President Obama checked off another item on his “rhymes with bucket list” today in the United Nations. The United States abstained in a 14-0 vote by the UN Security Council condemning all Israeli building and activity in the West Bank as “illegal,” including building in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem and Israel’s sovereign access to the Western Wall. The Security Council resolution had been put forward by New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela and Senegal. The Prime Minister’s Office in Israel has responded: “Israel rejects this shameful anti-Israel resolution at the UN and will not abide by its terms. At a time when the Security Council does nothing to stop the slaughter of half a million people in Syria, it disgracefully gangs up on the one true democracy in the Middle East, Israel, and calls the Western Wall “occupied territory.” I would like to associate myself with Lee Smith’s comments at Tablet (whole thing here). Smith writes:
In a sense, the UN vote is a perfect bookend to Obama’s Presidency. A man who came to office promising to put “daylight” between the United States and Israel, has done exactly that by breaking with decades of American policy. It is also seeking—contrary to established tradition and practice, which strictly prohibit such lame-duck actions—to tie the hands of the next White House, which has already made its pro-Israel posture clear.
No doubt that many of those critical of the U.S.-Israel relationship will defend and applaud the administration’s action, even as the effects of the resolution are obscene. So what if it enshrines in international law the fact that Jews can’t build homes or have sovereign access to their holy sites in Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish people for more than 3000 years? Israel, as Kerry said, is too prosperous to care about peace with the Palestinians. Maybe some hardship will shake some sense into the Jewish State—which after all, could easily have made a just and secure peace with the Palestinian leadership at any time over the past two decades, if that’s what it wanted to do. Accounts to the contrary, from Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, say, or left-wing Israeli politicians like former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the late Shimon Peres, are simply propaganda generated by the pro-Israel Lobby, whose wings the President has thankfully clipped.
But the Obama Administration’s abstention isn’t just about Israel or bilateral relations with a vital partner in a key region. It’s also about the prestige of the United States and its power—the power, for instance, undergirding international institutions like the United Nations. Consider how the Obama Administration has used the UN the last several years—to legalize the nuclear program of Iran, a state sponsor of terror, and make it illegal for Jews to build in their historical homeland. In Turtle Bay, the White House partners with sclerotic socialist kleptocracies like Venezuela in order to punish allies, like Israel. Is this American moral leadership? For Sean Penn, maybe.
Israel is likely to profess not to care that much about the actions of a lame-duck President in a forum that has long been famous for its antipathy to the Jewish State. But in private, Israeli officials are said to be panicking at the fresh gust of wind that the President Obama has blown into the sails of the BDS movement, especially in Europe.
Also panicking are Democratic members of Congress whose re-election prospects in 2018 may have just been sacrificed by the departing leader of their Party. Democratic Senator and reputed Presidential hopeful Sherrod Brown of Ohio, a J Street favorite who is up for re-election in 2018 in a state that Donald Trump won by a 9 percent margin, showed the extent of his own distress on Friday by issuing a statement opposing a U.S. abstention. That statement read in part: “Earlier this fall I joined Senate colleagues urging the Administration to uphold its position opposing one-sided resolutions at the U.N. Security Council regarding Israel. Any lasting peace must be negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians, not imposed by the international community.”
Whether issuing such statements will be enough to keep swing-state Jewish voters and other pro-Israel Democrats in line in 2018 remains to be seen—but clearly, the health of the Democratic Party, which lost over 1000 officeholders during Obama’s tenure, is hardly the first thing on the President’s mind, either. What matters is dismantling the alliance system that has kept America and much of the rest of the world secure in favor of a new system of the President’s own devising, in which the U.S. partners with Iran and stands idly by while 500,000 civilians are massacred in Syria, and Russia and China launch cyber-attacks targeting key U.S. institutions without fear of retribution or reprisal—actions that are reserved only for America’s friends.