In the wake of Barack Obama's trip to Israel, Republicans and Democrats wasted no time tilting over the meaning of every word uttered by the man whom Democrats will nominate for president this year.
But amid all of the partisan debate, one prominent analyst thought both sides of that argument had it all wrong.
According to Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times op-ed columnist, the problem wasn't whether or not Obama was supportive of Israel. Notwithstanding the differences he might have with Republican John McCain, it was Obama's recitation of many of the time-honored clichés of pro-Israel rhetoric that was, in Kristof's view, unfortunate.
In his July 24 column "Tough Love for Israel?," which echoed "The Two Israels," an earlier piece published on June 22, the Times' resident human-rights advocate opined again that what Israel needs from the United States is the sort of intervention that friends and family of an alcoholic would employ: It must be stopped from destroying itself.
The 'Good' and the 'Bad'
Kristof sees the Jewish state as a sort of schizophrenic country split between its good and bad sides. In his formulation, the "good" Israel is the country of local human-rights groups and journalists who sympathize with the Palestinians, and defend them against the nation's security establishment in the courts and the media. The "bad" Israel is composed of settlers who supposedly "steal land" from the Arabs, with an army and government that abuses them with checkpoints and barriers that divide their communities from those of Jews.
What Kristof wants is for American presidential candidates to stop pandering to the "Israel lobby," and instead "clarify that the [Israel] they support is not the oppressor that lets settlers steal land and club women but the one that is a paragon of justice, decency, fairness — and peace."
What makes this latest push to "save Israel from itself" truly absurd is how divorced it is from the facts on the ground.
People like Kristof cannot be dismissed as Israel-haters, as some on the Zionist right might like to do. Nor can Jewish groups like the Israel Policy Forum, Americans for Peace Now and the new left-wing lobbying group J Street be labeled as closet backers of Hamas. When it comes to their support for Israel's right to exist, they deserve to be taken at their word when they say they want only what's best for the country.
But good intentions notwithstanding, the point of this push for "tough love" is support for a troubling campaign to force Israel to make more unilateral concessions to the Palestinians, no matter what the actual conditions on the ground would dictate as rational policy or what the people of Israel think is prudent.
The goal of Kristof — and the Jewish groups that seem to agree with him — is to splinter the bipartisan coalition that has remained Israel's ace in the hole in the United States. They may not subscribe to every chapter and verse of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's controversial treatise The Israel Lobby, but they share the revulsion those two authors have for the ability of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and its allies to rally Congress and the vast majority of the American people to head off attempts to strong-arm Jerusalem.
The notion that any American ought to think themselves better qualified than Israel's democratically elected government to decide matters of life and death for that nation is, at best, a curious one.
But what makes this latest push to "save Israel from itself" truly absurd is how divorced it is from the facts on the ground.
Israel has, after all, spent the last 15 years steadily retreating from a maximalist position on territory and security issues. The Oslo accords gave the Palestinians self government. Oslo collapsed due to a Palestinian refusal to end terrorism or accept a state alongside Israel, but three years ago, Israel withdrew every settler and soldier from Gaza. Instead of peace, the Palestinians — under the leadership of the Hamas terrorist group E2 have answered with rockets, missiles and bloodshed.
The "moderate" Palestinian Authority, which Israel and the United States still hopes to use as a negotiating partner, is itself compromised by support for terror. But even if one takes its stand on peace at face value, it is a weak, unpopular structure whose sway only extends to those parts of the West Bank that remain effectively under the control of the Israel Defense Force. It hasn't the will or the ability to make peace.
Under the current circumstances, any land handed over will simply become yet another Hamasistan terror base.
Americans tempted to embrace the "tough love" thesis need to remember that the overwhelming majority of Israelis are already prepared to hand over most of the West Bank to a Palestinian state that will live in peace with them. If there is ever a reasonable chance for peace, they will be the first to seize it. But Israelis know that under the current circumstances, any land handed over will simply become yet another Hamasistan terror base.
But none of that seems to matter to Kristof or the true believers in the peace process. For them, the only obstacle remains the presence of Jews in parts of the West Bank and in those areas in Jerusalem that were occupied by Jordan prior to the city's unification in June 1967.
Indeed, Kristof used his column to chide those who rightly pointed out that in the absence of Israeli sovereignty, Jews would (as was the situation prior to June 1967) be unable to even visit holy places in Jerusalem or Hebron. For him, Jews and even Christians have no such right. The only thing that appears to be sacred in his view is the 1949 armistice line, which the late Abba Eban famously dismissed as "Auschwitz" borders because they placed Arab armies and terrorists in position to destroy the state.
Kristof acknowledges Israel's security barrier has stopped the flow of suicide bombers. But in spite of the lives it has clearly saved, he thinks it does more harm than good because it inconveniences Palestinians.
The columnist's preferred policy would be for Israel to negotiate "more enthusiastically" with Syria (the current pace of talks to give back the Golan Heights being too slow for his taste); talk with the Saudis on the basis of their peace proposal, which is predicated on a so-called Palestinian "right of return" (which means the end of a Jewish state); expel Jews from those places that were Judenrein prior to June 1967; and halt their anti-terror security checkpoints. And what he wants is an American president who will try to force Israel — for its own good — to do exactly that.
For the "tough love" crowd, only Israel has the ability to engender peace. Palestinian intentions, and their culture of terror and hatred for Israel and Jews, are mere details to be ignored.
It's far from clear exactly what an Obama or McCain administration would mean for Israel in the next four years. But the one thing that friends of Israel should not hope for is a president who thinks he understands things better than the Israelis themselves.
Unlike those who intervene with addicts to give them "tough love," it is Kristof, and those Jewish groups who mimic his position, who are the ones with a tenuous grip on reality.