Today, two writers for the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz each published op-ed pieces making the same argument: President Barack Obama must speak directly to the Israeli people—as he has to those in the Muslim world—or else his credibility will vanish as he tries to persuade the Israeli government to halt settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The newspaper’s editor-at-large, Aluf Benn, argued in The New York Times that Obama’s failure to talk to the Israeli people has made Israelis “increasingly suspicious” and created “a virtual domestic consensus over [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s] rejection of the settlement freeze.” Columnist Bradley Burston, publishing from his usual Haaretz perch, appealed, “Speak to these people, my friends out here in the heat, the people who, ultimately, will make the decision to opt for a future peace.”
Senior Obama administration officials bristled at Benn’s suggestion that “The Arabs got the Cairo speech; we got silence,” reports Atlantic blogger (and Tablet Magazine contributing editor) Jeffrey Goldberg. They noted that in Cairo Obama rebuked Arab leaders’ exploitation of the Palestinian issue and unequivocally condemned Palestinian terrorism. The officials’ defense of Obama may be accurate; it may even be that Benn and Burston are demanding an unfair amount of the new president. (Benn all but admits as much, writing, “In the 16 rosy years of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Israelis became spoiled by unfettered presidential attention.”) But perceptions, fair or unfair, sometimes matter most, and Benn’s and Burston’s reading of the Israeli people’s perception carries a great deal of weight. Besides, if Obama is not embarrassed about what he is asking the Israeli people—and we see no reason why he ought to be embarrassed—then he should have no problem asking them to their faces.
Why Won’t Obama Talk to Israel? [NYT]
Mr. Obama, Have a Talk With These Israelis, And Soon [Haaretz]
The White House Reacts to Aluf Benn’s Arguments [The Atlantic]
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.