Obama to Israel and Jewish Voters: “I Have Your Back,” But Diplomacy First, Please

Stephen Richer (left) with Leora Itman (middle) and her brother Aaron. AIPAC Policy Conference 2012.

Leora Itman is the President of TC Jewfolk, a commentary site that also aggregates events for Jewish young adults in Twin Cities, Minnesota.   Leora and GTJ president, Stephen Richer, have chatted many times about common experiences and finally got a chance to meet at AIPAC Policy Conference.   The following is Leora’s response to President Obama’s speech and does not reflect a GTJ stance. For an alternate piece on the speech, click here.  To read Stephen’s summary of four years at AIPAC Policy Conference, click here.

……………

President Obama had two strong messages in his speech this morning before the AIPAC Policy Conference. First, that his words and deeds show him as a strong and consistent supporter of Israel, and second, that despite this truth, he favors diplomacy with Iran and not a jump to war and aggression to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon that could destroy Israel and/or America, and the safety of the world.

The second message, of course, got far less applause than the first.

But it was necessary for us to hear.

Because, as President Obama stated, in more ways than one, he has a “deeply held preference for peace over war. I have sent men and women into harm’s way. I have seen the consequences of those decisions in those who come home deeply wounded, and in those who don’t make it home. For this reason, as part of my solemn obligation to the American people, I will only use force when the time and circumstances demand it.”

He also recognized that peace and diplomacy are in Israel’s interests, for Israel knows the pains of war as America does, and acts not on such decisions lightly. He told us, “Israel’s own leaders understand the necessity of pursuing peace.”

Peace and diplomacy are ideals, but President Obama was not timid in saying that “as I have made clear time and again, I will not hesitate to use force when necessary to defend the United States and its interests.”

And he recognized that it was a “basic truth” that “no Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a government that sponsors terrorist groups commitment to Israel’s destruction that threatens to wipe Israel off the map.”  However, a nuclear-armed Iran is not just a danger to Israel and “completely counter to Israel’s security interests” but also “counter to the national security interests of the United States.”

Which brings us to the second main theme of President Obama’s speech: America’s unwavering commitment to Israel, and not just because the “United States and Israel share interests” but also because “we also share those human values that Shimon [Peres] spoke about. A commitment to human dignity. A belief that freedom is a right that is given to all of God’s children. An experience that shows us that democracy is the one and only form of government that can be truly responsive to the aspirations of citizens.” And that is why “America’s commitment [to Israel] has prevailed under leadership by both parties.”

Thus, ”when the chips are down,” President Obama said, “I have Israel’s back.”  President Obama emphasized that “as you examine my commitment [to Israel], you don’t just have to count on my words. count on my deeds…. Because over the last three years, as President of the United States, I have kept my commitments to the state of Israel. At every crucial juncture – at every fork in the road – we have been there for Israel. Every single time.”

He went on, to continued applause:

“The fact is, my Administration’s commitment to Israel’s security has been unprecedented. Our military and intelligence cooperation has never been closer. Our joint exercises and training have never been more robust. Despite a tough budget environment, our security assistance has increased every year. We are investing in new capabilities. We’re providing Israel with more advanced technology – the type of products and systems that only go to our closest friends and allies. And make no mistake: we will do what it takes to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge – because Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.”

It was clear who President Obama was speaking to at that point. Not just to AIPAC. But to Jewish voters. To those doubting his support for Israel. To those concerned about his commitment.

“Just as we’ve been there with our security assistance, we have been there through our diplomacy. When the Goldstone report unfairly singled out Israel for criticism, we challenged it. When Israel was isolated in the aftermath of the flotilla incident, we supported them. When the Durban conference was commemorated, we boycotted it, and we will always reject the notion that Zionism is racism. When one-sided resolutions are brought up at the Human Rights Council, we oppose them. When Israeli diplomats feared for their lives in Cairo, we intervened to help save them. When there are efforts to boycott or divest from Israel, we will stand against them. And whenever an effort is made to de-legitimize the state of Israel, my Administration has opposed them…. So if during this political season you hear some question my Administration’s support for Israel, remember that it’s not backed up by the facts.”

And yet, the AIPAC Conference was not about which Democrat or Republican supported Israel more. It was about our UNITED support for Israel. President Obama declared to a standing ovation: “The U.S.-Israel relationship is simply too important to be distorted by partisan politics. America’s national security is too important. Israel’s security is too important.”

And while Israel and America “may not agree on every single issue, no two nations do. But we agree on the big things – the things that matter.” And to wild applause, he concluded his Jewish American reelection speech.

Interested in reading more? Leora also penned the following articles during her stay at AIPAC Policy Conference:

Be sure to check out TCJewfolk if you’re looking for another Jewish read, or if you’re moving to Minnesota.