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Netanyahu used ‘leadership of American Jewish community’ to block Obama policy — Ben Rhodes

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Ben Rhodes’s book about being President Obama’s trusted aide is out: “The World as It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House.” And it’s got some juice on Israel and the lobby.

Yesterday on Fresh Air Rhodes said that “certain advisers” made Obama water down “A New Beginning,” his famous speech to the Muslim world in Cairo in 2009– when it came to the settlements.

Obama wanted to talk in pretty stark and honest terms about the fact that, you know, this is an intolerable situation. And he wanted to use language

Ben Rhodes

that American presidents didn’t always use, like calling the Israeli occupation an occupation. And, you know, that made certain advisers nervous, and we ended up, you know, kind of watering down language in different parts and how we talk about Israeli settlements.

Those nervous advisers prevailed, and the settlements never ended. In 2013, Obama visited Israel and flew to Ramallah, and got to see settlements choking off Palestinian villages in the West Bank. A Palestinian student confronted the president. From the Times of Israel coverage of Rhodes’s book.

The last student was visibly tense the whole way through, Rhodes recalls. And then, when his turn came, he said with force, “Mr. President, we are treated the same way the black people were treated in your country. Here, in this century.” He then paused, allowing a moment of silence to add some affect. “Funded by your government, Mr. President.”

Shortly thereafter, Obama told Rhodes, “It took a lot of guts for him to do that.”

“Well,” Rhodes said, “that makes our theory more necessary: Show Israelis you love them but also challenge them.”

Notice how neither the president nor Rhodes takes the direct lesson of that young man’s bravery. It’s just a great show.

Rhodes is reportedly frank about political pressures on Obama to do nothing to block settlements. We said it was about donors; and Rhodes agrees, per the Times of Israel:

Netanyahu, Rhodes explains, was remarkably shrewd at galvanizing the kind of pressure on Obama that made it politically unfeasible for the president to push forward on his peace plan. After Netanyahu’s Oval Office lecture to Obama in 2011, Rhodes writes that he was then “given a list of leading Jewish donors to call, to reassure them of Obama’s pro-Israel bona fides.”’

“It was far too painful to wade into these waters with no prospect of success,” he goes on, explaining the administration’s reluctance to make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict even more of a central focus. “Netanyahu had mastered a certain kind of leverage: Using political pressure within the United States to demoralize any meaningful push for peace, just as he used settlements as a means of demoralizing Palestinians.”

Here’s a contemporary account of that famous White House lecture. Netanyahu warned Obama against pursuing peace “based on illusions.”

“While Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines — because these lines are indefensible,” Netanyahu said, looking Obama squarely in the eye.

And the lecture worked. Again, from the Times of Israel:

the Israeli premier had used that moment, skillfully, to turn the American Jewish establishment against the American president.

“It was the perfect way to mobilize opposition to Obama among the leadership of the American Jewish community, which had internalized the vision of Israel constantly under attack,” Rhodes writes in his 422-page book.

Netanyahu used that pressure again in 2012. Obama’s most “annoyed” moment as president, Rhodes says, came when he was to speak to the Israel lobby group AIPAC. But Obama had to keep quiet about his own ideas for resolving the conflict, in order to make a “right wing” audience happy and fend off Mitt Romney’s charge that Obama had thrown Israel under the bus. Again, from the Times of Israel:

Obama asked Rhodes to edit the draft of his remarks, which was written by another speech writer on staff.

But Obama, Rhodes recalls, also wanted to vent. “This is as annoyed as I’ve been as president,” the president told him, perturbed by his inability to make his private positions public on four final-status issues in peace negations — borders, security, Jerusalem and refugees — and his need to placate the mostly right-wing crowd.

Based on the recommendation of his Middle East advisers Dennis Ross and Tom Donilon, Obama had decided to not take a public stance on the status of Jerusalem or how to resolve the refugee issue — to avoid any political fallout.

