Obama's Focus On Israel Is Absolutely Right

June 20, 2011 11:37 am ET — MJ Rosenberg

Yesterday's Washington Post featured a column by Deputy Editorial Page Editor Jackson Diehl asking, "Why Is Obama so tough on Israel and timid on Syria?"

Diehl is a neocon who, along with Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt, has turned the Post's editorial page into the country's most reliable bastion of Likud orthodoxy, with the possible exception of the Wall Street Journal's.

The most egregious things wrong with the column can be found in the title. President Obama is not tough on Israel. For better or worse, his positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are identical to those of his predecessors. When Obama took office Israel fully occupied every inch of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza was under blockade. Nothing has changed since, and at the current rate nothing will have changed by the time the next president takes over.

True, Obama tried to get the Israeli government to agree to a settlement freeze but, when Netanyahu told him to buzz off, he essentially did. The current brouhaha about Obama's call for a two-state solution based on the pre-June 1967 lines is nothing but fake outrage designed to warn the president not to pursue Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, except along terms dictated by Netanyahu. Obama's position that an agreement had to be based on the pre-June 1967 lines has been U.S. policy since LBJ was in the White House.

The Syrian part of Diehl's question is a mere rhetorical device. Although Obama fears (with good reason) to utter a word of criticism about Netanyahu, this is what he says about Syria's President Bashar al-Assad:

The Syrian people have shown their courage in demanding a transition to democracy. President Assad now has a choice: He can lead that transition, or get out of the way.

But there is a much larger point.

The argument that the U.S. should criticize adversaries and allow friends to pursue suicidal and destructive policies is just plain stupid: We have leverage with friends like Israel and pretty much none with countries like Syria. (U.S. aid to Israel is $3.5 billion a year. To Syria: zero.)

Although Syria is a far worse human rights violator than Israel, its violations are not paid for with U.S. aid dollars and committed with U.S.-supplied weaponry. We also hold Israel to a higher standard than we apply to Syria. Does Diehl think we shouldn't?

Any president will, and should, pay more attention to what Israel does than to what the Syrians do. It's pretty simple. Syria's human rights violations are not also ours.