Responding to “The Truth About Obama and Israel”

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Originally produced as an internal research product, EMET has examined a shockingly partisan and particularly misleading column by Haim Saban in the New York Times. Our research produced multiple statements and reports which disprove or dispute the depiction of the Obama Administration’s policy towards Israel presented in the piece.

Because these arguments have been repeatedly advanced in the media following the release of the Saban article, EMET has decided to release our report for the edification of our members. Although EMET, as a 501(c)3, does not get involved in political matters, we felt the need to address these erroneous and/or misleading claims. Below you will see each claim made in the Saban article, followed by a refutation, with links and citations.

Assertion:  “Even though he could have done a better job highlighting his friendship for Israel, there’s no denying that by every tangible measure, his support for Israel’s security and well-being has been rock solid.”


    • Reality: The Democrat 2012 platform watered down the 2008 platform to eliminate any references to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, to remove the refusal to interact with Hamas unless they reject terrorism, etc.  Later, after an outcry, the reference to Jerusalem was put back, but not the other two.
    • Reality: On August 30, 2012, with the clear blessing of the president, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey chastised Netanyahu.  According to Dempsey, Obama’s and Israel’s policies on Iran are not exactly the same.  On the contrary, the president is desperate to avoid being seen to be “complicit” should Israel decide to exercise her right of self-defense against Iran.
    • Reality:  President Obama “adopted the Palestinian position on negotiations (that all settlement activity should cease before talks could resume).”
    • Reality: “As for Israeli-US intelligence cooperation, under Obama for the first time, the US hassystematically leaked Israel’s most closely guarded secrets to the media.”
    •     Reality: It has been reported that President Obama wanted to create a strategy of “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel.
    •     Reality: President Obama backtracked on agreementsbetween President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon on the 1967 borders — and then adamantly denied this was a policy change.

    • Reality: The Obama Administration excluded Israelfrom its Counterterrorism Forum, despite the prolonged experience Israel has with fighting terrorism, and the reality that Israel is probably the nation most knowledgeable about fighting terrorism.

    • Reality: The Obama administration failed to consult with Israel during the upheaval associated with the so-called Arab Spring, and failed to condemn the Muslim Brotherhood’s the anti-Semitism and support for terrorism.

    • Reality: The decision by the Obama Administration tolimit the participation of the U.S. in joint U.S.-Israeli security exercises cannot be seen as “support” for Israeli security, including on the issue of missile defense, with both the number and quality of missile interception systems being downgraded from what was scheduled to take place during the exercise.
    •   Assertion:  “As president, [President Obama] responded by providing full financing and technical assistance for Israel’s Iron Dome short-range anti-rocket defense system, which is now protecting those villagers. In July, he provided an additional $70 million to extend the Iron Dome system across southern Israel.”
    • Reality: No president has opposed funding these anti-missile defenses for Israel. The program in question was originally proposed in 2007 under the Bush Administration, and expansion of the program is supported on a bipartisan basis. The initial FY 2013 budget proposed by President Obama did not provide funding for the Iron Dome System, but the Iron Dome Support Act, introduced by a bipartisan group of representatives would permit allocating funds for the program. Additionally, House Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee has proposed earmarking an additional $620 million dollars for the program, almost all of the $700 million Israeli officials have said they require for an additional four missile batteries.


    • Reality:  Many of the policies of the Obama Administration which can be characterized as pro-Israel were arrived at only under intense pressure from Congressional Democrats, as Mideast expert Barry Rubin noted,“Congress supports Israel. There was more pushback against Obama from Democratic members on this issue than on any other, foreign or domestic.”



Assertion: “When the first President Bush had disagreements with Israel over its settlement policy, he threatened to withhold loan guarantees from Israel. Mr. Obama has had his own disagreements with Mr. Netanyahu over the settlers but has never taken such a step.”


