Silent on Israel

Silent on Israel

Something was missing from President Barack Obama’s historic inaugural address Tuesday — Israel.
The 44th president of the United States didn’t mention the Jewish state at all in his 20-minute speech, though he did mention Muslims, Jews, those of other faiths and those with no religion at all, signifying the inclusiveness of his new administration.
But there was no word about Israel.
Frankly, that’s not surprising. Tuesday was a day for the nation to come together. The last thing that the new president wanted was to strike a discordant note in an address crafted to — as it were — rally the troops.
But using that logic, why then did he single out the Muslim world in his speech, saying, “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”
We don’t believe the Muslim world was neglected over the past eight years of the Bush administration. The former president made many trips to the Arab world as did his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had the support of Bush, as did Israel.
So why be silent on the Jewish state in so important a keynote address? That’s hardly what American Jews, who voted for the president in such overwhelming numbers, wanted to hear, or not hear to be precise.
Obama said prior to the inauguration that he would have plenty to say on Israel and the Middle East after Jan. 20. In some ways, he’s already talking. The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the president would name George J. Mitchell, a former senator from Maine, as his Middle East envoy. Mitchell’s appointment should come as good news for Arab-Americans clamoring for a more balanced U.S. foreign policy on the Middle East (Mitchell is of Arab descent), but it may trouble some Jews.
For our part, we find Mitchell — an expert diplomat who cut his teeth on negotiations between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland — to be an honest broker. And Israel’s interests ought to be fairly represented by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Senior Advisor David Axelrod.
The Mitchell appointment also means the president will hear more than one view on this troubled region. That doesn’t concern us either; the president made clear in the campaign he understands and supports Israel’s need for security and self-defense; we don’t believe that will change now.
But be prepared. The combination of Obama’s very public outreach to the Muslim world, his silence on Israel in the same speech and Mitchell’s anticipated appointment, taken together, could signal a new way of doing business in the Middle East. That doesn’t mean Obama isn’t pro-Israel — he definitely is — but it may not be a lockstep support. Israel may have to compete more for the president’s favor at times; American Jews may have to intervene more on her behalf than in the past eight years.
Such are the times.
Just keep in mind what Obama has said about Israel before entering the White House: “Our job is to rebuild the road to real peace and lasting security throughout the region. That effort begins with a clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel, our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy. That will always be my starting point.”
We take him at his word.