By the time (most of) you read this, the reign of Barack Obama will be over, and a new American administration will have begun.
Yes, you read correctly: former president Obama – like you and I, except with a much bigger expense account and a lot more perks – is now once again a private citizen. I repeat: Obama is out, and Trump is in.
Which brings to mind the old story of Mr. Feinberg, who received an urgent call telling him that his long-time business partner had just suffered a massive heart attack. Rushing into the hospital, Feinberg sees the doctor and asks him excitedly, “Doctor; how is my partner doing?” “I’m sorry to tell you that your partner is dead,” replies the physician.
Feinberg walks down the hall for a few minutes and then returns to the doctor. “Please, doctor,” he says, “how is my partner?” The doctor, assuming the man must be in shock, repeats his earlier statement: “Sir, your partner is dead.”
Yet after another slight pause, Feinberg once again inquires as to the condition of his partner. The physician, now a bit annoyed, snaps back: “I have already told you more than once, your partner is dead. Why do you keep asking me?!” Feinberg replies, slowly, “Because it sounds so good when you say it!” Now, there is no question that millions of people in America and around the world will be saddened to see Obama go, their disappointment compounded by the defeat of his chosen successor, Hillary Clinton. Obama has many endearing qualities, including his smooth demeanor, sharp sense of humor and charismatic style. But for many people, including a significant number of Jews, a collective sense of escape – perhaps, even, a touch of exhilaration – is accompanying the changing of the guard.
This is not to say that Obama’s record regarding Israel and the Jewish people was completely negative. His administration extended more aid to Israel than any previous US government; he and his wife, Michelle, graciously hosted annual Passover Seders, Hanukka parties and Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorations; a host of Jewish leaders came in and out of the White House during the eight years he resided there.
And certainly, an immense amount of Jewish money flowed into his two campaigns and to the Democratic Party during his tenure.
But there was always an underlying – at times even visceral – sense that Obama did not have our best interests at heart. Ever since his Cairo speech in 2009 – a “New Beginning,” he dubbed it – many of us have felt that the agenda was based on altering the pro-Israel position that American governments had consistently espoused. His determination to “reach out” to the Muslim world was coupled with holding Israel at arm’s length. Suddenly we were made to be the villain in the story, the stubborn deniers of others’ rights – that one, maddening fly in the ointment of Obama’s vision of utopian world peace.
This was dramatically brought home in Secretary of State John Kerry’s infamous 70-minute “farewell” speech. Kerry should have castigated the Palestinians for their incessant incitement; he should have catalogued the many times they have chosen terrorism over talks, confrontation over conciliation. He should have laid bare to one and all the consequences of the unending Palestinian adherence to their “Three Rs:” Refusal to accept a Jewish state of any size; Rejection, time and again, of generous peace initiatives placed before them since be- fore Israel became a state; and Resort to violence to achieve their unholy aims. Instead, Kerry used the bulk of his words to scold Israel for its behavior, underscoring his complete cluelessness regarding Middle East realities.
The Tal- mud says that a person can either “acquire or lose his world ” in just one, fleeting moment; Kerry’s diatribe – coupled with the American UN abstention that preceded it – was precisely that moment when we finally knew just where he and Obama really stood.
Sadly, the promise that Obama’s election once held never materialized.
His foreign policy – which embraced evil, oppressive regimes like Iran and Cuba while turning his back on traditional allies, like Egypt – was a disaster that set the Middle East on fire and returned Russia to prominence.
Domestically, the flag of hope that he so energetically waved lost its furl as Black-on-Black violence skyrocketed – just look at the shocking statistics in Chicago, his (and my) hometown – while racist, antisemitic groups like Black Lives Matter took control of the streets.
It’s hard to predict how President Trump will fare; lots of politicians have surprised us in the past. George Shultz, for example, served as secretary of state for seven years under Ronald Reagan, and it was feared that his long-standing ties to Arab oil interests would adversely prejudice his Mideast positions. Yet he turned out to be a marvelous friend of Israel. Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, was a deeply religious “born-again” Christian said to have been imbued since birth with love for Jews and Israel, who would surely advance our cause. That prognostication was worth, well, peanuts.
But so far the signs seem to be pointing in the right direction regarding Trump and Israel. He’s said all the right things, appointed people whose pro-Israel credentials are impeccable – in particular, his choices for the United Nations, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, and ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. Each is a proven supporter of Israel and the Jewish people, possessing both intelligence and integrity. And Trump’s bold, refreshing “non-PC” declarations of affinity to the Jewish state give us hope that his term – or terms – will unabashedly restore balance and blessing to our place in the world.
So welcome, Mr. President. Though we are prepared to go it alone, if we must, we crave and cherish your commitment and camaraderie. We are holding our breath, and breathing a sigh of relief, all at the same time. The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana; firstname.lastname@example.org