Like an abusive father who beats his children then guilts them into loving him, US President Barack Obama’s new charm offensive follows weeks of berating Israel. Lobbying for his Iran cave-in, seeking support for this deal he seemed to want more than the mullahs did, Obama told The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, “It has been personally difficult for me to hear...expressions that somehow...this administration has not done everything it could to look out for Israel’s interest.”
While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should grab this olive leaf, even if it’s a fig leaf, such glib guilt-tripping cannot undo the harm caused by Obama’s assault and his dog-whistling, broadcasting hostility to those already primed to bash Israel.
Although Backfire Bibi and Backlash Barack deserve each other, we will all suffer. One Democratic congressional aide claims, “The Congressional Black Caucus is gone,” with members now so hostile to a Netanyahu- led Israel they will support Obama’s Iran retreat out of solidarity-inflected spite. Congressman James Clyburn called Netanyahu’s Congressional speech an “affront to America’s first black president.” True equality entails being free to disagree with a president who is black without being called racist. Such identity-solidarity language risks escalating passing policy differences into permanent rifts between blacks and Jews.
magazine, Joe Klein called Israel’s election a “public ratification of Netanyahu’s bigotry,” reflecting Israelis’ “tragic sense of superiority,” rooted in Jewish “massacres...in 1948” that are “only possible when an enemy has been dehumanized.” Klein’s caricature of Israel’s purported racism ignored inconvenient facts: that only 25 percent of voters voted Likud; that an Israeli Arab, Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran, supervised the elections; that historians have refuted Klein’s source describing these alleged “massacres,” Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land
Meanwhile, on campus, the Monster’s Ball of anti-SemiZionist lies continues. Truthfully, it’s difficult to quantify how much Obama’s contempt further emboldens these 24/7 libelers. Recently, the Columbia University Black Students’ Organization bizarrely endorsed the chant “From Ferguson to Gaza” as “a unifying idea against oppressive systems that subjugate Black people and people of color globally,” while accusing Israel of “discrimination, segregation and genocide.” Predictably, this call for “liberation and justice” triggered anti-Semitic rants, with one Facebook post calling Jews “a synagogue of Satan.”
Such “anti-SemiZionism” blurs traditional anti-Semitism with modern anti-Zionism. Note the obsessive, disproportionate lies. Note the demonization of any Jew who does not repudiate Israel.
Obama could learn from George H. W. Bush how to oppose Israeli policy without anti-Zionist dog-whistling. In September, 1991, Bush opposed loan guarantees to Israel to help resettle Soviet Jews, fearing the money subsidized settlement growth. When AIPAC objected, Bush complained he was “one lonely little guy” facing “powerful political forces.” The American Jewish leader Shoshana Cardin told Bush that such rhetoric echoed bigoted exaggerations about Jewish power, saying his statement “drew blood and the sharks came swimming.... That’s why the White House switchboard lit up with so many messages of support from anti-Semites.”
“I never intended to hurt anyone,” a teary-eyed Bush said, “or give encouragement to anti-Semitism.”
Without changing policy, Bush nevertheless apologized. Now, many American Jews justifiably fear growing hostility in Europe and America. At the recent Simon Wiesenthal Center National Tribute Dinner, even liberal Hollywood Jews cheered when the producer Harvey Weinstein said the way to combat anti-Semitism is to “stand up and kick these guys in the ass.”
Actually, filmmakers should do what they do best: produce compelling dramas that shape public opinion. We need a new Exodus
. How about a television miniseries, either documentary or docudrama, chronicling Israel’s history through one multi-generational family story, anticipating Israel’s seventieth anniversary in 2018? The tagline could be: “Relive the twentieth century’s greatest adventure,” or “Still David, not Goliath, after all these years.” How about a suspenseful movie about the Thirty Days in May before the June, 1967, Six Day War, tagline: “When miracles still happened in the Holy Land” or “When they threaten to destroy you, winning is the only option.”
And how about an inspiring star vehicle, lionizing Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who in 1975 fought the UN’s Zionism is Racism resolution, thrilling Americans with his fight for democracy and decency, combating anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism? The tagline could be: “When America was down, one man stood up.” Instead, Ari Shavit’s book was recently optioned – I fear the filmmakers will highlight the massacre libels Joe Klein emphasized rather than the uplifting Zionist chapters Shavit emphasizes when addressing Jewish organizations.
In taking risks professionally to embrace Israel, these Hollywood moguls would be following and inspiring Jewish students. Despite the woe-is-me complaints about “kids today” abandoning Israel, many American students champion Israel. Tens of thousands visit annually, thanks to Birthright Israel. Last semester, Holly Bicerano, Open Hillel’s former Campus Outreach co-coordinator, outed Open Hillel leaders as “intolerant of pro-Israel voices that they dislike,” while a high school student, Hayley Nagelberg, confronted a CNN executive about his network’s resistance to labeling massacres of Jews “terrorism,” only to be dismissed by him as “brain dead.”
More recently, two Columbia students, Joshua Fattal and Adam Shapiro, chided the Black Students’ Association’s “antagonistic” and “misleading” anti-Israel screed for fomenting “anger, partisanship and intercommunal distrust.” And for the second time this year, Jewish and non-Jewish McGill students defeated a boycott proposal in SSMU, McGill’s student government, launching an “SSMU for All Students” campaign, with the hashtag #EnoughisEnough.”
These smart, subtle, courageous students, many of whom love Israel while opposing Netanyahu, are defending democracy and decency, as Moynihan did. They deserve mature leadership from Washington and Jerusalem.
Here’s a chance for Obama to demonstrate sincerity: confront campus anti-SemiZionism and the harsh anti-Zionist minority festering in today’s Democratic Party. Let him, along with Hollywood and student leaders, dictate a new script renewing the American-Israeli bond.The author is a professor of history at McGill University and the author, most recently, of
Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism, winner of the 2014 J.I. Segal book award for non-Jewish fiction. Watch the new Moynihan’s Moment video! www.giltroy.com