President Obama's UN Speech: A Must-Read for Supporters of Israel

President Barack Obama speaks during the 67th session of the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters, Tuesday, Sept.
President Barack Obama speaks during the 67th session of the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Especially in light of a new heavy-handed $6.5 million ad campaign by the Republican Jewish Coalition targeted at the Jewish communities in South Florida, Ohio and Nevada, all voters who are concerned about President Obama's position on Iran or continued U.S. support for Israel should -- no, must -- read the address he delivered this Tuesday to the United Nations General Assembly.

According to a report in today's New York Times, the ad campaign mischaracterizes President Obama's record, alleging that he has gone soft on Iran and that his administration does not provide sufficient military support to Israel.

First, Iran. The president's unambiguous declaration in his UN speech that he will not allow Iran to become a nuclear power should once and for all rebut the charges that that the president is not tough enough with the Tehran government or that his policies somehow "project American weakness." Describing the Iranian government as the product of "a violent and unaccountable ideology," he served blunt notice that,

a nuclear-armed Iran... would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations, and the stability of the global economy. It risks triggering a nuclear-arms race in the region, and the unraveling of the non-proliferation treaty. That's why a coalition of countries is holding the Iranian government accountable. And that's why the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

In essence, President Obama repeated on the world stage what he had told the participants in the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in March of this year. On that occasion, he said that,

Iran's leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.

For the life of me, I do not see how this approach differs substantively from Governor Romney's position. "We do not advocate military action against Iran," Romney foreign policy adviser Dan Senor said on CBS This Morning last week. "It should be the option of last resort." Except, perhaps, that President Obama's warning to Iran has teeth. After all, his administration decimated al Qaeda militarily and successfully hunted down Osama bin Laden.

In his UN speech, President Obama also reiterated his administration's unwavering support for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In this he distinguishes his worldview from those who believe that U.S. Middle East policy should be to kick the Israeli-Palestinian can down the road in the hope that it will not blow up any time soon.

"Among Israelis and Palestinians," President Obama said, "the future must not belong to those who turn their backs on a prospect of peace."

Let us leave behind those who thrive on conflict, those who reject the right of Israel to exist. The road is hard, but the destination is clear a -- a secure, Jewish state of Israel and an independent, prosperous Palestine. Understanding that such a peace must come through a just agreement between the parties, America will walk alongside all who are prepared to make that journey.

The president's characterization of Israel as a "Jewish" state is especially significant in light of Palestinian Authority President Mahmous Abbas's categorical rejection of precisely this fundamental principle. "Don't order us to recognize a Jewish state," Abbas declared last year. "We won't accept it."

In this context, we should remember that President Obama also spoke about Israel's Jewish identity in his June 4, 2009, speech at Cairo University. "America's strong bonds with Israel are well known," he told the Arab and Muslim world. "This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied."

The very fact that President Obama has affirmed Israel's Jewish existentialist core in two speeches delivered not to Jewish groups but to international audiences should be applauded enthusiastically by both Israeli political leaders and Israel's American supporters, regardless of party affiliation.

My main problem with the new Republican Jewish Coalition's ad campaign is that it is belied by the facts. As President Obama himself told the AIPAC conference,

My administration's commitment to Israel's security has been unprecedented. Our military and intelligence cooperation has never been closer. Our joint exercises and training have never been more robust.... When the Goldstone report unfairly singled out Israel for criticism, we challenged it. When Israel was isolated in the aftermath of the flotilla incident, we supported them. When the Durban conference was commemorated, we boycotted it, and we will always reject the notion that Zionism is racism. When one-sided resolutions are brought up at the Human Rights Council, we oppose them. When Israeli diplomats feared for their lives in Cairo, we intervened to save them. When there are efforts to boycott or divest from Israel, we will stand against them. And whenever an effort is made to delegitimize the state of Israel, my administration has opposed them. So there should not be a shred of doubt by now -- when the chips are down, I have Israel's back.

At the same time, there is no question in my mind that Governor Romney is also a strong supporter of Israel. "While there are stark contrasts between him and President Obama on a host of economic, domestic and social issues," I wrote this past May, "any differences in their respective positions on Israel are far more a matter of nuance than substance." This remains true today.

Based on President Obama's record, however, there is every reason for American Jews and other supporters of Israel who voted for him in 2008 to do so again this year.

Menachem Z. Rosensaft teaches about the law of genocide and World War II war crimes trials at the law schools of Columbia, Cornell and Syracuse universities.