Ben Rhodes wrote the section of the 2006 Iran Study Group report that advised sacrificing Israel to help convince Iran and Syria to leave Iraq alone. Later, as Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser, he worked to sell the Iran deal to the public, even admitting that he falsified facts and created an “echo chamber” to make it seem that there was expert support for the administration’s policies. More recently, he justified the decision to promote an anti-Israel Security Council resolution by blaming Netanyahu. Rhodes is very close to Obama and has had an important role in policy-making as well as communications.
He is also one of the likely suspects for the anonymous administration official that called Netanyahu “a chickenshit” (other suspects include Obama himself). Israeli officials consider him one of the most anti-Israel operatives in the administration.
The Council, which is also the board of trustees of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, was created to “lead the nation in commemorating the Holocaust.” It has 55 members, and it seems unlikely that Rhodes’ joining has anything other than symbolic significance.
But what a symbol! Rhodes, who has been one of the public point men for the Obama Administration’s policy of rapprochement with the Holocaust-denying (and perhaps -aspiring) Iranian regime, will now play a role in teaching the lessons of the historical Holocaust.
So why did Obama do it?
This appointment, following so quickly after the passage of UNSC resolution 2334, which the Israeli government says the administration “helped craft,” and the accusatory speech by John Kerry, suggests that in his last days in office, Obama is venting his spleen against Israel and especially PM Binyamin Netanyahu. One tweeter called Obama a “spite machine.”
Obama’s tactics, from the first, have been intended not only to try to objectively weaken Israel diplomatically and militarily (I don’t believe that the large amount of military aid does Israel any favors, and the conditions under which it will be given are much worse than before) but also psychologically, and to contribute to the delegitimization of the Jewish state.
But doesn’t Obama always preface his remarks about Israel by a reference to the “unbreakable bonds” between Israel and the US, and by affirming his absolute commitment to Israel’s security? Yes, he does say these things. But what always follows is an attack on Israel on behalf of the Palestinians, in which he accuses Israel of denying them their “dignity” and “aspirations for freedom,” and yearning for a state of their own.
Obama is not a stupid man, and he is not ignorant about the attitudes of Muslims and Arabs, including Palestinian Arabs. He knows that “dignity” and “freedom” are understood by Palestinians as the return of their honor by the violent expulsion of the Jews from the land between the river and the sea, and that the only state they want is the one that Israel has. Nevertheless, he still pushes for Israeli concessions that would radically endanger the country, quickly contradicting his initial assurances of protecting Israel’s security.
He places the responsibility for the conflict on Israel’s (and Netanyahu’s) shoulders, ignoring the Palestinians’ refusal to negotiate. He draws analogies between Palestinian Arabs and black Americans, something calculated to tug at the heartstrings of American liberals, but so far from reality as to fall in “big lie” territory. He dishonestly suggests that Israeli settlements are “gobbling up” larger and larger amounts of land. He uses the deliberately misleading expression “settlement construction” which suggests that new settlements are being constructed, when he means that homes are being built within existing settlements. He refers to existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem as “settlements.”
He often lets it be known that he is angry, even “furious” or “enraged” at Netanyahu, especially in connection with Jewish construction, or even announcements of possible future construction (he has never said a word about illegal Arab construction). He and his surrogates have called Netanyahu names and tried to humiliate him on visits to the White House. He took or pretended to take Netanyahu’s opposition to the Iran deal as a personal insult, and arranged for members of the Congressional Black Caucus to absent themselves from Netanyahu’s speech (he himself did not attend or, he said, even watch it on TV). In 2015, he tried to intervene in Israel’s election to get Netanyahu ousted. And he lost his hair-trigger temper yet again, when Bibi made comments during the election that Obama didn’t like.
During the last Gaza mini-war in 2014, he responded to Hamas propaganda about civilian casualties with anger, demands, and even a cutoff in supplies of ammunition and an FAA ban on flights to Ben Gurion airport (just in case we forgot who is the superpower here).
He has embraced the phony “pro-Israel” J Street organization, inviting it to White House events in place of older, Zionist Jewish groups. It’s important to understand that J Street is not simply “controversial” or “dovish” – it has consistently taken anti-Israel positions on every issue, from calling for an immediate cease-fire at the beginning of the 2008-9 Gaza war through supporting the Iran deal. Its funds come mostly from anti-Israel sources (e.g., George Soros). Indeed, the J Street line about being “pro-Israel” is much like Obama’s own insistence that he is committed to Israel’s security: a general statement that is the opposite of the real truth, which emerges from countless particular actions and policies.
Some of Obama’s actions seem to advance his geopolitical goals, while others – the “chickenshit” remark, for example – seem to be just gratuitous slaps at Netanyahu and Israel. It seems to be as important for Obama to insult or humiliate as it is to obtain concrete concessions. But in almost all cases, an initial abstract statement of support is followed by a more concrete punishment.
This technique is a common form of the emotional abuse found in dysfunctional families. The abuser pretends to care about the victims, but then harms them in various ways, such as spreading lies about them, relentlessly criticizing them, challenging their perceptions of reality (gaslighting), physically hurting them, calling them names, embarrassing them, withholding sustenance, displaying violent anger, irrationally blaming them for problems that are not their fault, and so on.
Obama’s behavior toward Israel and her Prime Minister is classic abuser behavior. The nomination of a man, Rhodes, who is known as an enemy of the state of the Jewish people, to a position in which he will (at least symbolically) have control of an important part of the identity of the Jewish people – and unfortunately, the Holocaust is such a part – is a way to humiliate us. The way he emphatically expresses support for Israel’s security in the abstract and then proposes concrete concessions that are wholly incompatible with it is a form of gaslighting. The insults to our Prime Minister followed by expressions of undying love for our country, which are in turn followed by slaps in the face like resolution 2334, and relentless criticism from the like of John Kerry – what is this if not sadistic abuse?
In two days the US will have a new President, about as different from Obama as can be imagined. There will be good things and bad things about the US-Israel relationship in the future. But one lesson can be learned from our painful experience with Obama: like the woman who finally succeeds in dumping her abusive husband, maybe we ought to insist on a little more personal space in our next relationship!