I’ve spent the last week traveling across Israel as part of a delegation from Christians United for Israel (CUFI). I’ve had individual meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Ehud Barak, President Shimon Peres, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and others. As always, it has been an eye opening experience.
Vice President Joe Biden also spent the past few days in Israel, consorting with many of the same leaders I met with, visiting some of the same historic sites and perhaps walking many of the same streets in Jerusalem and elsewhere. But what he seems to have missed on his trip is at the heart of the troubles that the Obama administration is having in the Middle East.
Despite having similar itineraries, Biden and I come to strikingly different conclusions about America’s relationship with Israel, and what it will take to resolve the world’s most intractable conflict. The vice president (and the administration he works for) treats Israel as the primary obstacle to peace in the Middle East. They seem blind to the Islamic fundamentalist who want Israel and the U.S. wiped off the map. But I regard the Jewish state as a lonely outpost of Western Civilization deserving and in dire need of our unwavering support.
Biden’s trip has been dominated by controversy over new settlements. The Israeli government this week revealed plans to build 1,600 new housing units in response to a housing shortage in an Orthodox community of East Jerusalem.
Because much of the so-called “international community,” including the U.S., refuses to recognize Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem, the new settlement plan has prompted the usual anti-Israel outrage. In a particularly harsh condemnation, Biden said, “The substance and timing of the announcement…is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now.”
But the timing of the new housing announcement was drafted three years ago and is under the authority of district planning committees, not Israel’s political leadership. And according to Ehud Barak, the settlement area “is an ultra-Orthodox city very close to the green line, and these are housing units for people who are struggling and cannot buy elsewhere.”
Biden’s blistering response is emblematic of the Obama administration’s antipathy toward Israel. Obama, who has made outreach to the Muslim world a feature of his presidency, has left Israelis skeptical about his support for them. A poll last August found that just four percent of Israelis viewed Obama’s policies as more “pro-Israel” than “pro-Palestinian” or neutral.
Most Israelis doubt that the Obama administration understands the singular importance of the U.S.-Israeli alliance. Administration officials will sometimes sound reassuring. Biden told an audience at Tel Aviv University this week that the U.S. has “no better friend” than Israel. But his boss has exasperated the Israeli leadership by berating it over natural growth expansion of West Bank housing settlements.
Even worse have been Obama’s overtures to Iran, a regime that by arming Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon has become Israel’s greatest menace. Iran’s leadership rejects freedom and individual rights for its own people. Its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a Shiite fundamentalist who believes a Muslim messiah will soon appear to kill Jews and Christians. With Iran’s nuclear program in full force, Ahmadinejad may soon be able to deliver on his promise to “wipe Israel off the map.”
I confess that I have always had a deep instinctual love for Israel that has deepened during each of my numerous trips here. My faith teaches me that God blesses those who bless Israel. But it has become increasingly apparent that one doesn’t need a theological view to understand that Israel is an outpost of Western Civilization that’s threatened by the same death-worshipping wave of radical Islamists that targets the U.S.
Many Israeli Jews are Americans too. More than 110,000 American Jews have immigrated to Israel, and 2009 saw the most immigrants from North America in 36 years.
Most of those who come do so for religious, ideological and political reasons; not financial ones. They come, risking death and enduring the constant anxiety of knowing that they are rich targets of Muslim hatred, to live in solidarity with fellow Jews. They come also because, in the middle of a region dominated by tyrannical regimes, Israel stands as the lone beacon of democracy.
And that’s the reason I, with hundreds of other Christians, have come to Israel. We recognize that abandoning Israel would not only seriously threaten Israel’s existence, but also imperil the United States.
One of the most moving activities I participated in this week was a solidarity march through Jerusalem’s Old City. We marchers were met with the astonished faces of city residents more accustomed to witnessing anti-Israel rallies. Some passersby began weeping at our display of support, and one man threw rose petals at our feet. Many ran up to offer their heartfelt “thank-yous.”
I wish Joe Biden had been able to witness the outpouring of love and appreciation we’ve received from the Israeli people.
In late January, President Obama tried to explain his lack of success thus far in brokering Middle East peace by saying, “This is just really hard.” Middle East peace will remain really hard for the Obama administration until it stops accommodating those who seek to destroy both Israel and the United States and begins treating Israel like the “no better friend” Joe Biden insists it is.