The Obama campaign and the left are crowing, predictably, about a comment made by Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak to CNN’s ever-gullible Wolf Blitzer: “I can see long years [and] administrations of both sides of [the] political aisle deeply supporting the state of Israeli [sic] and I believe that reflects a profound feeling among the American people. But I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing, in regard to our security, more than anything that I can remember in the past.”
From Barak’s subjective point of view, this may be true; objectively, it is false. The most cooperative era in U.S-Israel security relations was during the presidency of George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks. Barak was out of office then, serving only during Bush’s last two years, when Condoleeza Rice went on an ill-fated quest for peace in the region.
There is a reason that Israeli officials--both left and right--pay such compliments to the U.S. administration, whatever administration is in power: it is in Israel’s immediate self-interest to do so. Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been snubbed by Obama repeatedly, has made similar statements. That does not make them true. It is ironic--though predictable--that the same Obama supporters who criticize Mitt Romney for not lying about British readiness for the Olympics take Barak’s words at face value.
But there is another reason that Barak praised Barack: both are leftists. Barak once led Israel’s Labor Party, and participated in the Socialist International, a global organization of left-wing parties. He has since left the Labor Party, as the result of a split over its participation in a coalition with Netanyahu’s conservative Likud Party. Yet he remains a man of the left. Democrats pushed for Barak's election as Prime Minister over Netanyahu in 1999; he may be returning a well-timed favor.
The Obama “endorsement” is only the second-worst thing Barak has ever said. In 2010, he warned that Israel had to make territorial concessions to the Palestinians or it would become “an apartheid state.” The left cheered his use of the discredited Israel-apartheid analogy, a staple of hateful anti-Israel propaganda, which relies on faulty Palestinian demographic statistics, as well as distortions of South African history and Israeli reality.
Barak was using that posture to maintain his credibility within the crumbling Labor Party, as well as to shore up his cherished international credentials as a peacenik. It is thought that Barak came to the ill-fated Camp David peace conference with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and President Bill Clinton in July 2000 with the hope of winning a Nobel Prize as a result. He claimed publicly, in the years afterward, that Israel could have negotiated a final peace--if only he had been re-elected Prime Minister in 2001.
There is a reason that Israelis trusted Ariel Sharon with their security in that election, which is that the path Barak and his Labor Party had chosen had led the country into a deadly terrorist war. Barak believed, as Barack Obama still believes, that if Israel had only conceded more to the Palestinians, Arafat and the Arab world would come around. He has continued to praise Israeli concessions in his capacity as defense minister.
Barak is Israel’s most decorated soldier, and the best authority on Israel’s defense--but not on Israeli security writ large, where he has received a resounding veto from the Israeli electorate. If he thinks well of the Obama administration, it is because he prefers the Obama approach to diplomacy. Thankfully, for Israel, Barak is no longer in charge.