In the Arena

Paranoia Strikes Deep

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Along the way to a scurrilous conclusion about the President, Marty Peretz of the New Republic makes a good point: Israel should have been mentioned among those countries that have made extraordinary efforts to help in Haiti. Peretz’s notion that Israel was purposefully left off the list because there was no equivalent Arab assistance to Haiti to mention seems quite loony to me. The omission was, most likely, just an oversight.

I’d argue that it’s the sort of oversight the Administration can’t afford: Israel needs all the good publicity it can get, especially in those countries–like Saudi Arabia–that should be moving toward recognition of the Jewish state. I’d also argue that it is long past time for the President to reach out to the people of Israel, to communicate with them as avidly as he’s communicated with their Arab neighbors. For months, Obama aides have been telling me that the President has intended to do interviews with Israel television networks–but it just hasn’t happened. It should.

One Obama aide told me: “What he did in Cairo–saying that our alliance with Israel is unbreakable–is far more important than appearing on a couple of TV shows.” True, but what’s the downside of appearing on TV? Some tough questions? The President should welcome that. And he’s certainly going to have to improve his image in Israel if he wants to play a significant peace-making role there.

Peretz posits a near-pathological need for Obama to appear “balanced” in the Middle East. I don’t see anything wrong with balance. It’s a needed corrective after the extreme pro-Israel imbalance of the Bush Administration (indeed, Obama has to work harder, in Israel, to dispel any notion that he’s imbalanced in the opposite direction). But it’s laughably picky–a philo-semitic caricature–to propose that pro-balance “pathology” caused the President to omit Israel from the list of heroes in the Haiti recovery operation.

Update: Several commenters have pointed out that Peretz’s post was ridiculously trivial. They’re right: the sheer triviality of it is one of the reasons I decided to comment on it–but then I neglected to mention it. Meanwhile, it’s not only trivial, but also inaccurate and obnoxious: the worst part id where Peretz slags Arabs as “amateurs” when it comes to disaster relief. Tell that to the Saudis, who–according to the UN–are the country that has contributed the third largest amount of money to Haitian earthquake relief.