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Kathryn Kolbert

Kathryn Kolbert

Kathryn Kolbert, a public-interest attorney and journalist, is the Director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard College, an interdisciplinary center devoted to the theory and practice of women's leadership.

Trying a little tenderness

Q: President Obama took great pains to highlight the "unbreakable bonds" between Israel and the US and downplayed tension with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu at the White House on Wednesday. When is it helpful for leaders to paper over differences in public?

Every young mother quickly learns that the best way to get an obstinate two-year old or a reluctant husband to do something they don't want to do is to woo them with praise and sweet rewards. Highlighting their wrongdoings and punishing them for bad behavior rarely works.

I'm not sure international diplomacy is all that different. Israel, or any other country for that matter will never change course until they see why the change is beneficial to their national interests, both in the short and long term. Powerful politicians like Netanyahu will never take new, potentially controversial steps unless the change is politically and personally advantageous.

President Obama already demonstrated that he is willing to chastise Israel and that did little to move Netanyahu toward peace negotiations. There is little downside to seeing if flattery and stroking will do the trick.

By Kathryn Kolbert

 |  July 9, 2010; 12:43 PM ET
Category:  Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: The ties that bind | Next: 'In the absence of orders, attack!'


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A lot of silly commenters. The apartheid in the Middle East is conducted by the Palestinians and the other Arabs: race apartheid, gender apartheid, religious apartheid, sexuality apartheid, all perpertrated by the Palestinians, Jordanians, Saudis, Syrians, Egyptians, Yemenis, Kuwaitis, Lybyans, Iraqis, Iranians, and Pakistanis. '

Israel is freedom. Palestinianism is tyranny.

Posted by: Robert2008 | July 11, 2010 8:37 PM
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Citizens of the United States please be fully aware that your tax dollars are being used by Israel to perpetrate Apartheid against the Palestinians.

Posted by: ChicagoSteve | July 11, 2010 8:27 PM
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Barack Obama has no more business appeasing Israeli fascists in the Middle East than Neville Chamberlain had appeasing German fascists in mid-20th century Europe.

Posted by: politbureau | July 11, 2010 7:02 PM
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I'm not sure international diplomacy is all that different. Israel, or any other country for that matter will never change course until they see why the change is beneficial to their national interests, both in the short and long term. Powerful politicians like Netanyahu will never take new, potentially controversial steps unless the change is politically and personally advantageous.


And what you are saying is that Israel will do what it damn well pleases in the West Bank and Gaza for as long as it likes, ignoring all American interests in the region, but will continue to accept U.S. protection and handouts of more than 3 billion taxpayer dollars per year we don't have. Good to know. Thank you.

Posted by: sr31 | July 11, 2010 5:46 PM
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Bob Jones back, well Bob Jones U sorry to disappoint but I'm the Bob Jones who lived in Bucks County Pa -no longer- the liberal who wrote guest opinion pieces for the Bucks Courier, Philly Inq. and Trenton Times. Just the facts Iran is about to go nuclear- Israel has about 300 nuks and if you lived in a country only as big as NJ I'd bet you'd have a somewhat different attitude. I am not saying that the Israeli policy towards the Palestinians has been anything other than shortsighted, however if the Palestinians had or now would employ a non-violent Martin Luther King style stradegy they would I believe achieve their goals ah once again that positive stuff I'm sure lobbing shells into Israeli villages and blowing up Pizza shops with suicide bombers is the way to go.

Posted by: bobjones4 | July 11, 2010 2:57 PM
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The Government of Israel is the most dangerous force the people of Israel face. Until the American supporters of the Israeli Government realize this, nothing will be done. The only language that the Government of Israel understands is money. Until America withholds funding, the path toward peace is blocked and the likelihood of greater hostilities is guaranteed.

Posted by: jackburris1 | July 11, 2010 12:18 PM
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What a silly metaphor. Israel's apartheid policy must end, President Obama is the first President in a very long time to tell Israel to change, America is bearing the costs of Israel's expeditionary plans who else but these nutty neocons newly appointed in Bush II's administration, Wolfowitz, et al from AEI who pushed this idiotic premise that Iraq funded terrorists to attak Israel---so what?

Israel cannot continue to be the bully and expect America to foot the bill for their extremist agenda. The reality is very simple, the United States will never allow Israel to be destroyed, that is a hysterical premise used by Zionist zealots to perpetuate an indefensible apartheid policy. Israel's uncompromising ways are over with reality has run up against hysteria, and President Obama is absolutely correct to point this out. Israel can thumb their nose as thye did to Sec Baker, but at this point the world sees the controversy fueling extremism to match Zionist extremism.

Posted by: cisconwa | July 11, 2010 10:44 AM
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bobjones4 - You mean Bigot Jones U? The evangelical hell-hole full of ignorant Zionist Christian fools? Oh gee, thanks for you superbly biased and useless opinion.