“It’s not on the level,” Rhodes said to the president of Netanyahu and AIPAC’s machinations, evoking a phrase he writes that the two used to describe “the dishonesty” they often felt they were surrounded by in Washington.

“It’s not on the level,” Obama repeated back to him. “Dealing with Bibi is like dealing with the Republicans.”

So Obama had to go right on Israel to counter Romney. Just as Bill Clinton ran to George H.W. Bush’s right on Israel and turned him into a one-term president.

And: Dennis Ross was in there pushing Obama. Ross has always been Israel’s lawyer; as Ross told an American Jewish audience, “We need to be advocates for Israel,” not for Palestinians.

We’ve said all this before. Remember that Obama demanded that the Democratic Party convention reinsert rightwing language into the platform about a Jewish Jerusalem in 2012. Convention chair Anthony Villaraigosa recalled:

The President was absolutely livid, the President wanted it back in immediately. My response to that was Great, but we got to whip it…. So I had to go up there and do what I did….

That also is about donors. Romney had just held a Sheldon Adelson fundraiser in Jerusalem and Netanyahu had virtually embraced Romney. Obama had to hold the Jewish establishment. And where were the liberals? Megadonor Haim Saban and David Cohen of Comcast holds fundraisers for the Israeli army. Gary Ginsberg of Time Warner was writing speeches for Netanyahu even as Netanyahu was leveraging the president.

(Israel’s state archivist Yaacov Lozowick demands to know whether Rhodes calls out the Iranians, the Russians, the Chinese for being manipulative, and if not, why not? That’s a veiled accusation of self-hatred. Rhodes’s Jewish background is part of the book, he says his mother’s generation idealized Israel, as a focus of their Jewish identity.)

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38 Responses

  1. DaBakr
    DaBakr on June 6, 2018, 4:58 pm

    Proving what? That Bibi brilliantly worked Obama like the junior varsity statesman he was? So Barry acted petulantly on the last few weeks of his term by using the absurdly ineffective UN to punish him. As if that hasn’t happened before to no avail.

    • bcg
      bcg on June 6, 2018, 7:44 pm

      @DeBakr: Proving that Bibi brilliantly worked Obama like the junior varsity statesman he was, so that the next time U.S. citizens can be aware of how sophisticated the graduates of Hasbara U are.

      Does this article contain information that U.S. citizens should know? I think so. What’s your opinion?

      • DaBakr
        DaBakr on June 16, 2018, 1:50 am

        Well, for starters and despite the fact they despise him they should know how academically gifted Netanyahu is. Masters, PhD, MIT, Israel air force service, elite squadrons, illustrious family with one brother dying a hero. And Obama? As far as I know he stopped smoking weed enough to get into Harvard law, he taught some associate level courses on cont. Law then went to Chicago top knock on doors. He was groomed from that point on to be a senator and next prez.

        While Barry ifs no dummy he was definitely out of his league on many different levels. So, Barry hates Netanyahu. Bibi has dozens of important world leaders who both respect him and like him very much

    • JWalters
      JWalters on June 6, 2018, 11:53 pm

      A more accurate analogy would be that Bibi worked Obama like a godfather working a precinct captain. All the major gangsters converged at once and threatened total destruction of his entire agenda.

      But like JFK, Obama realized he was dealing with insane people. So he cut Bibi out of the loop and arranged the international nuclear agreement with Iran. Making it international made it harder to take down. And it undercuts Israel’s main reason why the US should go to war in Iran. (Domestically he got the ACA through against all odds.) (And he dodged the fate of JFK, MLK, and RFK.)

  2. Steve Macklevore
    Steve Macklevore on June 6, 2018, 5:32 pm

    Such a shame that Obama had no spine.

    Lets remind ourselves that nobody made him have to hire those two old failures Dennis Ross and Tom Donilon. He’s the President, if he didn’t want them he didn’t have to have them as traitors on the team.

