States to effect the rescue of six Israeli diplomatic personnel about to be lynched in Egypt?

Does an anti-Israel President lead the fight in the UN Human Rights Council to defend Israel and quash efforts to use the shameful Goldstone report to inhibit and delegitimize Israel's right to self-defense?

Does an anti-Israel President prohibit American participation in a UN-sponsored conference allegedly targeting racism but in fact providing a open microphone for disgusting anti-Semitism and anti-Israel vitriol?

Does an anti-Israel President stand alone at the United Nations to veto a one-sided resolution that both condemned Israel on settlement activity and excused the Palestinians their intransigence?

Does he then go back to the UN only months later to personally lead the fight to derail the Palestinians unconscionable statehood gambit at the United Nations?

Here is what President Obama said to the world's assembled leaders at the United Nations on Wednesday, September 21st:

"America's commitment to Israel's security is unshakeable, and our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring. And so we believe that any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day. Let us be honest with ourselves: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel's citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel's children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them. Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, looks out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map. The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile and persecution, and fresh memories of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they are.
Those are facts. They cannot be denied."

"The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland. Israel deserves recognition. It deserves normal relations with its neighbors. And friends of the Palestinians do them no favors by ignoring this truth, just as friends of Israel must recognize the need to pursue a two-state solution with a secure Israel next to an independent Palestine."

That's anti-Israel? That's anti-Jewish, pro-Arab, Marxist, socialist, radical, communist, anti-American appeasement? As my grandparents would say, "Es iz nit geshtoygen un nit gefloygen!" (It never rose up and it never flew!)

Enough is enough. The President is far from perfect and criticizing him is legitimate. But the lies and smears and spit-flecked hostility that have emerged in some parts of our community's debate are a disgrace to a people that regularly asks in prayer for divine assistance to "guard my tongue from evil speech and my lips from speaking lies."

There's a Chasidic story about a man who went around telling malicious lies about the community rabbi. When he finally realized the harm he had caused, he went to the rabbi to ask for his forgiveness, saying he would do anything he could to make amends. The rabbi told the man, "Take a feather pillow, cut it open, and scatter the feathers to the winds!" The man thought it odd, but did as the rabbi instructed. When he returned and told the rabbi that he had done it, the rabbi said, "Now, go and gather the feathers. Because you can no more make amends for the damage your words have done than you can gather up the feathers."

The Orthodox newspaper Hamodia in its editorial thanking the President for his critical invention to save the Israelis who were trapped in their overrun embassy in Cairo wrote, "Much has been made of the strained relations between Netanyahu and the White House in recent days; but in this test of standing by one's allies in a matter of life and death, Barack Obama came through. He merited to be Hashem's instrument of salvation."

How many of us, no matter how long or fervent our love of Israel and the Jewish people can claim such merit ourselves? And how many of us should be "gathering up feathers" during these days of awe?

Whether you count yourself in the camp of "merit" or the camp of "feathers," I wish you, your family and all those you hold dear a shana tova oo'metuka-a happy and a sweet new year.


Gary L. Ackerman
Member of Congress

© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution. 
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