Posted by: AIPACiswar | July 11, 2010 10:29 AM
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Your average two year-old does not have it's little fists gripped around your nuts, like the Israelis do ours. Get the stinking Zionist Neocons to release their grip on our Congress, and we won't HAVE to stroke them.

Posted by: AIPACiswar | July 11, 2010 10:26 AM
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These puff pieces, all three obfuscate the real issue. What's that you ask, quite simple; Will Israel go on a first strike stance - nuclear - when Iran finally acquires the ability to launch a nuclear weapon with a missle? This is the 6 billion dollar, well lives, question.

Any responsible leader of nations must address this nightmare of all nightmares. However, this President must use political theatre to try and address Israeli policy on even this question of questions. The sad part is the President really can't openly discuss this because the right wing ie. "Fox Views" has reduced America's political dialogue to sophistry and they would use some angle to reduce anything the President does as somehow self serving.

Israel is approaching a crossroad as are all of us due to the insanity that has feastered in the Middle east. Israel isn't much larger than New Jersey and how do you think the residents of that state would react if they were placed in a similar situation? I grew up in Trenton and I can assure that Iran would already be reduced to rubbble.

What would help? A declared, self imposed, no nonsense or exscoriation limitation placed on punditry and "news analysis" by the media itself when the subject of Israel or Iran is raised. If the time used to pervert and malign was used to educate and illuminate the public on the issue of nuclear weapons danger in the middle east, ah, you know I really am a dreamer, good luck to everyone I think we are all going to need it.

Posted by: bobjones4 | July 11, 2010 10:17 AM
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Much has changed following Israel's unilateral 2005 withdrawal from Gaza. As most know, the PA insisted that all the residences, schools, hospitals be demolished. Gaza was left empty. Abbas then went to his parliament decrying the standard of living of the Israelis. Interestingly the Israel's Ismali Shiite Muslims, who serve in the IDF, on the police force, etc., refused to help with this settlement removal, insisting that Gaza would be used to launch rockets, train terrorists, etc., as, of course, happened. And was it not readily predictable? (Why, else, would Abbas insist that all the infrastructure be removed?) What he could not foresee is the Hamas victory and the complete hell hole Gaza became. And yet, there has been almost no coverage of this in the mainstream media, certainly not in Islamic WaPo.

MOre than 8,000 rockets have been fired into Sderot from 2,000 to now. The last a few months ago. For reasons, no one knows, prior to the invasion of Gaza, the mainstream media reported that no Israelis had been killed (LOL). MORE THAN 1,0000 WERE KILLED. Many others were maimed for life. And then the Hamas rockets were "homemade," patch up, "ineffective. REally? Tell that to the dead Israelis.

Unfortunately, the censer is preventing me from posting video links. However, the info. I've provided is easily confirmed via google.

Posted by: farnaz_mansouri2 | July 11, 2010 1:54 AM
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Well, then, we must "woo" the war criminal "with sweet praise"...

and give him all of West Bank, Syria, Lebanon...and

certainly bomb Iran...the Israelis want Iran...and then Turkey and off to Russia...

which they want more, even than the US.

But first, don't play any more games about "eace" It's SOOO insulting.

And if MS Kolbert is a leader of women.
God help women.

Posted by: whistling | July 10, 2010 4:46 PM
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Amerika is the pitt bull of the world, and this fact is as well known to Israelis as to any other nation. Unlike other nations, however, Israel has made it illegal for its citizens to demonstrate against the US.

The pronouncement of Biden that peace was not a primary goal of the "Peace" Process, followed by the his and Hilary's tirades did a great deal to enfranchise those Israeli's who deeply wish a separation of their nation from this one. I don't think the subsequent photo schmoozing did any harm to their cause. Unfortunately, Bibib's smiling with Barry did not make the Mizrahi or the Israeli Ismaili Shiite Muslims happy. These two groups are Israel's most patriotic/nationalistic.

NB, Bibi. Your most loyal constituents are not happy.

Posted by: farnaz_mansouri2 | July 10, 2010 5:24 AM
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This article is very thoughtful, rational, kind, and nice. I was tempted to just leave it alone. Alas, I am compelled to comment. Hence, the overall argument is flawed. Quite simply, Israel has never been just like any other nation-state along hardly any dimension. I really could list dozens of attributes which are very unique to this entity. As far as its policies, attitude, and style, one would do better stroking a pit bull rather than demonstrating weakness toward Israel and its supporters. Just ask about any political leader in the world over time, space, and ideology. Oh, do not ask any American ones because they simply do not possess either the knowledge or the courage to tell you--most of the world would tell you that too.

Posted by: sssallie51 | July 10, 2010 3:26 AM
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