On Netanyahu’s Lecturing of Obama

By Jeffrey Goldberg:

There are a number of problems, tactical and strategic, with Netanyahu’s pedantic behavior:
1) President Obama actually does understands Jewish history: he understands it well enough to know that the permanent occupation of the West Bank would be an historical anomaly;
2) Even if Obama didn’t understand Jewish history, it is still off-putting for many Americans to watch their president being lectured by a foreign leader in his own house;
3) The Prime Minister doesn’t seem to understand what President Obama is trying to tell him: That Israel cannot maintain the occupation of the West Bank without becoming a pariah state (previous LIkud-bred prime ministers, namely Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, both understood this);
4) The Prime Minister desperately needs President Obama to defend Israel in the United Nations, and even more crucially, to confront Iran’s nuclear program, which poses an existential threat to the Jewish state; angering him constantly doesn’t seem to be an effective way to marshal the President’s support;
5) Based on the mail I’ve been receiving, and conversations I’ve been having with Jewish leaders of various ideological persuasions, there is a great worry that Netanyahu, through his behavior even more than his policies, is alienating other of Israel’s friends, needlessly.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Fish

    I sure am seeing a lot of “I stand with Israel not with Obama” posts from Christians on facebook.

  • EricW

    Alan Dershowitz, a strong Obama supporter and campaign contributor, and both a friend and a critic of Israel, used great restraint in explaining why and how Obama has set back peace negotiations immeasurably by what he said and did not say, as well as by what he said at the beginning of his administration. The video clip is entitled:

    Dershowitz: Obama Destroying Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process
    May 20, 2011

    and can be viewed here: http://www.newsmax.com/video

    Dershowitz exercises great restraint in blaming the fault on Obama’s advisors, but I wouldn’t be so polite.

    Netanyahu was brilliant, IMO, and I can’t wait to hear his address to Congress on Tuesday, May 24.

  • EricW

    While the original 1948(?) partition (i.e., basically the pre-1967 War borders, I believe), IIRC, has been said by past administrations to be the place for negotiations to start, I am glad that Netanyahu has seemingly finally and forcefully dealt that unworkable fiction a deathblow. Israel under the original partition looked like a constricted diverticulated colon, and now that it’s in immeasurably greater danger than it was 63 years ago, or even 44 years ago, it’s foolish, IMO, to even think that Israel would or could return to that Rube Goldberg contraption of a partition plan.

  • http://www.MannsWord.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

    Obama’s proposal is nothing less than a mandate for Israel to lie down and die. Here’s why:

    1. A peace is only as good as the intentions of the parties. Mubarak had been bought off by the US to enter into a “peace” with Israel. Israel bought peace with land – the Sinai Peninsula. It “worked” only as long as he was in power. There was never any normalization of relations between the two nations because most Muslims clearly don’t recognize Israel’s right to exist.

    2. Gaza was unilaterally given their independence by Israel. Instead of gratefulness, Gaza instead imported weapons whatever weapons they could to destroy Israel. Why then believe that a peace is possible?

    3. Through the Oslo accords, Israel had committed to returning 97% of the occupied territory. It was later learned that Arafat, following the example of Mohammad, was reassuring his comrades that the “peace” would only be temporary until the Muslims could gain the upper hand. Why believe it would be any different this time?

    4. Trying to placate the Muslim world is less promising than Chamberlain’s efforts to placate Hitler. Anyone who thinks otherwise does not know the Koran and the Hadiths. While the USA assures the Muslim world that we will only handle a Koran with clean gloves, both the US and the Islamic world burns Bible by the thousands. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ErzxOz3Dzv8&feature=player_embedded#at=194

  • EricW
  • Greg Metzger

    I have a blog laying out the whole of Goldberg’s (excellent) defense of Obama here. The idea that Obama’s speech is anyway evocative of Chamberlain’s views of Hitler is just over the top.

  • Greg Walta

    Bibi is narrowly dedicated to long-term occupation of Palestine. He is on the wrong side of history and Israel will pay a terrible price if it continues to elect arrogant and unwise leaders. Obama is trying to do Israel a favor. Those who fail to see that are blind.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Daniel Mann and EricW, I hear your passion, but aside from not liking Obama, what do you propose?

  • Hal Hall

    Actually, the Chamberlain parallel is chillingly dead on. We in the west, have been in a naive slumber about these matters for way too long. I thank God that Netanyahu is at the helm. He understands the grim realities all too well. Obama would do us all well to learn from his wisdom before we all pay the price.

  • JST

    As an American, why should I care about Israel more than Palestine, and why are billions of my taxes taken from me and given to it? What has Israel ever done for the US that justifies what we do for it?

  • AHH

    EricW @5, don’t leave us with an incomplete picture, what does Paul Stanley think of this issue? Or other equally qualified foreign policy experts like Ted Nugent or Eddie VanHalen?

  • EricW


    I don’t know what the answer is, apart from large-scale movement of Arab/Muslim populations into Jordan or Syria, which is probably not going to happen.