    Personally I believe if he’d just come out and exposed Netanyahu’s bullying, large sections of the American electorate would have loved him for it. A prosecution or two of Israeli spys wouldn’t have done any harm either.

    • CigarGod
      CigarGod on June 6, 2018, 7:22 pm

      Exactly, pussy-footing ain’t much of a plan.
      The Dem’s are still using it today, tho.

    • inbound39
      inbound39 on June 6, 2018, 9:41 pm

      That eventuality will likely occur when Trump loses the next election. The ground swell against Israeli interference is growing. Mueller’s investigations into Trump have uncovered a lot of the Israeli interference and meddling that goes on and Israel’s behaviour over the past few months has made it almost impossible for American Politicians to defend. Europe gave Bibi their answer on the Iran Deal as he took off to return to Israel. European Parliament enacted bills to protect and strengthen the Iranian Deal so from that we can see Israel has more or less been dumped. Civilian protests against Israel have grown in the past year especially in France and no politician there can afford to support Israel if they want to be elected. France will start the snowball effect.

      • JWalters
        JWalters on June 7, 2018, 12:05 am

        Thanks for that info, glad to hear it.

      • Citizen
        Citizen on June 7, 2018, 2:46 am

        Nothing from US cable tv news shows about said Israeli interference–that’s where most regular voting Americans get their foreign affairs news; not from newspapers. They use the internet mostly to follow sports or Facebook & for email.

      • Donald
        Donald on June 7, 2018, 7:46 am

        Citizen is right. There isn’t much of a snowball effect at all. Russian interference, real or alleged, gets vastly more coverage and outrage than Israel’s or even the Saudis. The Al Jazeera documentary about the Lobby appears to have been successfully suppressed. Imagine the coverage that would get if some documentary about Russian meddling was suppressed. It would be front page news all the time and cable coverage would be nonstop.

        Also, many Americans who are interested in politics filter everything through their need to praise the political party of their choice and condemn the other one. Issues are seen as a means to an end. People of this sort on the Democratic side will only listen to talk about issues if you don’t criticize Obama. I have had this experience on several different issues. I agree with them that Trump is much worse in general, but you can’t talk about any issue very seriously if you aren’t supposed to say anything even slightly critical of any Democrat.

      • DaBakr
        DaBakr on June 7, 2018, 11:41 pm


        If Israel wasn’t there there would be no need for an Iran deal in the first place. You concerns are mostly bs.

      • Mooser
        Mooser on June 8, 2018, 12:00 pm

        “If Israel wasn’t there there would be no need for an Iran deal in the first place.”

        Very good, “DaBakr”!! You do perceive Israel’s destructive role in the ME.
        Yup, without Israel, the US might get along fine with Iran.

    • on June 7, 2018, 9:17 am

      Good points but exposing Bibi would also likely expose the system or put the system front and centre – the very system the democrats (along with the republicans) are so beholden too – corporate or super pac money buying policy. At the end of the day, Obama caved in because of money.

      “After Netanyahu’s Oval Office lecture to Obama in 2011, Rhodes writes that he was then “given a list of leading Jewish donors to call, to reassure them of Obama’s pro-Israel bona fides.”’

      Need to get the shekels out of Washington and have the Israeli orgs register as foreign agents.

    • Misterioso
      Misterioso on June 7, 2018, 11:18 am

      @Steve Macklevore


  3. JLewisDickerson
    JLewisDickerson on June 6, 2018, 7:08 pm

    RE: “[Ben Rhodes] says his mother’s generation idealized Israel, as a focus of their Jewish identity.” ~ Weiss

    HENCE: “Dream Castle Israel!” *

    * SEE – Part 2: Max Blumenthal on “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel” | | October 04, 2013

    [EXCERPTS] AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Our guest is Max Blumenthal. his latest book is Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel. . .

    JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’m interested what kind of reception your book has gotten in the American media and whether there’s been much receptivity to the stuff that you’ve uncovered during your research in Israel.

