The whole world was watching, and listening. The leaders of the G20 nations gathered in Cannes, France, for another of those endless schmooze fests we now call summits, Presidents Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy were caught on tape telling us what they really think of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Los Angeles Times reported:
"I can't stand to see him anymore, he's a liar,'' Sarkozy told Obama, according to a French translation of the exchange.
"You are fed up with him, but me, I have to deal with him every day,'' Obama replied.
This embarrassing leak was the result of the two media savvy leaders' failure to note that their microphones were still on. We can't demand their resignations, but we should not let this gaffe pass without probing into its deeper significance.
Sarkozy might have noted that France was, in an unfortunate way, perhaps the leading force behind the establishment of the modern State of Israel. Theodor Herzl was a correspondent for a Viennese newspaper in 1894 when he went to Paris to cover the treason trial of army Capt. Alfred Dreyfus. Dreyfus had been charged with secretly giving French military secrets to Germany.
At the time, Herzl firmly believed that the Jews of Europe should assimilate into the majority Christian population and avoid any assertion of Jewish identity. Only when Herzl saw the rabid Parisian mobs screaming "mort aux juifs" -- death to the Jews -- did this idealistic young intellectual become the dedicated leader of world Zionism. From that point on, Herzl was convinced, only a Jewish homeland in Palestine could provide protection for a constantly threatened people.
Does Mr. Obama know any of this? His clueless comments suggest he does not. L'affaire Dreyfus was one of the seminal events in modern history. France was nearly torn apart by it. The right-wing government of the Third Republic was deeply implicated in framing Dreyfus on the treason charge. Military and church authorities were found to have conspired to violate elementary rules of fairness because Dreyfus was a Jew. Left-wing firebrand Émile Zola, the young radical Georges Clemenceau (later the wartime premier of France) and socialist politician Jean Jaurès rallied the left to the defense of Dreyfus. Zola's impassioned pamphlet, J'accuse! ("I accuse!") repudiated conservative leaders of French society.
Nicolas Sarkozy surely knows all this. His ancestors were Greek Jews. The Jews of Salonika were decimated by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
In fairness, not liking Benjamin Netanyahu is not the same as not liking Israel or not liking Jews. Still, neither Mr. Obama nor Mr. Sarkozy tells us why they don't like Netanyahu. Sarkozy in the leaked comments says he thinks Netanyahu lied to him.
About what? About wanting to keep Israel safe? About not embracing the pre-1967 borders? Those indefensible borders have been called, with no great exaggeration, the
President Obama's gaffe could not have come at a worse time for him. At the very moment when the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has confirmed that Iran is rapidly developing a nuclear bomb, the failure of Obama's policies to divert the mullahs in Tehran from this perilous course is clear to the world.
For three years, Mr. Obama has tried to appease the world's number one terrorist regime. They publicly call Israel "a two-bomb country." And they are close to having the first bomb. Obama has nothing to show for his efforts -- except three years that the locusts have eaten.
Administration spokesmen are rushing to tell journalists -- and nervous American Jewish supporters -- that President Obama has spent more time -- "one on one" -- with Prime Minister Netanyahu than with any other world leader. Is that supposed to reassure us?
One of their longer "face to face" meetings was a stern lecture by Netanyahu on camera in the Oval Office. The Israeli leader last May took Mr. Obama to school on the dread realities of those pre-1967 borders. Obama was reportedly furious after that session. What else did he expect when he chose to speak out in favor of those indefensible borders while the Israeli leader was in the air, en route to Washington?
Friends of Israel can only shake their heads in disbelief. From Harry Truman to George W. Bush, the U.S. has been the reliable friend of Israel. Even the anti-Semitic Richard Nixon was there for Israel, when the chips were down during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Barack Obama's record makes him unmistakably the first anti-Israel president in our history.
Follow Ken Blackwell on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kenblackwell