Most of us have had the experience of saying something to a friend or loved one in the heat of the moment that we instantly regretted. The hurt look of the face of the person we have injured is enough to cause us to immediately regret our words – at least as soon as the initial period of self-justification has passed. In such cases, our regret is sincere because our words did not reflect our true feelings and have hurt someone whom we care about deeply.
And then there are those times when we have spoken harshly to someone and regretted our words, not because our words or actions do not reflect our true feelings, but because they do. In such cases, our regret is that we were impolitic. Perhaps the target of our wrath had power over us – e.g., a boss. Or perhaps there were other untoward consequences of having revealed our true feelings. Or if we are at a higher level, perhaps the words were halachically forbidden.
In the past month, the Obama administration has been making a conspicuous effort to win back Jewish supporters concerned over the harsh attitudes shown to Israel since Vice-President Joe Biden's ill-fated visit. Both the President and Secretary of State have made a point of the administration's unfailing support for Israel's security, and even gone so far as to praise Prime Minister Netanyahu for his steps to further the "peace" process. The President has met with American rabbis and with Democratic Jewish congressman, and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel confessed that the administration "blew it" with respect to getting out its message on Israel.
The latter was dispatched on his recent visit to Israel, for his son's bar mitzvah, to invite Netanyahu to the White House for a meeting that would presumably be more cordial than the last visit, where Netanyahu was shown in and out via the metaphorical servants' entrance, without photographers allowed, and left to reconsider the evil of his ways, while the President supped upstairs with his family. As a grand finale, the President and First Lady hosted the first ever White House celebrations of Jewish-American Heritage Month, featuring ex-baseball great Sandy Koufax.
The big question raised by the White House efforts is: Do they fall into the first category – expressions of true regret for words spoken in anger and haste or the second – an attempt to backtrack from harsh statements and actions in order to mitigate untoward consequences? The case for the former is hard to make. The harshness of language towards Israel emanating from the administration and the shifts in policy, including disavowing President Bush's April 14, 2005 letter to Prime Minister Sharon on settlements and Palestinian refuges, too dramatic to qualify as matters of mere nuance. Everything pointed to a deliberate effort by the administration to put, in the President's own words, light between the United States and Israel.
In addition, a clear political calculus dictated that the Obama administration would eventually tone-down its rhetoric vis-à-vis Israel. The backlash from former Obama supporters, like Ed Koch and Marty Peretz of The New Republic, and major Democratic donors, like Chaim Saban, and the still strong support for Israel on Capitol Hill and with the American people concerned the White House political apparatus and placed certain limits on how far the administration could comfortably go with its hostility to Israel or the current Israeli government.
Another action recent taken by the United States government should conclusively settle the categorization question about the Obama administration: the United States joined together with the other 188 signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to unanimously pass a resolution calling upon Israel to become a signatory to the NPT and to open its nuclear facilities to international inspection. It also called for an international conference on a nuclear free Middle East by 2012.
It would be hard to overstate the consequences of the resolution. As a practical matter, the resolution is a call upon Israel to shed its nuclear weapons, not simply to end its non-standing policy of nuclear ambiguity. It is not possible to become a signatory today to the NPT as a nuclear state. For Israel to join, as the resolution demands, would mean giving up any nuclear weapons it possesses.
In addition, the resolution significantly advances the international delegitimization of Israel, as a rogue state, along the lines of the former South African regime. The resolution explicitly singles out Israel among all the nations of the world, while making no mention of at least two acknowledged nuclear powers – Pakistan and India – who are not signatories to the NPT. Surely, Pakistan is far more likely to one-day employ nuclear weapons than Israel, especially should the government fall into the hands of radical Islamists. Nor does the resolution make any mention of Iran, which is aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons, even as a signatory to the NPT, or of North Korea, another signatory and the world's leading nuclear proliferator today. Similarly, no mention is made of the other nation's who have pursued nuclear programs in the past, despite being signatories, such as Libya, Syria, and Iraq.
Passage of the resolution indicates precisely how far Israel's international position has deteriorated from the time that it was first rumored to have manufactured nuclear weapons. In the wake of the Holocaust, in which six million Jews were murdered, without the civilized world lifting a finger to stop the extermination, the nations of the world felt an obligation to ensure the survival of the Jewish people, and in that spirit tolerated Israel's nuclear program, as long as it retained a low profile – e.g., no underground testing – designed to put potential enemies at ease. No such international consensus supports Israel's continued existence today. Indeed there is no other nation whose very right to exist is questioned by so many.
Finally, the resolution provides a major boost to Iran's nuclear ambitions in three ways. First, it deflects attention from the Iranian nuclear program. Second, it provides Iran with a major talking point against sanctions, as long as Israel is not in compliance with the terms of another international resolution. Third, as Caroline Glick points out, the resolution lessens the chance that Israel will attack Iran's nuclear facilities, since it will no longer be able to cite Iran's non-compliance with various international resolutions as a justification, as long as it too is in non-compliance.
A variety of U.S. government officials from President Obama on down attempted to mitigate the impact of the resolution on Israel in various ways. The President issued a statement opposing "efforts to single out Israel," even as he ordered his representatives to vote on a resolution that did precisely that. And he stated his agreement with the Israeli position that a nuclear free Middle East – i.e., a Middle East in which Israel no longer possesses its Samson option if it finds its very existence threatened – must follow peace in the region and not precede it. But the resolution itself contains no such qualifications.
Prime Minister Netanyahu declared that Israel would never give up the means to defend itself, and insisted that he had received "concrete assurances" from the White House. But those assurances coming from a White House that has already made clear that it does not view presidential promises to Israel as binding, unless they are embodied in formal treaties, are not worth the wind into which they were whispered.
It would be wrong to attribute the Obama administration's signing on to Egypt's long-time efforts to focus world attention on Israel's nuclear program solely to hostility towards Israel. The President's own nuclear naivete undoubtedly was a major impetus. He takes the view if a nuclear-free world would be safer than the present one, it follows that any reduction in nuclear arsenals makes the world safer in some measureable fashion. But that view makes no distinction between those weapons possessed by peace-loving democracies and those held by secretive or expansionist dictatorships, and will be more likely to open the nuclear field to some of the world's least stable government's, whose own nuclear calculus may be far different than that of mutual assured destruction, which preserved nuclear peace during the Cold War between the Western and Soviet blocs.
While the resolution is not merely a reflection of the Obama administration's hostility to Israel, it is, at the very least, a clear indicator that Israel's security considerations will not be allowed to intrude when the administration has other goals to pursue.