    MAX BLUMENTHAL: My book came out on October 1st, and so I’m going to do a book tour, and we’re going to see. It’s going to be pretty interesting. I’m doing a lot of cities. Actually starts in—right now it starts in Philadelphia at alma mater UPenn with Ian Lustick, who’s a political science professor at Penn who wrote a really fascinating piece calling for the end of the—you know, the two-state delusion and having a binational state. This is someone who, you know, comes out of—who doesn’t come out of the left. And so, I think it’s going to be an interesting tour. But right now, you know, I think that what the Jewish establishment wants to do and what pro-Israel groups want to do is ignore me. They want to ignore this narrative, and they want to ignore the real Israel. They want to ignore the facts on the ground and not talk about it, and keep focusing on this dream castle Israel, because it not only harms their political efforts, it harms them on a personal psychological level, because this goes to the very heart of their identity.

    SOURCE –

    • JLewisDickerson
      JLewisDickerson on June 6, 2018, 7:18 pm

      • JLewisDickerson
        JLewisDickerson on June 6, 2018, 7:27 pm

        P.S. A LATE SPRING EVENING’S MUSICAL INTERLUDE, proudly brought to you by the purveyors of new Über-Xtreme Ziocaine™ Inhalable: “Dream-castle Israel is just a breath away!”

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        We dine well here in Camelot ‘Dream-castle Israel’
        We eat ham and jam and spam a lot

        We’re knights of the round table
        Our shows are formidable
        But many times we’re given rhymes
        That are quite unsingable

        We’re opera mad in Camelot ‘Dream-castle Israel’
        We sing from the diaphragm a lot

        War we’re tough and able, quite indefatigable
        Between our quests we sequin vests
        And impersonate Clark Gable
        It’s a busy life in Camelot ‘Dream-castle Israel’

        I have to push the pram a lot (rhymes with Camelot)

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  4. lyn117
    lyn117 on June 6, 2018, 7:11 pm

    Netanyahu & the pro-Israel lobby didn’t just block Obama’s middle east “policy” (stillborn though such policy was), they splintered the democrats from their popular leader, helped elect the republican congress so that Obama couldn’t do much in his second term, and then helped elect Trump. IMHO.

    • CigarGod
      CigarGod on June 7, 2018, 8:41 pm

      Ok, if Obama was leveraged into silence…where is voice now?
      Where is the guy who supposedly wanted to do the right thing?

  5. Xpat
    Xpat on June 6, 2018, 10:12 pm

    Trump plays to the Christian Zionist lobby but Obama was in the thrall of the much smaller right wing Jewish Zionist lobby.


    • JWalters
      JWalters on June 6, 2018, 11:57 pm

      The Jewish Zionists play the Christian Zionists like a fiddle. Trump is by no means ignoring the Israelis.

      • Xpat
        Xpat on June 7, 2018, 9:26 am

        Here’s why I disagree:
        1) The CZ were here first. Netanyahu is right when he says there would be no Jewish Zionism without the CZ.
        2) The CZ far outnumber the JZ. Electorally, the evangelicals are much more significant than the Jewish vote.
        3) they have their own agenda which is at least as nuts than the Jewish version. The Jews don’t need an Armageddon to fulfill their vision.
        The Christians don’t need any playing by the Jews.

      • eljay
        eljay on June 7, 2018, 10:06 am

        || Elliot: … 1) The CZ were here first. Netanyahu is right when he says there would be no Jewish Zionism without the CZ.
        2) The CZ far outnumber the JZ. Electorally, the evangelicals are much more significant than the Jewish vote.
        3) they have their own agenda which is at least as nuts than the Jewish version. … ||

        The sad thing about all this – aside from the past and on-going (war) crimes committed against Palestinians – is that when it all falls apart (and it eventually will) Christian Zionists will simply wash their hands of it while Jewish Zionists will do their best to ensure that non-Zionist Jews bear the brunt of the backlash.