    I know the original partition plan was based on where the Arab and Jewish population centers were at the time, but it quickly became a matter of water and oil not mixing, so ISTM that the only workable long-term solution is a relocation of the Palestinians to neighboring countries, as there is nowhere to relocate the Jews.

    I’m pessimistic about Israel’s survival as a nation for even 100 years. I probably won’t live until 2048, but I will probably live long enough to see Israel’s demise or its experiencing of a nuclear attack.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    EricW, no doubt it is a difficult situation. I definitely do not know the answer, thanks for giving insight into yours.

  • http://livingthebiblios.blogspot.com Ted

    Does the presence of the Goldberg article here signify its endorsement by the Jesus Creed blog?

  • Rana

    I stand with Justice, Peacemaking/ Reconciliation and International Rules of Law and Universal Human Rights on this issue. Refusing Israel USAID until Israel complies with International Laws would resolve the conflict, and move us onto reparations, reconciliation and peace. Sadly it seems few Christians support the rule of international law and universal human rights for both Israelis AND Palestinians.

    Christians, once again, refuse to support a path toward peace and reconciliation.

  • Jorge L

    Yup, thought so. Obama can do no wrong. Those who point out his failings are racist or Christian Zionists or whatever. Their biases, their p.o.v., suffices to explain them away. His defenders, those who defend him in extremis (and calling for a unilateral return to absolutely indefensible borders without denouncing Hamas’s call for the liquidation of even the pre-1967-bordered Israel under the fiction that it’s a key to peace is an in extremis position–and then denying to AIPAC that that’s what he called for–why can’t he own up to the radicality of what he said????), also have p.o.v. but we won’t ask about that, now, will we? The Goldbergs of this world are objective, thoughtful analyists. Those who criticize the Won are speaking only from their mindless biases. Yup.

  • Greg Metzger

    Jorge, the idea that he denied it at AIPAC is a willful misreading of the two speeches. PLEASE read my blog examining Goldberg’s entire weeks worth of writing on this. He is not a critic of Zionism—for crying out loud he is a leading defender of Israel in the secular media. And the mulititude of retired Israeli military leaders who signed the letter in support of exactly what Obama is saying are not extremists either.


  • Greg Metzger

    Did Jorge read either of the two speeches in their entirety?

  • Greg Metzger

    Daniel, how do your four points relate at all to either of Obama’s speeches?, How do your respond to the tremendous support he has given to Israeli military (see Goldgerg’s description of what Israeli military leaders have told him about Obama’s support)?

  • http://www.defendingobama.blogspot.com Greg Metzger

    Who said Obama is “trying to placate the Muslim world?”Let me see if I have this straight, he has tens of thousands of troops in Afghanistan (muslim country), he is ordering aggressive drone strikes in Pakistan (muslim), he is leading NATO bombing campaign of Libya (muslim), he has continued the extraordinarily generous policy of military funding of Israel (,muslims hate that), and yet because he gave a speech talking about WHAT HAD BEEN THE GENERAL POLICY OF NUMEROUS ISRAELI PRIME MINISTERS, including the predecessor to Netanyahu, he is placating the Muslim world? Read what Goldberg said in response to Romney’s charge that “Obama through Israel under the bus” to see what I think of the charge that he is “trying to placate the Muslim world”. These are serious times demanding serious thinking not simplistic jeremiads against imagined “appeasement”.

  • Hal Hall

    “These are serious times demanding serious thinking.” Well you got THAT right. And that is exactly why Netanyahu is needed right now! It matters not what the former PMs thought or Clinton or GW for that matter. Once in a while, a true leader emerges on the world stage. A statesman, that has the wisdom to see things clearly, and the courage to stand on what is the right thing-because millions of lives are at stake.

  • alison

    I was embarrassed by the arrogance of Obama.

  • Andy H

    Phew! Reading these posts is so profoundly depressing and disturbing. As Rana (#14) rightly observes, most posters although presumably Christians, show complete disregard for International Law – and I would add Natural Justice – and seem to want to condemn the people of the Middle East, both Jewish and Muslim, to many more years of violence and suffering.
    To suggest that Obama’s position is somehow ‘radical’ is complete nonsense. Like many non-Americans, I would love to see Obama being radical, in standing up to bigots like Netanyahu and insisting on a truly just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But reading the posts here I guess I can understand why he is being so timid and non-radical. Israel’s position is indefensible, morally, politically and militarily (without brining the violence to horrendous new levels). The best thing that true friends of Israel can do is help them to face up to this, and encourage them to do justice, make peace and eventually, make friends with their neighbours (who also want peace). Of course, this will involve facing down the Netanyahus of this world (both Jewish and Muslim extremists), but the alternative is to continue to allow such bigots to drag their peoples into continued suffering.

  • Muzza

    “Even if Obama didn’t understand Jewish history, it is still off-putting for many Americans to watch their president being lectured by a foreign leader in his own house”

    Please … Americans have been doing this for years in other people’s ‘houses’. It’s hardly out of place when someone else does it to them.

