The leader of the World Jewish Congress has harshly rebuked President Obama for allowing a “disconnect” in relations between the U.S. and Israel.
WJC President Ronald Lauder said in a Friday address to the National Press Club in Washington that all U.S. presidents, including Obama, are supporters of Israel, but the current president has sent signals indicating a distance between the two countries.
“There is on the surface a connection between Obama and [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu, but what we’re dealing with here is not about realities but about perceptions,“ Lauder said.
In his presentation, Lauder likened the relationship between the Obama administration and Israel to that of two brothers being surrounded by bullies at the schoolyard. The older brother, Obama in this allegory, protects his younger sibling, Israel, but after a while takes a break and asks the bullies “don’t beat him too hard.”
Lauder acknowledged that Obama’s administration maintains strong military ties with Israel, ties that have even exceeded the level of cooperation achieved during the Bush era. But he said that by not visiting Israel and not speaking to the Israeli people, Obama has allowed for a distance between the two allies.
In contrast, Lauder was full of praise for Republican presidential candidates for their positions on Israel.
“The are all extraordinary pro-Israel,” he said, “I’m very encouraged by what they are saying.” Lauder added that he does not agree with those who say Israel should not be a campaign issue.
The World Jewish Congress, founded in 1936, was initially created to serve as the diplomatic arm of the Jewish people. Although it has lost its leading role in representing world Jewry, it is still considered a leading voice on global Jewish issues. Lauder, who is headed the WJC since 2007, is a billionaire businessman closely aligned with Republican politics. He was appointed by President Reagan as U.S. ambassador to Austria and in 1989 ran for the party’s nomination for mayor of New York.
On Iran, Lauder said he does not believe that sanctions can stop the regime in Tehran from pursuing its nuclear program and said the administration was wrong in not supporting opposition demonstrators in Iran during the 2009 Green Revolution.
“The entire Jewish world is looking at what is happening between Israel and Iran and Israel and the United States and the Jewish people are very, very concerned,” he said.
Lauder, who maintained close ties with former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, criticized the U.S. administration’s treatment of the Middle East dictator before he was ousted by his own people. He argued that Washington should have shown support for Mubarak until elections took place. He argued that the Obama administration’s decision to side with protesters and not with Mubarak sent a message that America will not stand up for its allies.
In 1996 Lauder tried to broker a peace accord between the Israeli government and Syria, which was then led by Hafez al Assad, father of the country current president, Bashar Assad. These backchannel negotiations did not lead to an agreement. Now, the younger Assad is engaged in a brutal attempt to quash a popular uprising, and Lauder predicted that Assad’s fall was inevitable. But he did not think much benefit would come to Israel from the Assad regime’s collapse.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.