Keeping The Edge

If one were to poll the right-leaning American Jewish community, it is probable that the findings would show that there is a great deal of animosity toward President Obama. It is also fair to surmise that the reason he is so disliked is because of how he has dealt with the issues that affect the security of those living in Eretz Yisrael.

The real question that needs to be asked, then, is whether or not he deserves this reputation. There are people who think the president bears some animosity toward the Jewish state. I don’t think that’s the case. As I’ve written before, I think President Obama looks at Israel with more of an ambivalence than anything else.

On the other hand, there are others who think that he gets a bad rap, and is truly one of the most underappreciated allies of Israel. For example, Shimon Peres, former President of Israel, castigated Obama’s critics last week, after Israel received F-35 fighter jets (which, as an aside, contain systems developed by Israeli companies) from the United States. “We must stand up and say thank you to the United States and to U.S. President Barack Obama, who granted us what America has not granted to any other nation,” he said. “It wouldn’t hurt us to say thank you once in a while.”

It certainly is important to be makir tov to the American government for all that it has done to protect our brethren in the Holy Land. And that would include the president, who stands at the head of this great country. But there’s a not-quite-so-fine line between showing gratitude for what is done (which is something we must do in all circumstances, as Rashi explains in Ki Seitzei (23:8) on the passukLo sisaev mitzri”), and praising the president as though he is some unprecedented (or even precedented) defender of Israel. Suffice it to say that I find that argument both unconvincing and uncompelling.

It is unusually hard to convince people who feel this way otherwise; it makes me want to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, and say that their problem isn’t that they are ignorant — it’s that they know so much that isn’t so. But for those who aren’t already cheerleaders for the president and his allies, but are open to hearing their point of view, recent revelations ought to disabuse them of that notion.

In the waning days of the Bush Presidency, Congress passed a bill (sponsored by Howard Berman, a conservative Democrat) called the “Naval Vessel Transfer Act of 2008.” A provision in the bill was something that came to be known as QME, or Qualitative Military Edge. This meant (among other similar things) that the law now required that before the United States government sells arms to any other country in the Middle East, there needs to be an assessment done to make sure Israel maintains a qualitative military edge over military threats to it.

In short, QME requires the president to do everything he has been doing to keep Israel in a position of strength relative to her neighbors. And, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, that he does it is still something we should be makir tov for.

But President Obama doesn’t really like QME. He sees it as a hindrance, something that stands in his way and keeps him from doing what he really wants to do. But this is more than just the speculation that I and other writers have written about throughout his presidency. This time it’s coming from one of his allies, a man who served as both his CIA Director and Defense Secretary — Leon Panetta.

Speaking recently about his tenure in the Obama administration, Panetta told the Washington Institute for Near East Policy that the president expressed as much to him while they were trying to get a sale of fighter jets to Saudi Arabia done, but kept on running into legal hurdles because of the QME requirement in the law.

Panetta said that Obama “reflected some anger about why [in the world] do we have to do this in the first place … And I said, ‘Because we made that obligation, and because it is important, particularly with our relationship with Israel, that we protect that.’”

A president who legitimately cares about Israeli security doesn’t wonder, even in anger, why there is a need to keep Israel’s QME intact. And the very fact that Panetta wouldn’t answer the question with more than “we made that obligation” indicates that he, as well, knows that the president is uninterested in hearing the real reasons why maintaining QME is important.

The fact that the current president has questioned the need for QME is both a wake-up call and an opportunity — with the 2016 elections just around the corner. Both Hillary Clinton (who needs to count the Sanders backers in her tent — many of whom are downright hostile to Israel) and Donald Trump (who at one point said he would seek to be “impartial” in seeking to procure a peace deal) ought to clarify their position on this important issue.

And they should be able to answer not only whether they would want to maintain it, but also why they think it is of value.