Obama has a stronger record on Israel than you might have been led to think
By Greg Rosenbaum, Chair of the NJDC Board of Directors
The following originally appeared in Haaretz.
The past week has seen the latest episode in an unrelenting campaign to delegitimize President Barack Obama’s strong commitment to Israel. It’s time to set the record straight on a president who has stood with Israel in times of crisis and has strengthened the Jewish state’s security in concrete ways, ensuring it maintains a qualitative military edge.
From his campaign for office to his recent talk at Adas Israel, a synagogue in Washington, D.C., Obama has made it clear that his commitment to Israel is and always will be unshakeable. “It would be a moral failing on my part if we did not stand up firmly, steadfastly not just on behalf of Israel’s right to exist, but its right to thrive and prosper,” he has said.
Obama’s actions prove his commitment.
Israel continues to be the top recipient of U.S. foreign military financing, and for fiscal year 2016, the administration requested $3.1 billion in funding. The two nations also have begun preliminary talks on a long-term package that would provide up to $45 billion in security assistance grant aid through 2028. Early this year, Israel signed a contract with the United States for the purchase of 14 F-35 fighter jets, amounting to $3 billion.
Since Obama entered office, Israel has received more than $20.5 billion in foreign military financing. Unlike President George W. Bush, who rejected Israel’s request for bunker-buster bombs, Obama became the first president to approve the sale of these advanced weapons, and in the fall of 2012, the U.S. and Israel participated in Austere Challenge 12, the largest joint military exercise ever to be held between the two countries.
Under Obama, the U.S. and Israel have continued Juniper Cobra, a joint exercise that has been held every two years since 2001 to test our joint ability to respond to missile attacks and improve preparedness, as well as coordination between our armed forces.
Unlike Bush, who gave Israel’s Iron Dome system a frosty response, Obama has led the way in funding and supporting the research, development and production of the Iron Dome — which has been crucial in helping Israel defend itself against terrorist rocket attacks — as well as the joint U.S.-Israel missile defense systems David’s Sling, the Arrow II and Arrow III. Since 2011, the United States has provided Israel with more than $1.3 billion for the Iron Dome system alone.
The military cooperation has been so strong that in a 2012 speech to the Israel National Defense College, then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, “The security ties between us and the current administration are at the highest level they have ever been.”
In the international arena, under Obama’s leadership, the U.S. has fought for Israel’s full participation in the United Nations, has voted against resolutions in the General Assembly condemning Israel, cast the only “no” votes on five anti-Israel measures last year in the Human Rights Council, and worked to ensure that the General Assembly hold its first-ever session on anti-Semitism. Obama also prevented the Palestinians from unilaterally declaring an independent state.
Under Obama, the United States continues to support the Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation, or BIRD, which facilitates U.S.-Israel cooperation in such areas as agriculture, health care and homeland security. Supporting collaboration between the U.S. Department of Energy and Israel’s National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Ministry, BIRD-Energy has facilitated nearly $50 million in U.S.-Israel cooperation.
Obama has been unfailing in supporting Israel’s right to exist and defend itself against its enemies, and has been a phone call away when Israel needed assistance in times of crisis, taking personal steps to help avoid catastrophe when a mob attacked Israel’s embassy in Cairo and providing unprecedented support in fighting Israel’s major forest fire on Mount Carmel in 2010.
Regardless of political attacks against Obama's pro-Israel record, let’s not forget the mixed record of Republican presidents when it comes to standing with Israel. Let’s briefly give some historical context to the relationship between the two countries under Obama.
Not only did George W. Bush refuse to stand with Israel on promoting Iron Dome and selling bunker-buster bombs, but in 2005 he also froze nearly all U.S.-Israeli joint defense projects. And, just before Bush left office, the U.S. abstained rather than veto a one-sided UN Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip. Under Ronald Reagan, the U.S. joined a Security Council resolution condemning Israel for its destruction of Iraq’s Osirak nuclear facility and, despite Israel’s strong objections, undermined the Jewish state's qualitative military edge by selling AWACS surveillance planes to Saudi Arabia. Dwight Eisenhower threated to isolate Israel during the Suez war; and George H.W. Bush opposed loan guarantees to Israel.
There is no question that Obama is committed, both in word and deed, to the safety and security of Israel — and in many ways is more committed than his Republican predecessors.