US President Barack Obama’s visit to the UK last week in which he gave unsolicited advice pressuring Britain to stay in the European Union (EU) has raised fury among Britons, but also disbelief among American Jewish leaders given Obama’s apparent double standards.
Several top British politicians last Friday suggested Obama is pressuring the UK to stay in the EU because of his Kenyan background, arguing he wants the UK to be less independent given lingering hostility over Britain’s colonialism.
In America his conduct was met with surprise as well, as prominent American Jewish leaders Alan Dershowitz and Elliott Abrams both noted Obama’s hypocrisy given his anger at Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu when he spoke in Congress last March warning against the Iran nuclear deal.
Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor, wrote in an op-ed on Fox News last Friday that Obama defended his meddling in the UK vote “by suggesting that in a democracy, friends should be able to speak their minds, even when they are visiting another country.”
“Nor did he stop at merely giving the British voters unsolicited advice, he also issued a not so veiled threat. He said that ‘The UK is going to be in the back of the queue’ on trade agreements if they exit the EU,” pointed out Dershowitz.
The legal expert noted the hypocrisy given Obama’s outrage when Netanyahu “spoke his mind about the Iran Deal.”
“There are, of course, differences: first, Israel has a far greater stake in the Iran deal than the United States has in whatever decision the British voters make about Brexit: and second, Benjamin Netanyahu was representing the nearly unanimous view of his countrymen, whereas there is no evidence that Americans favor or oppose Brexit in large numbers.”
Dershowitz wrote that another difference is that UK Prime Minister David Cameron invited Obama whereas Obama did not invite Netanyahu. However, he clarified that Congress, which has equal standing to the president, invited the Israeli Prime Minister, thereby making the matter a non-issue.
“So what is it Mr. President? Should friends speak their minds about controversial issues when visiting another country, or should they keep their views to themselves?,” wrote Dershowitz.
“The president owes the American people, and Benjamin Netanyahu, an explanation for his apparent hypocrisy and inconsistency.”
Calling for one rule for all such situations regardless of whether the leaders of friendly nations agree or disagree, Dershowitz urged “open dialogue among friends on all issues of mutual importance.”
“Under this rule, which President Obama now seems to accept, he should have welcomed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s advocacy before Congress, instead of condemning it,” concluded the law professor.
“Obama threatened, Bibi didn’t”
Elliott Abrams, a former American diplomat, also criticized Obama for his hypocritical stance in his blog on the Council on Foreign Relations website on Saturday.
Abrams pointed out that not only did Obama “offer an opinion, as Netanyahu did, and not only did he fly to the UK to offer that opinion, as Bibi flew to Washington, but he did something Netanyahu did not do: he threatened the UK.”
“Proponents of ‘Brexit’ argue that the UK can after leaving the EU negotiate free trade agreements with the EU and US, so that British trade is not harmed. While in London Obama said the UK would go ‘to the back of the queue’ and was anyway too small for a free trade agreement with the US.”
The ex-diplomat dismissed the free trade comment as being “silly,” because after all the US has such an agreement with Oman despite its size.
He added that “the ‘queue’ point is an empty threat – both because Obama is leaving office soon and will not be in charge of that queue, and because it is blindingly obvious that such an agreement would be in the interest of the United States and we would seek one quickly.”
Refocusing, Abrams said his point is not about the UK’s decision regarding the EU, but rather “it is about the hypocrisy of Obama and his acolytes last year in feigning outrage about Netanyahu’s conduct.”
“We have a Congress whose Speaker invited Netanyahu to speak about an issue of major national security concern to us and even greater import to his country.
He spoke, making a straightforward argument. Now Obama goes to the UK to speak about an issue that affects our country far less than Iranian nuclear weapons affect Israel, and he adds threats to his arguments, and that’s supposed to be fine?”
Like Dershowitz, Abrams dismissed the criticism of those saying Obama did not invite Netanyahu because that invitation was issued by the party in power in Congress.
He also discredited the claim that “it is fine for our president to intervene in referenda abroad, but for a foreign leader to express views about our own decisions is absolutely out, even when Congress invites him to do so.”