Itongadol.- President Barack Obama defended his fierce criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the wake of the March elections in Israel, arguing that such criticism lends him credibility when defending the Jewish state in international arenas, and rejected attempts to equate his censure of the Israeli government with anti-Semitism.
Obama: US must criticize Israel if it is to defend it
Obama, in a wide-ranging interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic, said that his criticism of Netanyahu, who on election day warned in a frantic video that Israel’s Arab citizens were streaming to the polls “in droves,” related to the very “nature of the friendship between the United States and Israel.” He also said that comments such as Netanyahu’s have “foreign-policy consequences.”
That criticism, which rattled the already fraught relationship between the two governments, was due to Netanyahu straying from “the very language of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which explicitly states that all people regardless of race or religion are full participants in the democracy,” said Obama, who also took Netanyahu to task for asserting in the run-up to the election that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch.
Both statements by the prime minister appeared geared to rally right-wing voters, although the comment about Arab voters was also widely criticized as racist. Days after the comments were made, the prime minister apologized while speaking to a group of representatives of the Arab community who he invited to his office.
Obama at the time slammed Netanyahu for his remarks, saying they were “contrary to what is the best of Israel’s traditions,” and that it “erodes the name of democracy in the country.”
“When something like that happens, that has foreign-policy consequences, and precisely because we’re so close to Israel, for us to simply stand there and say nothing would have meant that this office, the Oval Office, lost credibility when it came to speaking out on these issues,” he told Goldberg on Tuesday; the interview was published Thursday.
“And when I am then required to come to Israel’s defense internationally, when there is anti-Semitism out there, when there is anti-Israeli policy that is based not on the particulars of the Palestinian cause but based simply on hostility, I have to make sure that I am entirely credible in speaking out against those things, and that requires me then to also be honest with friends about how I view these issues.
“My hope is that over time [the] debate gets back on a path where there’s some semblance of hope and not simply fear, because it feels to me as if, if all we are talking about is based from fear,” he said.
Obama conjured many of Israel’s most iconic figures and symbols to stress his long-standing support and admiration for the Jewish state.
“I care deeply about preserving that Jewish democracy, because when I think about how I came to know Israel, it was based on images of… kibbutzim and Moshe Dayan, and Golda Meir, and the sense that not only are we creating a safe Jewish homeland, but also we are remaking the world. We’re repairing it.”
According to the president, the Jewish state was founded on lessons learned from hardships and persecution, which were applied to how it governs and treats others. Those values, he claimed, had helped nurture his own political beliefs.