On December 23, 2016, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, abstained from a vote to condemn Israel “settlements” in the West Bank. As a result of this dereliction of conscience, the United States allowed a virulent anti-Israel resolution to pass the United Nations Security Council. The effect of this position is to make the policy of the United Nations — and the outgoing administration of President Barack Obama — that all Israeli “settlements” and “settlers” in so-called “Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967” illegal. To be clear, it is now the position of President Obama that Israeli settlements in the Jewish Quarter of the Jerusalem's Old City are illegal. Considering the fact that Jordan lost swaths of the Jewish homeland in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as a result of having declared war on Israel in 1967, it must be said that President Obama and the United Nations have taken the position that the Palestinians are entitled to an unprecedented mulligan.
Furthermore, it may be of interest to many Christians to know that the position of the Obama Administration is that many of Christianity's holiest sites should be in a state that is either run by the feckless and illegitimate Mahmoud Abbas or by Hamas.
In this article, I will examine the contents of this disgraceful resolution that President Obama supported and allowed to pass, reasons why President Obama's final betrayal of Israel should surprise no one, and how President-Elect Trump, the unified Republican Congress, and the Israeli Government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be able to respond after President-Elect Trump takes office on January 20, 2017.
Please see my blog discussing the United Nations' hostility toward Israel to learn more about why President Obama's decision was especially odious [see blog].
What Happened at the United Nations?
While the United States has been Israel's most loyal and valuable ally since 1947, its record of supporting Israel has certainly been far from perfect. I detail much of the background of U.S.-Israeli relations, with a focus on the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush, in a blog post on the Republican Party and Israel [see blog].
Since President Reagan took office on January 20, 1981, the United States has made a habit of vetoing the most virulent anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations. There have been exceptions, such as when President Reagan's Administration supported an ill-conceived condemnation of Israel's preemptive strike against an Iraqi nuclear reactor, but for the most part, the United States has protected Israel at the United Nations. This posture has been especially important since Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization signed the first iteration of the Olso Accords in 1993, wherein Israel made certain concessions in return for diplomatic assurances.
Although President Obama's administration has been broadly hostile toward Israel on a number of important issues, it had, until December 23, 2016, vetoed lopsided anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations Security Council. The United States is one of only five countries (China, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom are the four others) to have a permanent seat on the Security Council and the power to unilaterally veto resolutions. Because the United States is the only one of the five permanent members willing to consistently veto anti-Israel initiatives, it goes without saying that it is Israel's most crucial ally in the hostile United Nations [see blog].
However, for much of his second term, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry became frustrated with their inability to make headway toward a “two-state solution” in Israel. Finding that the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu was unwilling to make the sorts of incomprehensible concessions that President Obama and Secretary Kerry made in order to empower the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism, Iran, the Obama Administration began to take out its frustration by threatening to change the United States' posture toward Israel on the Security Council.
Israel knew it was entering a dangerous period in the aftermath of the U.S. Presidential and Congressional elections in November of 2016. President Obama, who had barely more than two months left in office before his retirement, had nothing to lose. Furthermore, he would be succeeded by the current President-Elect, Donald J. Trump, who ran promising to reverse much of President Obama's so-called “achievements.” President-Elect Trump showed his hand on Israel when he named David Friedman as Ambassador-designate. It takes only a quick glance at Friedman's public statements to conclude that he is quite likely to be the most pro-Israel Ambassador in U.S. History. While this was cause for celebration for the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israel's allies in the United States, it perhaps added further incentive for President Obama and his team to “lash out”1 at Israel one last time before vacating the White House.
Rumors circulated in late November that the State Department engaged in discussions with the Palestinian Authority about how to bring a resolution condemning Israeli settlements to the Security Council floor. Then, as we entered the second half of December, it became clear that a version of the resolution would be brought up for a vote by Egypt. It was immediately clear to the Israeli Government and the United States Congress that the Obama Administration intended to allow the absurd measure to pass. Running out of options, the Israeli Government appealed to President-Elect Trump's transition team. Miraculously, President-Elect Trump and his team were able to work with Israel to pressure Egypt into dropping the resolution “indefinitely.” My disagreements with President-Elect Trump, and my decision to support him in the general election, with reservations, have been well documented [see blog; blog]. However, I have nothing but praise for President-Elect Trump's efforts to stand athwart the Obama Administration's effort to slander Israel before the United Nations, and I am extremely optimistic that his unwavering support for Israel will be what we can expect for at least the next four years.
Unfortunately, President-Elect Trump's power was limited, and the resolution was brought back the next day by New Zealand, Senegal, Malaysia, and Venezuela. Prime Minister Netanyahu's government has stated that it has “rather ironclad information” that the Obama Administration was behind the effort to advance the resolution.2 Although the Obama Administration denies the charge, it must be said that where there is smoke, there is often fire. The Obama Administration has not established a record of trustworthiness, and on an issue where he seems to be acting out of spite, cannot be taken at its word. Despite the Obama Administration having found its vehicle to ensure the resolution would come up for a vote, many held out hope that the Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, would vote no. President-Elect Trump did not relent in his effort to ensure a good outcome for Israel, nor did many Republican and Democratic members of Congress. However, their lobbying would ultimately be for naught.
