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By Brown, Tina | Newsweek, March 19, 2012 | Go to article overview

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Brown, Tina, Newsweek


Byline: Tina Brown

Israel and Britain. Now Not So 'Special.'

"Phew!" Obama must be saying to himself right now. "He's gone!" Bibi Netanyahu was just in Washington, and if there's a world leader the president winces at the prospect of meeting, it's the Israeli bruiser, in so many ways the opposite of Obama. Bibi's stocky, Obama's a stick; Bibi wants to bomb Iran, Obama isn't sure this is a cool idea. Bibi's critics think he's a bully, Obama's think he's a wimp.

Speaking of the special relationship between Israel and America at their meeting, Netanyahu said to Obama: "We are you, and you are us. We are together." Had there been any other recent American president sitting across from him--Clinton or Bush--Bibi's words would have been received like a delicious kiss. But Obama, we all know, wasn't offering any tongue. He is the first American president--maybe the only one--for whom Israel is more notional than visceral. It drives Netanyahu nuts that Obama approaches Israel as he would a theorem--or as just another country. As the provocative Peter Beinart argues in this issue, Obama's mindset on Israel was shaped by Palestinian sympathizers in Chicago--the liberal "civil-rights Jews" of the kind who would, in all certainty, find Netanyahu unbearable. So the president bites his tongue and chokes back his instincts when dealing with Israel.

In the parade of visiting prime ministers, next up is one who describes Churchill as his role model. This week David Cameron will drop in on Obama (role model: FDR), and the president is likely to have a much jollier time of it all than he did with Netanyahu. Cameron is even younger than Obama and, like the president, carries with him the baggage of his birth. …

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