In fine Alinskyite tradition, Pres. Barack Obama is ready to say anything at any moment if it seems expedient. So it was that he spoke some months back of the "unbreakable bond of friendship" between the United States and Israel. The occasion was the Jewish state's Independence Day. The proximate cause, however, was a backlash provoked by policies shot through with anti-Israeli animus — and none more so than President Obama's obsession over the construction of Israeli housing, a subject on which the president is no less doctrinaire than his good friend Rashid Khalidi, the former PLO mouthpiece turned U.S. academic.
Was the "unbreakable bond" bit a sweet nothing, or did Obama really mean what he said? The president's skedaddle out of the country after the mammoth electoral drubbing his policies caused his party provides a good opportunity to judge.
Between defending the failed strategy of printing another trillion or so dollars to resuscitate the U.S. economy and fending off the resulting rebukes from G-20 leaders, Obama found time to blast Israel for building more housing. "This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations."
By "this kind of activity," the president was referring to the construction of 1,345 housing units in the eastern section of Jerusalem. He was also drawing an equivalence between that city and Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Put aside the anomaly whose mention is also apparently "never helpful" — namely, that Palestinians simultaneously want Jews expelled from Palestinian territories while Arabs are permitted not merely to live in, but to "return" in droves to, Israel. There is also this inconvenient fact, left to prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to break to the unbreakably friendly U.S. president: Jerusalem is not a "settlement" — it is the capital of Israel.
Sadly, there is nothing new in Obama's amateurish inflation of Israeli construction from a sore point to a flash point in Israeli-Palestinian tensions. Nor is there novelty in his hectoring of Israel for insufficient indulgence of a "negotiating partner" that does not accept its right to exist. If there were nothing more, there'd be little point in recounting this story.
But there is a new wrinkle in Obama's Israel-bashing: the setting. While the president's post-election get-out-of-Dodge tour has included stops in New Delhi, Seoul, and Tokyo, he opted to zing the Zionist entity while touring Jakarta. This was no coincidence: By population, Indonesia is the world's largest Islamic country, home to 200 million Muslims.
It is also Obama's boyhood home. "Indonesia is a part of me," the president gushed to a friendly crowd of university students, adopting the native tongue for emphasis. He went on to praise the country as a model of religious tolerance worthy of global emulation. The president explained that this is why he seeks for the United States and Indonesia "a deep and enduring partnership" — which surely must be better than an "unbreakable bond of friendship." Such a relationship, Obama stressed, should be a natural for two nations "bound together by shared interests and shared values."
No wonder the president saw Jakarta as a worthy stage for attacking a staunch American ally. Israel, you'd figure, must have a lot of catching up to do before it could hope to play in Indonesia's league.
Except that those stubborn facts keep spilling all over Obama's chummy "Muslim outreach." With justification, Indonesia is seen as one of the most moderate Islamic countries. Yet in 2007 polling by the University of Maryland, 53 percent of Indonesian Muslims agreed that there ought to be "a strict application of sharia law in every Islamic country." In the province of Aceh, Islam's first foothold in Southeast Asia, sharia has been adopted, such that the penalty for adultery is now stoning — although, as Sadanand Dhume has drily observed, homosexuality draws "a lighter rebuke . . . 100 strokes of a rattan cane."
It is also in Indonesia that some of the world's worst Muslim-on-Muslim violence occurs. The main victims are the members of the Ahmadi sect. Among other things, they do not accept Mohammed as the final prophet. In this model of religious tolerance, that's enough to have their mosques torched and their adherents brutally murdered.
It also turns out that this exemplary Islamic nation has about as much tolerance for Israel as the Palestinians do. Like Hamas and Fatah, Indonesia does not recognize Israel's right to exist. To be sure, the national motto is "Unity in Diversity" — inducing Obama to compare it favorably with America's E Pluribus Unum. But it ought to come with an asterisk: Israelis are not permitted to enter Indonesia, nor are Israeli aircraft permitted to fly in its airspace.
What better perch could an American president find from which to slam a staunch American ally? It's nice to know "Indonesia is a part of" President Obama, but Judeo-Christian tolerance — the kind Israel lives and Jakarta shuns — is part of America.
— Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.