Ambassador Power meekly abstained after having been behind the effort to pass the resolution. However, an abstention ended up being a de facto yes vote, and the resolution passed with 14 in favor of slandering Israel, and one in favor but lacking the courage of its convictions. Writing for Fox News, Anne Bayefsky described the backstabbing as a “hate fest” and “diplomatic terrorism.”3 I could not describe it better myself, although I will note that most individuals would have the dignity to acknowledge what they are doing when perpetrating an act of diplomatic terrorism. However, we should not expect that much from the man who made inexplicable concessions to Iran and then paid ransom for the release of U.S. Service Members.
Why We Should Be Disappointed, But Not Surprised
The resolution was not only opposed by Republicans, but also by many Democrats. Among the Democrats who stood on the right side of this issue was the incoming Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer of New York. Senator Schumer has generally been a strong ally of Israel, notwithstanding his recent support for Congressman Keith Ellison — a notorious anti-Semite — for Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Senator Schumer described President Obama's decision as “extremely frustrating, disappointing[,] and confounding.” With all due respect to Senator Schumer — who was on the right side of this issue — the decision did not confound many of us who have been wary of President Obama for eight years. In addition to the decision being unsurprising, the degree to which it was driven by his deep-seated hostility toward the Jewish State becomes evident with a bit of digging.
Many theories have been advanced as to why President Obama did this. I addressed some already, such as his frustration with his own impotency in advancing peace negotiations and nearly pathological disdain for Prime Minister Netanyahu. In a geopolitical sense, one could look to his fixation on making concessions to Iran as another cause of the agreement. To some extent, all of these things are true. However, granting these points, we still risk missing the proverbial forest through the trees. The truth of the matter is that President Obama is broadly sympathetic toward the Palestinian cause and hostile toward Israel and what it represents. To point this out when he was running in 2008 was to risk being accused or racism. Now the truth is available for all to see, and many pro-Israel commentators on the right should be expecting their apologies.
It was known during his campaign for President that then-Senator Obama had many stridently anti-Israel figures in his orbit. For example, he had been a close friend of Rashid Khalidi, a leading anti-Israel academic who at one time worked with the Palestinian Liberation Organization in Lebanon. President Obama's relationship with Khalidi was reported in detail by the National Review's Andrew McCarthy in 2008 [link].4 In 2003, as he was preparing to run for a United States Senate seat, then State Senator Obama attended a party in honor of Khalidi that was also attended by Bill Ayers, an erstwhile domestic terrorist-turned garden variety campus leftist and anti-Semite. The event was hosted by the Arab American Action Network, an organization with which the then-State Senator had been previously associated, and which is not known for its tendency to defend Israel. The Los Angeles Times reported of the event that then-State Senator Obama said in his speech Khalidi and his wife had been “constant reminders of my own blind spots and biases.” Although the L.A. Times noted that the then-State Senator “adopted a different tone in his comments” regarding Israel than speakers who compared “Zionist settlers on the West Bank” to Osama bin Laden, it seems peculiar than someone who is pro-Israel would be caught dead at such an event. Evidently, the now-President Obama attended a ferociously anti-Israel event in honor of an anti-Israel academic, and merely offered a more moderate perspective in his speech than those who compared Israeli citizens to Osama bin Laden. We shall never know for sure what he said, however, for the Los Angeles Times mysteriously refused to release the tape after acknowledging that it had it.
President Obama's relationship with figures such as Khalidi and organizations such as the Arab American Action Network were not the only causes for concern. For example, there was the fact that he had attended the church of Jeremiah Wright — a well-known anti-Semite — for nearly two decades prior to running for President. There was the fact that he singled out Likud for criticism — the party of now-Prime Minister Netanyahu — despite the fact that Likud was not even in the governing coalition at the time. There was his promise to put daylight between the United States and Israel. Finally, there was is enthusiasm to improve our relations with the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism — Iran — a desire that would prove to be a harbinger of things to come.
When in office, President Obama did veto the worst UN resolutions against Israel and continue to approve military aid to our staunchest ally. However, in other areas, President Obama's hostility was at best thinly concealed. He relentlessly hectored Israel over its settlement construction, but tended to be less interested in Palestinian terror. In fact, when he commented on Palestinian terror, it was usually to urge “both sides” to show restraint, a practice that should have been left in the dustbin after President George W. Bush boldly stood with Israel when it was the victim of terrorist attacks. President Obama jeopardized the security of Israel and the world with his reckless Iran deal, and smeared Prime Minister Netanyahu when he dared oppose it. President Obama's support for Israel during its two wars in Gaza was tepid, at best, and he had Secretary of State John Kerry offer a Qatari-authored ceasefire proposal in the midst of the 2014 hostilities. For whatever it is worth, picking a Secretary of State who warns that Israel may become “an apartheid state” was a sign of things to come.5
President Obama has had a serious problem speaking to the threat of Islamist terror. In response to a 2015 terror attack in Paris where Islamist terrorists murdered four in a kosher deli, the President stated that “you've got a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.”6 One can wonder about the President's sincerity or seriousness when an attempt to murder Jews at a kosher deli in the name of a specific interpretation of Islam is “random.” It is not at all inconceivable that had Hillary Clinton deviated from the President on this kind of feckless rhetoric, she would be preparing to take the oath of office in January instead of President-Elect Trump.
