Sen. McCain: Obama's Private Advocacy For Israel Proves He's Anti-Israel

November 08, 2011 1:45 pm ET — Matt Finkelstein

An off-the-record exchange between President Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy has resuscitated the conservative narrative that Obama is "anti-Israel." During a meeting between the two leaders at the G20 summit in Cannes, reporters overhead Sarkozy calling Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu "a liar." Obama reportedly answered, "You're fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more often than you."    

The comment reads more like a measured response to an awkward situation than explicit agreement — and he could have simply confirmed Sarkozy's view given that the conversation was supposed to be private. But that's not how Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who is always eager to criticize Obama's foreign policy record, sees it.

Appearing on Fox News today, McCain claimed the president's remarks are "indicative of the attitude and policies that this administration has had toward Israel," which he said is "probably in more danger than they've been in since the '67 war." However, McCain left out one crucial detail: The exchange occurred while Obama was criticizing France for siding against Israel in a recent vote to grant Palestine membership in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

During their bilateral meeting on November 3, on the sidelines of the Cannes summit, Obama criticized Sarkozy's surprise decision to vote in favor of a Palestinian request for membership of the U.N. cultural heritage agency UNESCO.

"I didn't appreciate your way of presenting things over the Palestinian membership of UNESCO. It weakened us. You should have consulted us, but that is now behind us," Obama was quoted as saying.

Obama told Sarkozy that he was worried about the impact if Washington had to pull funding from other U.N. bodies such as the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation and the IAEA nuclear watchdog if the Palestinians gained membership there.

"You have to pass the message along to the Palestinians that they must stop this immediately," Obama said.

It's no secret that Netanyahu and the Obama administration have had disagreements, but the president has also gone to great lengths to protect Israel's interests. Netanyahu has personally thanked Obama for his actions on multiple occasions, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently said he "can hardly remember a better period of support" than "what we have right now." The fact that Obama was privately admonishing Sarkozy for supporting the Palestinian membership bid makes McCain's spin even less credible.

Meanwhile, McCain's suggestion that Israel is in more immediate danger than it has been since the Six Day War in 1967 is odd coming from someone with his reputed expertise in foreign affairs. In 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel on Yom Kippur, the most sacred Jewish holiday. The Yom Kippur War resulted in an estimated 2,688 Israeli deaths.