Can You Support Israel Without Supporting Netanyahu?

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In response to my Bloomberg View column on the potential consequences of the brittle relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, Jennifer Rubin writes in The Washington Post:

It's time for pro-Israel liberals to be honest: This president's animus toward the Jewish state is so evident that only a foolish prime minister would trust him with the survival of the Jewish state. And Netanyahu is no fool. Surely Goldberg could concede both these points?

Surely Goldberg will not concede both these points. Rubin, like many of her colleagues to my right, believes that Netanyahu is the living embodiment of the State of Israel. Her formula: If you dislike Netanyahu, you dislike Israel. This is absurd. Barack Obama has shown zero animus to the state of Israel or to the idea of Israel. In word and in deed, he has been in Israel's corner; he has spoken eloquently in defense of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, and he has provided it with unparalleled defense support.

Obama obviously disagrees with some of the polices of the current Israeli government, and he doesn't seem to like the prime minister on a personal level. But this hasn't seemed to matter, so far. He and his administration have risen to Israel's defense repeatedly, most recently at the United Nations (just ask Susan Rice, his ambassador to the UN, how much time she spends batting back viciously anti-Israel resolutions). And there is no proof at all to suggest that he would not aid Israel in its national defense because he finds its current leader tendentious.

Obama, like the majority of Americans, is broadly sympathetic to Israel. On the question of Iran, I believe that Obama is trying to stop the mullahs from developing nuclear weapons, and I believe he would contemplate the use of force if he believes this to be in America's national interest -- and America's national interest in this case includes the defense of its Middle East allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, most notably. Do I think this is probable? No. But it is certainly plausible. Obama has made it clear that he wants to stop Iran, and there is nothing in his record to suggest that these are empty words. I also believe, however, that the lack of trust between Obama and Netanyahu is potentially harmful to both countries (particularly on an issue as dicey as Iran) but unlike Rubin, I believe it is mainly up to the junior partner (defense aid flows in only one direction here) to work harder to repair the relationship. 

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. Author of the book Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror, Goldberg also writes the magazine's advice column. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. Previously, he served as a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward, and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

His book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. Goldberg rthe recipient of the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism. He is also the recipient of 2005's Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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