Why can’t Obama be more gracious to Netanyahu? – OCRegister

Posted: Sunday, March 22, 2015

Being president of the United States is a demanding job, as even Barack Obama’s most demanding critics would concede. The same is certainly true about serving as prime minister of Israel, a nation many of its neighbors want to destroy.

Amid Russian expansionism, rising Islamic terrorism, resurgent anti-Semitism and the malevolent machinations of anti-American and anti-Israeli regimes around the world, one would hope that the leaders in Washington and Tel Aviv would display more mutual grace. But personal enmity between President Obama and Bibi Netanyahu, along with a major policy disagreement over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, has interfered. That’s understandable – our elected leaders are only human – but this is not a time in world history to indulge such feelings.

“Grace” is a word and a concept cherished by Obama. He revealed this in 2012 to Reader’s Digest editor Liz Vaccariello, who asked him, “What’s your favorite word in any language?”

“Grace,” he replied. “I love the word grace because I think it captures what we strive for in life. It’s not just an individual thing. It’s not just a matter of excellence or something you’ve achieved. It’s something internal to you, but it’s also something that’s given to you. It’s not just individual, but it has to do with your relationships with others.”

Obama has also used the word in its direct religious sense. In September 2010, a University of New Mexico student asked him, “Why are you a Christian?”

“I’m a Christian by choice,” the president began, noting that his family didn’t regularly attend church. “So I came to my Christian faith later in life, and it was because the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead: being my brother’s and sister’s keeper, treating others as they would treat me.”

He continued: “And I think also, understanding that Jesus Christ dying for my sins spoke to the humility we all have to have as human beings, that we’re sinful and we’re flawed … [b]ut what we can do, as flawed as we are, is still see God in other people and do our best to help them find their own grace.”

So that’s another definition.

Here’s a third, courtesy of Ernest Hemingway. When interviewed by Dorothy Parker for a 1929 New Yorker profile, the great writer defined courage as “grace under pressure.” Implicit in this definition is danger, perhaps on the battlefield, which Hemingway himself experienced at a young age as a World War I ambulance driver.

Bibi Netanyahu knows that kind of grace. He’s an Israeli war hero, a Special Forces officer wounded in commando raids defending his country. That’s why it’s jarring to hear Obama administration officials whisper to American reporters that Netanyahu is a gutless politician. What they mean is that he isn’t willing to take stances as prime minister that would risk his standing among the most conservative voters in Israel – his electoral base – or speak unpleasant truths on the campaign trail.

This seems to be a criticism made in good faith in that U.S. officials really do seem frustrated by what they see as Netanyahu’s reluctance to level with his own people. This brings us back to Obama’s own definition about grace. Among other things, it means putting yourself in another person’s shoes – perhaps the most essential tenet of Christianity, as taught by a self-educated rabbi who preached as a Jew to his fellow Jews.

All this begs the question why the president can’t talk to Netanyahu, or about him, in a more gracious way. Obama took two days to phone Bibi after his surprise electoral victory Tuesday. When he did call, White House reporters were told, the president took Netanyahu to task for his Election Day comment about Arab Israelis being bused to the polls by the opposition party and about his vacillating statements about whether he still favors a Palestinian state.

Without being privy to the conservation, it seems that there is a more effective way to communicate.

Obama could break the ice by saying, “Look, Bibi, I understand why you talked tough about Iran before the election. You should have heard the whoppers I told the voters about the Affordable Care Act before the 2012 election.”

He would then continue: “But we must move forward with these negotiations with Iran. The allies are wavering on sanctions, and if we don’t get something in place, we strengthen the hard-liners in Tehran. They’ll keep blaming us for their own economic failures, keep exporting terrorism, and keep trying to build atomic weapons.


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