What Happens Next?
The depth of President Obama's conviction to knife Israel in the back becomes evident when one considers the consequences of his decision. There is no realistic way to undue the treacherous anti-Israel resolution passed on December 23, 2016, as there is no plausible way that such an effort would avoid a veto from the other four members of the Security Council. That leaves only one path available to the incoming Trump Administration, the United States Congress, and the Israeli Government: To strike back at the United Nations as an institution.
Already, leaders such as Senators Lindsey Graham [link], Ted Cruz [link], and Tom Cotton [link] are promising to worth together to lead the fight to defund the United Nations (and in Senator Cotton's case, to reassess U.S. involvement entirely), while Prime Minister Netanyahu is ordering a reassessment of Israel's ties to the world's foremost anti-Semitic body. On Twitter, President-Elect Trump stated, “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th.” While some of us will not be sad to see the United Nations punished, this cannot be said to be the preferred outcome for President Obama and his ilk. Yet, this shall be the inevitable consequence of President Obama's tantrum in his final month in office. It is astounding to see that a man who put so much faith in the United Nations and other international organizations would be willing to jeopardize their financial stability and the United States' future involvement to pass a resolution that will be ignored by his successor in less than a month.
President-Elect Trump's inauguration can now not come soon enough for Israel. However, despite the impending change of administration, Israel is not out of the woods yet. The Times of Israel reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu is wary that President Obama may try to push a United Nations vote on the principles of Palestinian statehood on his way out of office, a vote that would be arguably even more damaging than the President's decision on December 23.7 The Prime Minister is looking to work with President-Elect Trump and the Congress to deter any further hostile actions by the Obama Administration. With President Obama now standing on the same side of key Israel issues as the Palestinian Authority (which has stated it will engage in a quixotic effort to use the resolution to drag hundreds of Israeli soldiers before the International Criminal Court), Hamas, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, President-Elect Trump and the Congress must make clear that the United Nations will face severe retaliation as soon as President-Elect Trump takes office, in the event President Obama continues down his current path.8
When Trump takes office, it will be important for Democrats to work with Republicans in passing measures to defund the United Nations and to reassess our involvement in the body. It will also be important to have a strong and visible majority of Congress standing in support of Israel as it takes necessary actions to counteract the effects of President Obama's betrayal. Israel will reassess its involvement in the United Nations, consider how to proceed after the Palestinians in effect tore up the Olso Accords, and defend its citizens from an impending torrent of illegitimate proceedings in the International Criminal Court. Israel will be counting on unwavering support from the United States through this difficult period. I look forward to writing more about these issues going forward.
Pro-Israel Democrats who defended President Obama on Israel for eight years, and who work with clearly anti-Israel organizations masquerading as pro-Israel organizations such as “J Street,” ought to evaluate what went wrong over the previous eight years. In a blog post from the election season, I argued that my Republican Party should condemn anti-Israel figures in its ranks and defend against certain anti-Semitic elements of now President-Elect Trump's electoral base [see blog]. I stand by that article, but at the moment it is as clear now as it was then that the Democratic Party has a far more serious problem with anti-Semitism and general anti-Israel sentiment. It is incumbent on figures such as Senator Schumer to examine where the Party has gone wrong and to explain to voters how it will change going forward. Although I am a loyal Republican, seeing support for Israel once again become a non-partisan issue is far more important to be than petty party politics.
It is ironic that for all of the well-founded concerns about President-Elect Trump's relationship with Russia, it was President Obama who stood with Russia to slander Israel before the United Nations while President-Elect Trump stood with Israel. Israel and the Jewish people have endured far worse than the likes of President Obama. May he not let the White House door hit him on his way out of office.
- In quotes because this seems to be a popular way in the media to describe Prime Minister Netanyahu's justified outrage over President Obama's decision.
- Times of Israel Staff, “Official: 'Rather ironclad' intel shows Obama behind UN vote,” timesofisrael.com, (Dec. 26, 2016)
- Bayefsky, Anne, “Diplomatic terrorism at the UN, courtesy of President Obama,” foxnews.com, (Dec. 24, 2016)
- McCarthy, Andrew, “The L.A. Times Suppresses Obama's Khalidi Bash Tape,” nationalreview.com, (Oct. 27, 2008)
- Cohen, Ted and Elise Labott, “Kerry's apartheid remark hits pro-Israel nerve,” cnn.com, (Dec. 26, 2016)
- Chumley, Cheryl, “Obama outrages by calling 4 Jewish victims of Paris terror 'a bunch of folks' shot randomly, washingtontimes.com, (Feb. 10, 2015)
- Times of Israel Staff, “Fearing UN vote on principles of Palestinian statehood, PM 'reaching out to Trump,'” timesofisrael.com, (Dec. 25, 2016)
- Rasgon, Adam, “Palestinian leadership praises passing of UN resolution,” jpost.com, (Dec. 24, 2016)