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ADAM BRONSTONE: OBAMA'S KENNEDY MOMENT

by Dr. Adam Bronstone, posted October 27, 2011

In 1960 when Martin Luther King Jr. ended up in a Birmingham jail, it was
a bold phone call from the then President of the United States that ended
up being a key reason why most African-Americans have, from that day until
present, shifted their vote from Republican to Democrat. The phone call,
at the urging of Sargent Shriver (A Kennedy cousin), is still perceived to
be a key moment in domestic political voting lore, given that until that
time the so-called 'Black' vote was heavily Republican, not only because
it was Lincoln who gets credit for freeing the slaves, but also because the
Democrats were a then very Southern United States - oriented (who could
image that now!) party.
 
Last month, President Obama may have had his Kennedy phone call' moment
with respect to Israel. As the Israeli Embassy in Egypt was being attacked
and stormed, both the Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak
were unable to reach their contacts in the Egyptian government for any
type of assistance - assistance that should be provided to all foreign
countries with embassies and other diplomatic offices, as a courtesy. A
phone call was made to the new US Ambassador to Israel, who was able to
reach President Obama. Long considered 'iffy' with respect to his true
support for Israel, the President made the decision that US troops would
fly over the Israeli embassy and spirit away (almost like end of the
Vietnam War from Saigon-like) the remaining Israeli officials and out of
danger.
 
We have found out that all of this took place with only a wall six Israeli
embassy personnel from the mob, which most likely would not have been
stopped, had they reached them. Egyptian security was nowhere in sight,
and apparently not rushing to get to the embassy to stop this attack (the
Saudi embassy was also attached, and of late, Coptic Christians have also
been by Islamic mobs looking for enemies).
 
Inches from certain disaster, and the President of the United States made
a strong decision to aid Israel in its time of need. And still, President
Obama often obtains very little 'love' from pro-Israel supporters.
 
Yes, there are a number of reasons why 'we' should be skeptical of this
president with respect to Israel. His first overseas speech was in Cairo;
he has publicly supported a Palestinian state; he delivered a speech about
Israel without consulting with the Israeli government on the eve of the
arrival of Prime Minister Netanyahu; a number of his cabinet and military
officials have, at times, been publicly critical of Israel and the impact
it has on US foreign policy, and for some, the list goes on.
 
And on the other side of the ledger, the President has forcefully
denounced the unilateral move to independence by the Palestinian
Authority, quashed sections of the Goldstone Report, boycotted all of the
Durban Conferences and, with agreement from all, has aided Israel in
developing new weapons such as the drone, to defend itself from rocket
attacks.
 
President Nixon was no fan of Israel. As it turns out, Nixon was also no
friend of American Jews. Secretly-recorded tapes that have been released
years after his removal from office show a president that was, to say the
least, uncomfortable with Jews (aside from Kissinger). But, when push came
to shove, and Israel required military assistance during the Yom Kippur
War, Nixon responded, and responded with great speed. US assistance during
the war, to match that of the Soviet Union, helped to turn the tide
against the Arab states, leading to an Israeli victory. The truth is that
Nixon, while wanting to assist Israel, also did so because of the
superpower Cold War rivalry dimension of the issue, and not just because
he wanted Israel to survive.
 
President Obama may also have a hidden agenda with respect to helping save
six Israeli embassy officials from an angry and hostile mob in Cairo. He
might be counting Jewish and Evangelical Christian votes along the way to
the 2012 presidential election. But then again, he might just have said
that this was the right thing to do in aiding an important ally of the
United States. Nonetheless, this phone call was his Kennedy moment when it
comes to the US-Israel relationship. It surprises me that he is not yet
receiving the benefits of this decision, like those that Kennedy did some fifty years before.

The writer, a Winnipegger, has a doctorate in International Relations.

 
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