  • Reality: While President George H.W. Bush did seek delays in loan guarantees to Israel over the question of settlements in the disputed territories of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), The Golan Heights, and the Gaza Strip, President Obama sought a hitherto unheard of settlement freeze within the boundaries of Jerusalem itself. The Obama administration then used the unfortunate timing of a construction announcement in a Jerusalem suburb to further denigrate the Israeli government, despite that the Netanyahu government had never agreed to halting construction in Jerusalem, only the West Bank.  Responding to the building incident, President Obama then proceeded to snub Prime Minister Netanyahu in the White House, presenting the Israeli PM with a list of demands beforewalking out on the scheduled meeting.[xvii]This new demand of a Jerusalem settlement freeze then became the base line for Palestinian demands even to return to the negotiating table, putting a halt to the prospect of negotiations.


Assertion: “Ask any senior Israeli official involved in national security, and he will tell you that the strategic relationship between the United States and Israel has never been stronger than under President Obama. “I can hardly remember a better period of American support and backing, and Israeli cooperation and similar strategic understanding of events around us,” the defense minister, Ehud Barak, said last year, “than what we have right now.””


  • Reality:  Not all “Senior Israeli” officials are convinced of this “better period” of support and backing. Israeli vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon is reported to have said, the “US is undermining the military threat against Iran”. President Benjamin Netanyahu himself is reported to have said, “Instead of pressuring Iran in an effective way, Obama and his people are pressuring us not to attack the nuclear facilities,” in a meeting with U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro.[xx]  Those reports were confirmed by Rep. Mike Rogers, who was present for the meeting.Additionally statements by U.S. officials serving under President Obama have done much to undermine the sense of “American backing.” These statements have included those by U.S. General David Petraeusand Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta blaming Israel for Mideast tensions and a lack of progress on peace with the Palestinians. Most recently Obama’s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey used language most often associated with criminality when he said he did not wish to be “complicit” in an Israel strike on Iran.
  • Reality:  The piece ignores the reality of diplomatic niceties and the Israeli urgent efforts to maintain the Israeli-American alliance in spite of Obama policies. As Barry Rubin notes,“ Their task is not to defeat Obama or to critique him but to get along with him as well as possible in order to protect Israel’s long-term alliance with the United States without sacrificing any of Israel’s vital interests. They’ve done it well. The one moment the truth emerged was when Obama betrayed Israel, on the diplomatic level, by announcing, without consultation, a new policy on peace terms while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was flying to Washington. You think Israeli leaders (and this is not ideological, not a matter of left or right) have a high regard for Obama? Read Netanyahu’s speech to the joint session of Congress.”


Assertion: “[American-Israeli] cooperation has included close coordination by intelligence agencies — including the deployment of cyberweapons, as recent news reports have revealed — to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”


  • Reality: Far from improving, “Close coordination between intelligence agencies”, a campaign of leaks has been conducted by Obama Administration officials regarding covert activities involving Israel which has strained intelligence ties. Officials have anonymously leaked information involving Israeli ties withAzerbaijan, and activities in Northern Kurdistan. The administration has also leaked information regarding the Israeli timeline for a strike, and leaked information in an effort to persuade the public that an Israeli strike on Iran would fail.The cyber-warfare cooperation, which also began under President Bush, and which Saban cites, was publicly exposed in a New York Times published preview of the book, “Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power,” by David Sanger, in which the Obama administration blamed Israel for “exposing” the computer virus, with Vice President Joe Bidenspecifically accusing the Israelis of having “went too far.”
  • Reality:  Rep. Mike Rogers, Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told a Michigan radio interviewer about a high-level confrontation between the Obama appointed Ambassador to Israel, and Netanyahu, and “he described Israeli leaders as being at “wits’ end” over what they see as President Obama’s unwillingness to provide them with his “red lines” in the effort to stop Iran’s nuclear program. He also said that neither the Israelis nor the Iranians believe that Obama would use force to stop the nuclear program.”


Assertion: “Mr. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, diverted American attention from Iran — the greatest threat to Israel’s existence — to Iraq, even helping to put a pro-Iranian leader in power in Baghdad.”


