President Obama gave another interview to Jeffrey Goldberg, at the Atlantic. Top billing for the Iran deal. The president says “Jeff” more than he says “Palestinian” (6-4), mentions checkpoints and restrictions on Palestinians travel, exhibits pique toward Goldberg and Israel supporters for suggesting he should keep his differences with Israel private, says he loves Israel because it’s “a genuine democracy” and “a Jewish-majority democracy,” “and I care deeply about preserving that Jewish democracy,” but applauds Mandela for pointing the way to “a multiracial democracy emerging in South Africa.”
And this about anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. If you don’t think Israel has a right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people, you’re anti-Semitic.
Goldberg: I know that you’ve talked about this with Jewish organizations, with some of your Jewish friends—how you define the differences and the similarities between these two concepts.
Obama: You know, I think a good baseline is: Do you think that Israel has a right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people, and are you aware of the particular circumstances of Jewish history that might prompt that need and desire? And if your answer is no, if your notion is somehow that that history doesn’t matter, then that’s a problem, in my mind. If, on the other hand, you acknowledge the justness of the Jewish homeland, you acknowledge the active presence of anti-Semitism—that it’s not just something in the past, but it is current—if you acknowledge that there are people and nations that, if convenient, would do the Jewish people harm because of a warped ideology. If you acknowledge those things, then you should be able to align yourself with Israel where its security is at stake, you should be able to align yourself with Israel when it comes to making sure that it is not held to a double standard in international fora, you should align yourself with Israel when it comes to making sure that it is not isolated.
But you should be able to say to Israel, we disagree with you on this particular policy. We disagree with you on settlements. We think that checkpoints are a genuine problem. We disagree with you on a Jewish-nationalist law that would potentially undermine the rights of Arab citizens. And to me, that is entirely consistent with being supportive of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. Now for someone in Israel, including the prime minister, to disagree with those policy positions—that’s OK too. And we can have a debate, and we can have an argument. But you can’t equate people of good will who are concerned about those issues with somebody who is hostile towards Israel. And you know, I actually believe that most American Jews, most Jews around the world, and most Jews in Israel recognize as much. And that’s part of the reason why I do still have broad-based support among American Jews. It’s not because they dislike Israel, it’s not because they aren’t worried about Iran having a nuclear weapon or what Hezbollah is doing in Lebanon. It’s because I think they recognize, having looked at my history and having seen the actions of my administration, that I’ve got Israel’s back, but there are values that I share with them that may be at stake if we’re not able to find a better path forward than what feels like a potential dead-end right now.
The president also equated the foundation of Israel with the civil rights movement in the U.S.
[T]o me, being pro-Israel and pro-Jewish is part and parcel with the values that I’ve been fighting for since I was politically conscious and started getting involved in politics. There’s a direct line between supporting the right of the Jewish people to have a homeland and to feel safe and free of discrimination and persecution, and the right of African Americans to vote and have equal protection under the law. These things are indivisible in my mind. But what is also true, by extension, is that I have to show that same kind of regard to other peoples. And I think it is true to Israel’s traditions and its values—its founding principles—that it has to care about those Palestinian kids.
Says Donald Johnson, who tipped me to this: “I understand the long history of antisemitism as an argument for having a Jewish state, but why can’t people be honest about the price paid by the Palestinians? I know the answer.”