“We have an unwavering commitment to the security of Israel and the Israeli people,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said this morning. “We have said that from the beginning of this administration. I don’t think that it’s a stretch to say we don't agree with what Senator Schumer said in those remarks.”
Gibbs was responding to comments Schumer made to JM in the AM’s Nachum Segal (91.1 on your FM dial in the New York/New Jersey area) Thursday morning in which the No. 3 Senate Democrat criticized President Obama’s foreign policy towards Israel.
Schumer recalled when Vice President Joe Biden “was in Israel and there was this kerfuffle over settlements — which is in Israeli Jerusalem, 20 minutes from downtown and should never have been an issue to begin with — but they probably shouldn't have made the announcement when Biden was there. But Israel apologized and when Biden left, and Biden is the best friend of Israel in the administration everything was fine.”
But, Schumer said, the next day Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and “talked very tough to him, and worse they made it public through this spokesperson, a guy named (P.J.) Crowley. And Crowley said something I have never heard before, which is, the relationship of Israel and the United States depends on the pace of the negotiations. That is terrible. That is the dagger because the relationship is much deeper than the disagreements on negotiations, and most Americans — Democrat, Republican, Jew, non-Jew — would feel that.”
Crowley said in the phone call Clinton "made clear that the Israeli government needed to demonstrate not just through words but through specific actions that they are committed to this relationship and to the peace process."
Schumer said in response he phoned White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel “and I said, ‘If you don't retract that statement you are going to hear me publicly blast you on this.’ Of course they did retract it.”
“Right now there is a battle going on inside the administration, one side agrees with us, one side doesn’t, and we’re pushing hard to make sure the right side wins and if not we’ll have to take it to the next step,” Schumer said.
Schumer continued, saying “many of us are pushing back, some of the Jewish members will be meeting with the President next week or the week after, and we are saying that this has to stop. You have to have, in terms of the negotiations, you have to show Israel that it's not going to be forced to do things it doesn't want to do and can't do. At the same time you have to show the Palestinians that they are not going to get their way by just sitting back and not giving in, and not recognizing that there is a state of Israel. And right now there is a battle going on inside the administration, one side agrees with us, one side doesn't, and we're pushing hard to make sure the right side wins and if not we'll have to take it to the next step.
The comments were first noticed in the secular media by Politico’s Ben Smith.
Interestingly, Schumer’s tough talk on the local New York City radio show hosted by an Orthodox Jew was a bit braver than when he appeared on This Week a few weeks ago.
As some in the Jewish media noticed at the time, I asked Schumer about a report in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Achronoth, which quoted an anonymous Netanyahu confidante calling President Obama "The greatest disaster for Israel, a strategic disaster."
I asked Schumer: “I'm sure you have some constituents who share those views and perhaps those concerns. Do you think that the White House has behaved toward Israel and the prime minister of Israel as you would want them to?”
Schumer basically avoided the question.
“Well let me say this: I think everybody here in the United States, virtually everybody, and the vast majority of Israelis, want peace, they're willing to accept a two state solution,” Schumer said. “The best way to bring about that peace is let the two sides negotiate and bring them together. I think one of the problems we have faced in the Middle East is that too many of the Palestinians, they elected Hamas, sworn to Israel's destruction, don't really believe in peace. And I do believe that you have to let the two parties come together. If the United States imposes preconditions, particularly on the Palestinian and Arab side, they'll say we won't come and negotiate.”