  • Reality:  It is true that since the withdrawal from Iraq, Iraqi President Nour Al-Maliki has turned increasingly towards Iran. What is left unsaid is that this shift occurred at least in part due to the Obama Administration’s decision to withdrawal troops from Iraq. U.S. commanders had recommended retaining a force between 15-18,000, a move which was “welcomed by Sunnis and Kurds.” As former Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi noted, “The Americans have pulled out without completing the job they should have finished… We have warned them that we don’t have a political process which is inclusive of all Iraqis…  Iraqis should fill the vacuum, rather than anyone else.”
  • In the summer of 2009, Obama did his best to overlook a widespread rebellion in Iran and the regime’s brutal repression of it, in his quest to keep his policy of engagement on track
  • President Obama’s “extended hand” policy to Iran has been condemned as ineffective by leaders as established as French President Sarkozy who indicated“ We live in the real world, not in a virtual one.” Sarkozy[said]: “I support America’s ‘extended hand.’ But what have these proposals for dialogue produced for the international community? Nothing but more enriched uranium and more centrifuges. . . . What conclusions are we to draw? At a certain moment hard facts will force us to make decisions.”


Assertion: “…through painstaking diplomacy, Mr. Obama persuaded Russia and China to support harsh sanctions on Iran, including an arms embargo and the cancellation of a Russian sale of advanced antiaircraft missiles that would have severely complicated any military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Mr. Obama secured European support for what even Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called “the most severe and strictest sanctions ever imposed on a country.”


  • Reality:  The current sanctions regime is far from air tight. The Obama Administration has granted sanction waivers to a total of twenty countries, including China, and at least ten European countries. Additionally far from deserving credit for the sanctions regime to the extent it is effective at all, the Obama administration actively worked against the expansion of sanctions, reportedly frustrating New Jersey Democrat Rep. Robert Menendez who authored the “Kirk-Menendez” Sanctions together with Represent Mark Kirk (R-IL). Menendez reportedly said he “regretted working with the administration on the issue.” Furthermore it remains to be seen that the Russian S-300 missile deal referred to here is actually terminated, or whether it may be renewed at a later time, particularly if Syria should leave the Russian sphere of influence  The Treasury Department has issued thousands of waivers for companies doing business with Iran, while China and India have been allowed to continue importing oil from the regime. Language aimed at cracking down on financial transactions was made less specific. And Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) led an effort to water down sanctions against insurance companies that underwrite Iranian affiliates.


Assertion: “Mr. Obama not only has declared that all options are on the table, but he has also taken the option of merely “containing” a nuclear-armed Iran offthe table. He has directed the military to prepare options for confronting Iran and has positioned forces in the Persian Gulf to demonstrate his resolve.”


  • Reality: While the Obama Administration has increased the American military presence in the gulf, the administration has reportedly also issued a back channel declaration to Iran that, provided U.S. bases and other infrastructure remains unharmed, the U.S. would not retaliate against an Iranian strike on Israel.


Assertion:  “President Obama has blocked Palestinian attempts to bypass negotiations and achieve United Nations recognition as a member state, a move that would have opened the way to efforts by Israel’s foes to sanction and criminalize its policies.”


  • Reality: While it is true that the Obama Administration did vow to veto a Palestinian statehood vote at the UN Security Council if necessary, the Palestinians failed to receive enough support to require a veto so the vow was not truly tested.Additionally, the Obama administration has also undertaken efforts to restore funds to UNESCO, which recognized Palestinian as a member against U.S. policy triggering automatic funding cuts. At a minimum this creates confusion as to Obama Administration policy regarding UN recognition of Palestinian statehood.
    • Reality: President Obama joined the Human Rights Council – which President Bush had left – thereby providing more legitimacy to its outright anti-Semitism as noted even by administration officials.
    • Reality: In fact, no president has done lessabout fighting the delegitimization of Israel by his own statements and actions than has Obama. And in some cases, especially regarding Gaza, he has not really supported Israel’s right to defend itself in practice.
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The Endowment for Middle East Truth
Founded in 2005, The Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) is a Washington, D.C. based think tank and policy center with an unabashedly pro-America and pro-Israel stance. EMET (which means truth in Hebrew) prides itself on challenging the falsehoods and misrepresentations that abound in U.S. Middle East policy.

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