NEW YORK — The Obama administration’s actual record is far more instructive than politically inspired rhetoric in providing guidance in this year’s presidential election campaign.
It is clear that under President Barack Obama’s leadership, as he has repeatedly reassured both Israelis and Americans, the United States has consistently had and “will always have Israel’s back.”
The Obama administration has just allocated an additional $70 million to fund Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, which has helped protect Israelis from rocket attacks launched against them from Gaza. According to U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, “My goal is to ensure Israel has the funding it needs each year to produce these batteries that can protect its citizens. That is why going forward over the next three years, we intend to request additional funding for Iron Dome, based on an annual assessment of Israeli security requirements against an evolving threat. This is part of our rock solid commitment to Israel’s security and comes on top of approximately $3 billion in annual security assistance for Israel.
“The U.S. has already provided $205 million in assistance for that system,” Panetta continued, “and operational batteries have already proven effective in defending against rocket attacks on Israel earlier this year. Iron Dome has already saved the lives of Israeli citizens, and it can help prevent escalation in the future.”
Obama emphasized the strong U.S.-Israel relationship when he said in his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo June 29, 2009, that, “America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable.”
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan E. Rice recently told a Florida audience, “America remains deeply and permanently committed to the peace and security of the state of Israel. That commitment starts with President Obama and it is shared by us all. It is not negotiable and it never will be.”
The facts support Rice’s contention. Despite occasional tensions between Washington and Jerusalem regarding such controversial issues as the expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank, U.S.-Israeli military and defense cooperation and coordination have never been stronger or closer.
“Four years ago,” Obama said at the March 2012 policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, “I stood before you and said that, ‘Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable.’ That belief has guided my actions as president. 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 single year. We are investing in new capabilities. We’re providing Israel with more advanced technology — the types 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.”
“No president since Harry Truman has done more for Israel’s physical security than Barack Obama,” Vice President Joe Biden said at the international conference of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly in Atlanta in May. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, himself a former prime minister and chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, agrees with this assessment of the Israel-U.S. relationship. “I can hardly remember a better period of support, American support and backing and cooperation and similar strategic understanding of events around us than what we have right now,” he said in an interview with Greta Van Susteren on “Fox News” last August.
In fairness, Gov. Mitt Romney is also an outspoken supporter of Israel. While there are stark contrasts between him and Obama on a host of economic, domestic and social issues, any differences in their respective positions on Israel are far more a matter of nuance than substance.
Obama has steadfastly sought to achieve a viable and durable Israeli-Palestinian peace. Addressing the U.N. General Assembly Sept. 23, 2011, he reiterated an unwavering commitment to Israel’s “legitimacy and its right to exist in peace and security,” while acknowledging the “legitimate claims and rights of the Palestinians.”
The “greatest price” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he reminded the international community on that occasion, “is not paid by us. It’s not paid by politicians. It’s paid by the Israeli girl in Sderot who closes her eyes in fear that a rocket will take her life in the middle of the night. It’s paid for by the Palestinian boy in Gaza who has no clean water and no country to call his own. These are all God’s children. And after all the politics and all the posturing, this is about the right of every human being to live with dignity and security. That is a lesson embedded in the three great faiths that call one small slice of Earth the Holy Land. And that is why, even though there will be setbacks and false starts and tough days, I will not waver in my pursuit of peace.”
As former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said publicly several weeks ago, Obama is truly “a friend of Israel.” Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, for one, is similarly convinced “of the president’s firm commitment to the security of the State of Israel.”
If past is prologue, Americans — both Jews and non-Jews — devoted to and concerned about Israel can vote to re-elect Obama in November with an absolutely clear conscience.
(Menachem Z. Rosensaft is an adjunct professor of law at Cornell Law School, a lecturer in law at Columbia Law School, a distinguished visiting lecturer at Syracuse University College of Law, and vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.)