Part three of a five part series. Part one.
On March 10th of this year, a relatively low-level official in the Israeli Interior Ministry issued a permit for 1,600 new housing units for Israelis in the Ramat Shlomo section of East Jerusalem. The ill-timed announcement came on the very day vice president Joe Biden arrived in Israel to kick-start a round of indirect peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately apologized to Biden, who accepted his expression of regret. But Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian National Authority on the West Bank, called off the "proximity talks."
The next day, at the regularly scheduled weekly breakfast meeting between the president and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Obama made his feelings clear. He was livid. As he saw it, the Israelis had purposely humiliated his vice president and tried to sabotage his peace plan. It was a personal affront, and he wouldn't stand for such treatment. He instructed Hillary to call Netanyahu and read him the riot act.
The following day, during a 43-minute harangue, Hillary delivered a set of ultimatums to Netanyahu. Prefacing each remark with the phrase "I have been instructed to tell you," Hillary demanded that Israel release a substantial number of Palestinian prisoners as a token of goodwill; lift its siege of Gaza; suspend all settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem; accept that a symbolic number of Palestinians be given the "right of return" to Israel under a future peace treaty; and agree to place the question of the status of Jerusalem at the top of the peace-talks agenda.
"If you refuse these demands," Hillary told Netanyahu, according to our sources, "the United States government will conclude that we no longer share the same interests."
Netanyahu bit his tongue and remained noncommittal about the American demands, though he did eventually agree to ease the blockade of Gaza.
That same Friday, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, was summoned to the State Department and given a severe dressing down. Someone who saw Oren that night at a party described him as "shaken."
And things did not end there. Ten days later, Netanyahu was invited to the White House, where he was treated to further browbeating and humiliation. Photographers were banned from recording the visit. And at one point, President Obama left Netanyahu to have dinner with his wife Michelle and their daughters, Malia and Sasha.
"I'm going upstairs," the president told Netanyahu, according to my sources. "Call me when you're ready to talk substance."
Netanyahu and his entourage were then left to cool their heels in the Roosevelt Room. At one point, the Israeli delegation asked for something to drink and food. They were served non-kosher food, which some of them wouldn't eat.
The White House seemed strangely indifferent to the feelings of resentment that its treatment of Netanyahu aroused in the Jewish community. For shortly after Netanyahu returned to Israel, the president risked provoking even greater Jewish outrage by insinuating that American troops were dying in Iraq and Afghanistan because Israel refused to agree to peace with the Palestinians. The Israeli-Arab conflict "is costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasures," the president said.
A perception began to spread throughout the Jewish community that the Obama administration was not only outwardly hostile to Israel, but perhaps, without even knowing it, hostile to Jews as well. This thesis was forcefully argued by Jonathan Kellerman, the best-selling suspense novelist and a professor clinical pediatric and psychology at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine:
My personal opinion... is that the bifurcation of Israel and Judaism is structurally fallacious. The Land of Israel is an essential ingredient of Judaism practiced fully. Thus, it is impossible to be anti-Israel and not be anti-Jewish. And in fact, the war being waged against Israel by the Muslim world is, at the core, a religious dispute. Radical Islamists no longer talk about Zionists; they come right out and broadcast their goal of eradicating worldwide Jewry.
The impression of an anti-Jewish bias at the highest echelons of the Obama administration, though unproved, was given added force in April when James Jones, the retired Marine Corps four-star general who serves as President Obama's national security adviser, delivered a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and opened his remarks with a joke that was widely interpreted by many Jews as being flagrantly anti-Semitic.
I'd just like to tell you a story that I think is true. It happened recently in southern Afghanistan. A member of the Taliban was separated from his fighting party and wandered around for a few days in the desert, lost, out of food, no water. And he looked on the horizon and he saw what looked like a little shack and he walked towards that shack. And as he got to it, it turned out it was a little store owned by a Jewish merchant. And the Taliban warrior went up to him and said, 'I need water. Give me some water.' And the merchant said, 'I'm sorry, I don't have any water, but would you like a tie? We have a nice sale of ties today.'
Whereupon the Taliban erupted into a stream of language that I can't repeat, but about Israel, about Jewish people, about the man himself, about his family, and just said, 'I need water, you try to sell me ties, you people don't get it.'
And impassively the merchant stood there until the Taliban was through with his diatribe and said, 'Well I'm sorry that I don't have water for you and I forgive you for all of the insults you've levied against me, my family, my country. But I will help you out. If you go over that hill and walk about two miles, there is a restaurant there and they have all the water you need.' And the Taliban, instead of saying thanks, still muttering under his breath, disappears over the hill, only to come back an hour later. And walking up to the merchant says, 'Your brother tells me [you] need a tie to get into the restaurant.'