As displays of galling dishonesty go, these responses (via Sullivan) to Obama’s remarks in his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg are right down there among the scummiest misrepresentations of someone else’s views. From the interview:
JG: If you become President, will you denounce settlements publicly?
BO: What I will say is what I’ve said previously. Settlements at this juncture are not helpful. Look, my interest is in solving this problem not only for Israel but for the United States.
JG: Do you think that Israel is a drag on America’s reputation overseas?
BO: No, no, no. But what I think is that this constant wound, that this constant sore, does infect all of our foreign policy. The lack of a resolution to this problem provides an excuse for anti-American militant jihadists to engage in inexcusable actions [bold mine-DL], and so we have a national-security interest in solving this, and I also believe that Israel has a security interest in solving this because I believe that the status quo is unsustainable. I am absolutely convinced of that, and some of the tensions that might arise between me and some of the more hawkish elements in the Jewish community in the United States might stem from the fact that I’m not going to blindly adhere to whatever the most hawkish position is just because that’s the safest ground politically.
I want to solve the problem, and so my job in being a friend to Israel is partly to hold up a mirror and tell the truth and say if Israel is building settlements without any regard to the effects that this has on the peace process, then we’re going to be stuck in the same status quo that we’ve been stuck in for decades now, and that won’t lift that existential dread that David Grossman described in your article.
At most, Obama was referring to the general conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. In the context of the interview, I had originally taken his remarks to refer to settlements, and given what he says in the rest of the paragraph I still think that is probably what Obama was talking about. The remarkable thing is that this description of the conflict would not even be controversial outside of the U.S. debate over Israel policy, and it has considerable support inside that debate. Naturally, there are people who think that illegal settlements are sacrosanct and unquestionable, and they will take any indication that Obama is critical of them to be an indication of his hostility to Israel, because they define hostility to Israel as “whatever I disagree with,” but I wonder how much longer such shoddy and weak arguments can keep prevailing.
Now read the responses. The RJC:
Senator Obama manages to excuse the inexcusable actions of anti-American militant jihadists by putting the blame for their actions on America’s foreign policy.
So when he calls these actions inexcusable, he is excusing them, get it?
Next, Boehner and Cantor:
“It is truly disappointing that Senator Obama called Israel a ‘constant wound,’ ‘constant sore,’ and that it ‘infect[s] all of our foreign policy.’ These sorts of words and characterizations are the words of a politician with a deep misunderstanding of the Middle East and an innate distrust of Israel.”
This is plainly and clearly a lie, and an unusually clumsy one.
So what did the politician with this “innate distrust of Israel” say about Israel in this interview? He said:
I think the idea of Israel and the reality of Israel is one that I find important to me personally. Because it speaks to my history of being uprooted, it speaks to the African-American story of exodus, it describes the history of overcoming great odds and a courage and a commitment to carving out a democracy and prosperity in the midst of hardscrabble land. One of the things I loved about Israel when I went there is that the land itself is a metaphor for rebirth, for what’s been accomplished. What I also love about Israel is the fact that people argue about these issues, and that they’re asking themselves moral questions.
When I visited Ramallah, among a group of Palestinian students, one of the things that I said to those students was: “Look, I am sympathetic to you and the need for you guys to have a country that can function, but understand this: if you’re waiting for America to distance itself from Israel, you are delusional. Because my commitment, our commitment, to Israel’s security is non-negotiable.” I’ve said this in front of audiences where, if there were any doubts about my position, that’d be a place where you’d hear it.
Israel is a vibrant democracy, the only one in the Middle East, and there’s no doubt that Israel and the Palestinians have tough issues to work out to get to the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security, but injecting a term like apartheid into the discussion doesn’t advance that goal. It’s emotionally loaded, historically inaccurate, and it’s not what I believe.
I think that the idea of a secure Jewish state is a fundamentally just idea, and a necessary idea, given not only world history but the active existence of anti-Semitism, the potential vulnerability that the Jewish people could still experience. I know that that there are those who would argue that in some ways America has become a safe refuge for the Jewish people, but if you’ve gone through the Holocaust, then that does not offer the same sense of confidence and security as the idea that the Jewish people can take care of themselves no matter what happens. That makes it a fundamentally just idea.
Update: Jim Geraghty jumps on the bandwagon of misreading Obama, treating the reference to the “wound” and “sore” as a reference to Israel. This is simply wrong, as the full quote above shows.