Ending the occupation of the West Bank through a negotiated settlement has been a bipartisan aim of U.S. diplomacy. But to speak of it as McDonough did—as if the Jews made a wanton land-grab half a century ago and must now disgorge its fruits—was a stunning departure from the traditions of American policy, not to mention the historical record. Here was the U.S. president’s chief of staff sounding not unlike, say, a Norwegian anti-Israel activist.
Days earlier, in the wake of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest issued a thinly veiled threat that Washington might withdraw its support for Jerusalem at the United Nations. Netanyahu, in the heat of the campaign, had just made remarks ruling out the
formation of a Palestinian state during his premiership. These ill-phrased comments were open to misinterpretation by a hostile press, and his later warning to supporters that Arab Israeli voters were coming out “in droves” was ugly.
The prime minister soon clarified his statehood position and apologized to Israeli Arabs, but the White House kept hounding him. Speaking to the Huffington Post after the election, Obama reiterated the UN threat: “We take him at his word when he said that [statehood] wouldn’t happen during his prime ministership, and so that’s why we’ve got to evaluate what other options are available to make sure that we don’t see a chaotic situation in the region”—as if Netanyahu’s hardnosed view of Palestinian statehood was the only cloud in the otherwise friendly Mideast skies.
By contrast, when Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called Israel a “rabid dog” in 2013, an unnamed senior U.S. official told BuzzFeed that this made him feel “uncomfortable.” Khamenei’s genocidal sloganeering—for what does one do with a rabid dog?—didn’t draw condemnation, let alone delay Obama’s nuclear diplomacy with the Tehran regime. Having reportedly dissuaded Netanyahu from taking military action against Iran’s nuclear-weapons program during his first term on the grounds that he would make sure Iran never got the bomb, Obama in his second term started talks that quickly became predicated on the inevitability of Iran’s becoming a nuclear power.
For his cooperation, Netanyahu was labeled a “coward” and a “chickenshit” by Obama officials speaking anonymously to the press. And Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein told the child Netanyahu to “contain himself.”
Israel’s defense on the world stage, once a transcendent cause, is now hostage to the whims of a vindictive president who has pinned his legacy to turning away from America’s traditional allies, Israel above all. The administration’s cheerleaders in the media and surrogates within the American-Jewish community may pretend otherwise, but the Jewish state now faces a White House that is oblivious to regional realities, is disdainful of the Israeli body politic, and is flirting with the lexicon and tactics of delegitimization.