US President Barack Obama’s pitch for the Iran deal — in which he singled out Israel as the sole objector, and said the Israeli prime minister was “sincere” but “wrong” — proves a bitter pill to swallow for the Israeli papers on Thursday. The hour-long address prompts significant backlash from Israeli pundits, who solemnly note the president’s “historic” address as an unprecedented low in US-Israeli relations and accuse him of resorting to scare tactics and of alienating Israel further.
“The location choice for the speech President Barack Obama gave yesterday was not coincidental,” Yedioth Ahronoth reports. “The president chose to give one of the most important speeches in his presidency at the American University in Washington, the same place where President Kennedy gave his historic speech in favor of a ban on nuclear tests with the Soviet Union in 1963. Obama was seeking to convey that he, too, was making history, and that just as the critics of that deal were wrong, so too critic no. 1 of the current deal — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — is wrong.”
But pundits in the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom aren’t quite convinced that Obama is Kennedy material. “Obama is no Kennedy,” writes columnist Prof. Avraham Ben-Tzvi. “Khamenei is no Khrushchev,” writes Boaz Bismuth. Ben-Tzvi accuses Obama of “ridiculing his political rivals” while “threatening the American public by painting apocalyptic scenarios about what would happen if Congress overrides the presidential veto.”
Bismuth, meanwhile, slams Obama for singling out Netanyahu as the only open critic of the deal.
Obama “has misread the international map since he entered the White House,” Bismuth writes. “Need we remind the president that they [Obama and Netanyahu] were divided about the Muslim Brotherhood leadership in countries such as Egypt and Tunisia after the Arab Spring? And who was right then, Mr. President?”
“Obama wanted to teach us a history lesson yesterday. We rather enjoyed his references to Kennedy and Reagan. Obama just forgot one fundamental fact that makes all the difference between the former Soviet Union and Iran: the religious element, the Islamist radicalism, and the whole question about the rationality of the Shiite revolutionary regime of Iran,” he writes.
Over in Haaretz, diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid points out another curious detail about the speech location. “Some 200 people gathered at a plaza named for Saudi King Salman at American University in Washington on Wednesday and waited for US President Barack Obama’s address on the nuclear deal reached last month with Iran. A greater irony would be hard to imagine, unless it were a plaza named for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” he writes. In his column, Ravid likens Obama’s late entrance and scare tactics to Netanyahu’s approach, while noting that “unlike Netanyahu, behind Obama’s rhetoric and exaggeration there was no small grain of truth.”
The speech could mark “a real turning point in the strategic relations between Jerusalem and Washington,” he writes. “Obama isolated Netanyahu, portrayed him and his government as the only ones in the world who oppose the agreement, and positioned him as the head of the warmongering camp that rejects any diplomatic compromise of any kind, under any circumstances… What should disturb the sleep of every Israeli is the fact that Netanyahu’s battle against the nuclear agreement has pushed Obama into a situation in which he must distinguish between the security interests of the United States and those of Israel, and clarify that they are not necessarily the same.”
The paper’s Chemi Shalev similarly argues the speech reflected “unprecedented personal bitterness” between leaders of the two allies.
Over in Yedioth, columnist Yoaz Hendel writes that contrary to Obama’s claims, the “nation [of Israel] does not dwell alone.”
“The moderate Arab states are exerting pressure behind the scenes, and Israel openly. Unfortunately, the results are the same,” he writes.
Obama “put us in a bad position,” Shimon Sheffer chimes in. “Israel, he said, is the only country fiercely opposed to the deal with Iran — and that means, according to the US president, is that we are outside the community of nations. With that, however, is another fact: Israel is also the only country in the world whose annihilation Iran is calling for.”
Haaretz, Israel Hayom and Yedioth Ahronoth all offer previews of interviews with President Reuven Rivlin, set to be published Friday. In Haaretz, Rivlin in quoted as saying that he repeatedly rebuked Netanyahu for publicly airing his grievances with Obama. “We need the world [by our side], even if we often disagree with it,” Rivlin said. “There are three principles of Israeli foreign policy. The first, the relationship with the US. The second, the relationship with the US. And the third, the relationship with the US.”
In Yedioth, Rivlin decries Jewish extremism and Israel’s lackluster efforts to combat it. “The state is of no interest to the radicals. Those who don’t think like us, they say, are Nazis, traitors. And we’re burying our heads in the sand.”
And in Israel Hayom, the president addresses the death threats against him, saying he does not fear for his life. Rivlin, a long-time Likud member, also maintains that his political views have not shifted to the left and “have not changed at all.” He tells the paper he is follower of Ze’ev Jabotinsky through and through, but says the father of revisionist Zionism is often misunderstood.