This Monday, President Barack Obama hosted his second White House Seder. As a Jewish American I am grateful to the president for highlighting the festival of Jewish emancipation, but given a choice, I would readily forgo the White House Manischewitz in exchange for an end to the bitter herbs the president is serving Israel. Publicly shunning Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and privately berating him is not going to be forgiven because of gefilte fish and matza balls. If you want to show American Jewry some respect, Mr. President, then stop treating the elected leader of the Jewish state as if you were Pharaoh and he was Moses.
I received my own lesson this week about how to treat those with whom you sharply disagree. I was in Italy to promote the Italian translation of one of my books. Gary Krupp, the New York-based Jewish papal knight whom I had sharply criticized for defending Pius XII, went out of his way to get me invited to the Vatican to see documents relating to Pius’s pontificate.
When I arrived, just one week before Good Friday, although the Vatican was under siege with press reports of pedophile priests, Monsignor Livio Poloniato, who works in the cardinal secretary of state’s office, gave me hours of his time to show me around. Here I was, an unrelenting critic for over a decade of a pope whom the Holy See is seeking to canonize. Yet the high-ranking priests I met could not have been friendlier. Everyone I met showed kindness and warmth. The visit didn’t change my view of Pius XII, whom I continue to view as guilty of the foremost moral omission of the twentieth century in refusing to even once speak out against the Holocaust. But it did get me thinking.
I contrasted the warm welcome accorded a papal critic with President Obama’s disdainful treatment of Netanyahu. If the reports are true and Obama got up and left in the middle of their meeting, derisively telling him he was going to have dinner with his family and adding “get back to me if you have anything new,” then as an American I am ashamed of our president’s behavior. As a Jew I am scandalized by his contempt. Yes, having dinner with your kids is important, but to use your kids as an excuse to treat a guest like garbage is repellant.
And all this because the president so readily dismisses the Jewish insistence on holding on to a capital we established 3,000 years ago and have prayed to return to thrice daily ever since the Romans ejected us in 70 CE.
There was a time, not long ago, when, while disagreeing with many of the president’s policies, I found him inspiring. Here was a man who never had the love of a father, yet who overcame immense obstacles to emerge temperate, committed to the common good and a devoted husband and father. As a lover of great oratory, I was moved by his eloquence and passion. I penned a much-circulated column praising his decision to stop using the name Barrie and return to his given name, Barack. I wrote that all Jews – who so often hide their identities by changing their names – should learn pride from our president.
Sadly, I am now beginning to question Obama’s character. Am I to look up to a president who treats Netanyahu like a Mexican cartel kingpin, refusing to greet him publicly, share a press conference or have a single picture taken with him? Is our president ignorant of basic manners?
Perhaps we should be grateful that the president even allowed Netanyahu into the country. Perhaps during his next meeting with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Obama can skip the bow and inquire instead as to how to treat a guest.
Remember the way the president treated the Dalai Lama this past February? Afraid of upsetting the Chinese, Obama similarly refused to publicly greet a fellow Nobel Peace laureate whom the world regards as its foremost humanitarian. No pictures, no press conference, no public welcome. To top it off, he made the leader of Tibet leave through a staff kitchen entrance strewn with giant bags of garbage!
All this reinforces my growing suspicion that Obama not only lacks a commitment to a moral foreign policy but, when you cross him, even a commitment to basic courtesy.
I hope that as the president read the words of the Haggada this year he
noticed the very last line. It’s just four words, and it’s something
the Jews were saying for 600 years before Islam came into existence.
“Next year in Jerusalem!” The writer is the founder of This World: The Values Network. He has just published
The Blessing of Enough: Rejecting Material Greed, Embracing Spiritual Hunger. www.shmuley.com