        I am unable to comprehend why Zionists – especially Jewish Zionists – hate Jews so much.

      • Mooser
        Mooser on June 7, 2018, 7:08 pm

        “I am unable to comprehend why Zionists – especially Jewish Zionists – hate Jews so much.”

        “Eljay”, if somebody failed you as badly as the Jews failed Zionism, you might be tempted to hate them. You damnsure wouldn’t trust them, and would want complete and absolute control before dealing with them again.

      • JLewisDickerson
        JLewisDickerson on June 7, 2018, 10:06 pm

        RE: “I am unable to comprehend why Zionists – especially Jewish Zionists – hate Jews so much.” ~ eljay

        MY REPLY: Quite thought provoking!

    • Citizen
      Citizen on June 7, 2018, 2:50 am

      Looks to me now that Trump is seated at WH he plays to both, very vigorously. The relevant question is why is Trump outdoing Netanyahu in his efforts in behalf Israel?

      • Xpat
        Xpat on June 7, 2018, 9:27 am

        Trump’s loony universe is beyond the scope of liberals. But Obama’s temerity or whatever it was is part of our world, or of people close to us.

      • philweiss
        philweiss on June 7, 2018, 11:14 am

        I agree with Elliot. We must look back at Obama’s temerity in light of Trump’s lunacy. And wonder if Obama used all his powers. No. The story of the Palestinian high schooler is especially pathetic. The president and his confidante secretly applaud the youth for the trait they fail to exhibit: guts.

    • DaBakr
      DaBakr on June 8, 2018, 1:03 am


      Ha. wasn’t likely “in the thrall of…” the lobby, so much as he had been taught to fear the political Fallout from chastising

  6. on June 7, 2018, 12:20 am

    The amount of Israeli intelligence/police/legal type organizations in America- influencing America – is remarkable. Factor in the military aid/intelligence and lobby groups supported by zio billionnaires and you begin to understand just how far and wide Zio influence is in the US.

    They make the Italian mob look like girl scouts.

  7. Kathleen
    Kathleen on June 7, 2018, 10:00 am

    Always thought Rhodes was running interception’s for Israel in the Obama administration. Sure sounds like he was ultimately right in there with Israel’s lawyer Dennis Ross.

    ” and we ended up, you know, kind of watering down language in different parts and how we talk about Israeli settlements.”

    • Kathleen
      Kathleen on June 7, 2018, 10:15 am

      At Wikipedia “Rhodes wrote Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech “A New Beginning”.[11] Rhodes was the adviser who counseled Obama to withdraw support from Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, becoming a key adviser during the 2011 Arab Spring.[3″

      Sounds like the “we ” ended up, you know, kind of watering down language” was a he (Ben Rhodes) who did the watering down of language about illegal settlements in Obama’s Cairo Speech. “He” not “we”

  8. iResistDe4iAm
    iResistDe4iAm on June 7, 2018, 11:24 am

    Reminder of Obama’s Legacy…

  9. Boomer
    Boomer on June 7, 2018, 11:48 am

    re: “We’ve said all this before.”

    Indeed you have. You kept us well informed as it was happening. It was painful to watch. So too, was it painful to watch our march to a tragic war and occupation of Iraq under Bush Jr. Obama’s failure was less consequential, but more disappointing.

    • MHughes976
      MHughes976 on June 7, 2018, 1:13 pm

      We know the basic outlines of the story and we discover more details but still there is a mystery. Some of it seems to make sense only on the understanding that Obama thought, in his heart of hearts, that Zionsism is a good moral principle and a just cause and saw himself only as gently suggesting gentler versions of it. But Netanyahu surely saw something more disturbing than this. Perhaps Obama is a Hamlet and never knew his own mind. Perhaps he was all talk. Perhaps his memoirs will tell us more. Somehow I doubt it.

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