Thursday, July 23, 2009

Which Nation Does Obama Want to Sanction? Israel or Iran?

Jonathan Tobin

The Obama administration’s Jewish apologists were working overtime last week to pretend there is nothing unusual or unsavory about the president’s penchant for conflict with Israel. Indeed, many on the Left have been talking as if Israel’s resistance to Obama’s demand that no Jews be allowed to build homes in Jerusalem is nothing more than a political ploy on the part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to this interpretation, Obama’s demand for halting housing projects in those city parts occupied by Jordan from 1948 to 1967 is nothing to get upset about and Netanyahu is merely playing to the crowd in a vain attempt to evade the president’s reasonable demands.

Indeed, following my post on the Jerusalem controversy earlier this week, a couple of my left-wing friends told me that I was crazy if I thought any non-extremist American Jews would get worked up over a housing project in East Jerusalem funded by right-wing gadfly Irving Moskowitz.

Fortunately, as previously noted here in CONTENTIONS, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations agreed with Netanyahu that an important principle was at stake in this controversy. It is true that previous administrations have opposed similar building plans, such as the one in Jerusalem’s Har Homa neighborhood and other developments linked to Moskowitz. But the point is, contrary to the Obama apologists’ position, this administration has raised the stakes on Jerusalem in a way very different from its predecessors’ actions.

It is one thing to make a pro forma objection to a specific development; it is quite another to speak, as the State Department has, as if there is no difference between a neighborhood in Israel’s capital and the farthest corner of the West Bank.

And for those who continue to be in denial about the new atmosphere between Israel and Washington, let’s have an explanation for State Department spokesman Robert Wood’s statement on Tuesday night, according to which financial sanctions on Israel were merely “premature,” in case Israel did not bend to the administration’s will regarding building homes in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Premature? That is more or less the same way this administration has spoken about adopting tougher sanctions on Iran.

Dismiss it as a gaffe if you like, but the use of the word clearly indicates that sanctions on Israel are not only thinkable but are being discussed. An Israeli official speaking off the record to the Jerusalem Post about this dismissed the threat as “nonsense.” He went on to say, “There is no way that at the same time it wants to engage with the Iranians, it is going to take sanctions against Israel. It just doesn’t make sense.”

No, it doesn’t. But that such craziness is actually being tossed around in Washington these days shows just how much things have changed under Obama. In the meantime, as the same Jerusalem Post article indicated, Israeli officials are now considering what they would do should a halt to U.S. military assistance be enacted — as a mere possibility, of course.

That such an eventuality is not a far-fetched scenario but a real-life threat that Jerusalem must take seriously speaks volumes about its current predicament. For months, Obama’s Jewish supporters and apologists have been telling us that it was too soon to judge the president’s attitude toward Israel. But their reluctance to break ranks with a popular liberal Democrat has put them in a position of supporting a government that seems more interested in getting tough with Jerusalem than with the tyrannical Islamist regime in Tehran.

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