Barack Obama is running scared.
In advance of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address to Congress next week about the growing threat of a nuclear Iran, the normally placid president of the United States is suddenly breaking out into a political sweat.
One by one, Obama has been dispatching his minions to deride, denounce and disparage a speech that hasn't even been given yet. Indeed, President Obama is doing everything in his power to attack the message and the messenger in an attempt to salvage a possible deal with the Iranian ayatollahs.
But in doing so, he runs the risk of stirring up a menace no less frightful: the demon of anti-Semitism. After all, the harshness of Obama's response could very well lead some Americans down the well-trod path of anti-Zionism and Jew-hatred.
Take for example the remarks made by National Security Advisor Susan Rice. Speaking to journalist Charlie Rose on Tuesday night, Rice declared that Netanyahu's acceptance of the invitation to Congress is "destructive of the fabric of the relationship" between Israel and the US. Rice's comment is far more revealing than perhaps she intended, for by employing such extreme language, she inadvertently disclosed just how nervous the White House is about the possible impact of the premier's speech.
Moreover, Rice's remarks are in direct contradiction to those made just one month ago by White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, who told NBC's Meet the Press on January 25 that the US relationship with Israel is "focused on a shared series of threats, but also on a shared series of values that one particular incident is not going to inform overwhelmingly."
This is a sure sign that not only does the Obama administration lack message discipline, but can barely conceal its unmitigated hostility toward the Jewish state and the man who leads it. Indeed, to decry a speech by a close US ally to the elected representatives of the American people as "destructive" is not only offensive, but it crosses the lines of diplomatic decency. It is the kind of remark that Israel's enemies will be more than happy to exploit in an effort to paint the Jewish state, and Jews themselves, as undermining America.
The administration's enmity was further on display when Secretary of State John Kerry took part in a congressional hearing on Tuesday regarding the State Department budget, where he made some thinly-veiled remarks that were sharply critical of Netanyahu.
"Anyone running around right now," Kerry said, "jumping to say we don't like the deal, or this or that, doesn't know what the deal is. There is no deal yet." Even for someone who once boasted that "I actually did vote for the $87 billion [in funding for US troops] before I voted against it," this latest statement is remarkably obtuse. In effect, Kerry is saying that Netanyahu shouldn't criticize a deal with Iran until it is complete, neglecting to mention that at that point it would be too late.
But the comment also has a potentially chilling undertone to it. Does Kerry mean to suggest that American Jewry and pro-Israel organizations should keep silent and not decry the reported terms of the potential nuclear deal with Iran?
Fortunately, the Obama administration's full-court press against Netanyahu's appearance in Congress doesn't seem to be working, at least for now. In a poll conducted last week by McLaughlin & Associates, 59 percent of Americans surveyed said they support Netanyahu speaking to Congress, while just 23% oppose it. This demonstrates that a vast majority of the American public is not taking Obama's bait, and wants to hear what the Israeli premier has to say.
Nonetheless, it is heartbreaking to see an American administration that is more concerned about silencing Israel than protecting it. Heartbreaking, but also deeply worrisome, because the tactics that Obama has been employing, from leaking information to embarrass Israel to bitterly censuring the head of government of the Jewish state, could easily open the door to a resurgence of anti-Semitism.
If Obama is miffed that Netanyahu will be speaking to Congress, then why not first listen to what the premier has to say and then respond to it? Why turn up the heat now, exacerbate bilateral tensions and deploy such sharp rhetoric?
To be sure, anti-Semitism in the United States has been steadily declining over the past decade, with just 9% of Americans reportedly holding anti-Semitic views according to the ADL. But their surveys also show that 31% of American adults believe that "Jews are more loyal to Israel" than to America or the countries in which they live. By heightening the fuss and worsening the rift with Israel over a crucial, existential issue such as Iran's nuclear program, Obama is fanning some flames that may prove difficult to extinguish. And that, most assuredly, is in nobody's interest.