    One of things I like about Obama is that I don’t think this would upset him too much – a sign of humility of service rather than arrogance of power.

    An Aussie perspective!

  • Pat

    I’m with you, Andy H.

  • http://victorybythebloodofthelamb.blogspot.com. Dallas

    Mr. Goldberg’s article was very poorly written.
    # 1 is simply false, as Israel has had a very long history in the West Bank, which includes such places as the City of David and the birthplace of Jesus.

    #2 & #4 are not too persuasive either, as Israel has wide support of Americans on both sides of the aisle. It is Obama who needs to be perceived as supporting Israel rather than Israel needing Obama.

    As for #3, Israel is already a pariah state in the eyes of most of the world. The reason is Jew hate, as the world is violating not only God’s morality, but their own morality.This is why world is endorsing Anti-semitic apartheid They are saying of the West Bank and Gaza, “If you are a Jew, you can’t live here.” Imagine trying that anywhere else. This is also why most of the world insists on Israel negotiating with a terrorist group (Hamas) that is still calling for the annihilation of the Jewish state.

    #5 is the only one with merit, though it provides no rational basis for policy. I am certain that Mr. Goldberg is not alone in his beliefs.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com ChrisB

    “the permanent occupation of the West Bank would be an historical anomaly”

    Yeah, Isreal should give back all the land it conquered — just like the US always did.

  • http://fumblingtowardseternity.theobloggers.com nick gill

    They create a wasteland and call it peace.

  • Terry

    ChrisB @ 31, something along the lines of that argument crossed my mind as well: I think to control our border/immigration problem with Mexico, the US should end occupation and go back to a mutually adjusted border based on 1845 boundaries. I realize we lose Disneyland, but that’s a price we must pay.

  • http://www.defendingobama.blogspot.com Greg Metzger

    So if I read Hal write, he is comparing the Israeli/US military partnership vis a vis the Arab world to the state of England/France vis a vis Hitler’s Germany…I think I will stand by my statement that that is not a serious argument. The idea that Obama is “appeasing” the Muslim world like Chamberlain with Hitler is, honestly, ridiculous.

  • paul

    Unfortunately, the state of Israel seems to have learned all the wrong lessons from the regime to which it ultimately owes its existence. Obama cannot make a credible plea for democracy elsewhere in the region while fascists like Bibi remain in power.

  • Terry

    EricW, that’s funny. I never post my best lines fast enough… and all that trouble going to Wikipedia for dates and all too. We could always try the pre-1620 borders… :)

    It’s much easier to be enlightened for everyone else.

  • Rana

    thank you Andy H for your comment, #23 it gives me hope. #23 is a voice crying out in the wilderness of this sad lot of comments.

  • Andy H

    And thank you, Rana, for your comment – it’s the first time I’ve ever been called a voice crying in the wilderness!
    But seriously, outside of America I think my views would not be at all unusual – quite the opposite, actually. As we’ve seen time and time again in the United Nations and other international forums, it’s the U.S. that is completely out of step with the rest of the world on this issue. No other country in the world shares the U.S.’s blinkered, unquestioning and irrational support for Israeli policies. Doesn’t that say something?

  • Rana

    Amen, habibi, amen.

  • http://www.resaliens.com Lyn

    Two people groups. Two independent states. Simple.

  • Tim

    Adding my 2 cents, few things piss me off more than illegal Jewish settlements. Well, on second thought, hearing the PM of Israel lecture our President on why “abandoning” those illegal settlements is “unthinkable” is, in fact, even more grating. I’m fed up with it.

    Sure the Palestinians and even much of the Arab world carry a huge burden of guilt on their shoulders for the current state of affairs. But Israel is a modern, very much civilized nation and we expect more. Frankly, they are headed for pariah status and I’m just about through supporting our country diplomatic defense of them. Military defense, sure. But diplomatic support? I’m just don’t think I care to support them anymore given their flagrantly illegal and callous behavior to a perpetually imprisoned and disenfranchised people.

  • Tim


    Do you ever remember, as a kid, your mother telling you two wrongs don’t make a right? There is truth in that statement. We hold both the Israel and Palestinian states accountable. But of course, the Israeli people are educated and cultured enough to “know better.” There is where the distinction lies. If we took you and raised you in some knowledge starved, religiously fanatical environment, I bet you would behave in ways that we would consider unacceptable. But given your (fictitious) upbringing, would we expect much better? Our expectations are different as the level of cultural development is different.

  • http://www.defendingobama.blogspot.com Greg Metzger

    To those who consider Netanyahu a stalwart standing against the appeasing Obama, consider what he and his government said six months ago. I have it all up at this post. Make sure you know more about Netanyahu’s history before you bank on the fact that he is not like most other polticians in the world.


  • Johns

    We need to break our addiction to Israel. It is as dangerous to our society as our addiction to oil or war. We should not support any country that is engaged in an illegal occupation. If it were not for Christians demanding unconditional support of an aggressive militaristic nation, the world would be a more peaceful place.