Into The Fray: The masquerade behind Obama’s Jewish outreach

The US president holds Israel to a standard of immaculate altruism, while holding the Palestinians to no standards at all.

US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
here’s where… you’ve failed us thus far, Mr. President. You got the settlement freeze six years ago, you got the prisoner releases in 2013, but what did you wrest from Abbas? Did he stop the incitement against Israel? Did he moderate his positions on the “right of return”? You fault Netanyahu for his bleak worldview, but did you castigate Abbas for entering a governing partnership which gives Hamas veto power over his ministers...No. You said you’d keep right on dealing with him. – David Horovitz, “No, Mr. President, you don’t fully understand our fears,” The Times of Israel, June 3
Obama pined for the days when a minority Ashkenazic secular elite dominated Israel in every sphere, including through state control of the economy… and importantly, when Israel was by no reasonable measure more liberal a society than it is today, unless one… thinks that state socialism is the essence of liberalism... – David Bernstein, “Obama is nostalgic for ‘white’ Israel,” The Washington Post, May 22
… the Obama administration does promote the delegitimization of Israel and does cause anti-Israelism… due to its whitewashing of many of the major crimes emerging from large parts of the Islamic world.
– Manfred Gerstenfeld “Obama’s negligence,” The Jerusalem Post, February 9
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The raucous ruckus that erupted at The Jerusalem Post’s 2015 Conference in New York on Sunday, when US Treasury Secretary, Jack Lew tried to persuade the skeptical audience of the merits of the emerging nuclear deal with Iran, and of the unmatched security benefits that the Obama administration has provided Israel, served to somewhat obfuscate the fact that there was harsh condemnation of White House policies from numerous other sources.
Significantly, many of them were neither traditionally Bibi-philic nor Obama-phobic.
But first, a short but necessary digression.
A digression
The discourteous, some might say disrespectful behavior toward Lew understandably drew sharp criticism and caused considerable discomfort with many in official Israeli circles, who snapped into damage-control mode. But while one might disagree with the style of the less-than-genteel censure of Obama’s approach to both Israel and Iran, it would be a grave error to dismiss its substantive content or attempt to stifle its expression.
But this is precisely what some would have. Thus, J.J.
Goldberg, editor-at-large of the left of center The Forward, seemed to suggest that the Post would do well to muzzle its “right-wing” columnists, advising that “it might want to consider its role in helping to generate that sort of hostility in the first place, through its publication of a constant stream of vitriolic, over-the-top, ad hominem attacks on Obama, liberals, peace talks and even Israel’s generals in its regular lineup of incendiary hard-right columnists.”
This unsubstantiated rant is just one more regrettable illustration of the fact that strong criticism expressed by the Right is inevitably denigrated as “incendiary” incitement”; while when expressed by the Left it is lauded as “courageous exercise of free speech.”
Thus, Goldberg cautions: “There’s only so many times that a newspaper can publish accusations of self-hate, treason and anti-Semitism against fellow Jews, Israelis and Israel’s essential allies before the witches’ brew blows up in our collective face.”
Digression (cont.)
This is an appalling – albeit implicit – prescription to come from a prominent journalist, advocating as it does that the Post should constrict the freedom of expression of its columnists, simply because some unruly individuals may attend a conference once a year.
Worse, Goldberg seems oblivious to – or purposefully unmindful of – the source of such rancor.
For all the haughty and high-blown hyperbole he employs to condemn, rather than contend with, the generally well-argued criticism – however acerbic – many of my colleagues have for the policies he favors, Goldberg ignores the infuriating frustration that obsessive adherence to a doctrine of political appeasement and territorial concession has produced.
Despite decades of disastrous failures in the past, and clearly looming perils in the future, Goldberg seems to be calling for carte blanche for future advocacy of the same failed dogma – or at best, to permit only polite dissent with those still proposing to bring hundreds of kindergartens within mortar range in the Coastal Plain, and to pave the way to weaponized nuclear potential for Tehran’s tyrannical theocracy.
The depraved indifference and gross immorality of such policy prescriptions – despite proven past failures and “clear-and present” future dangers – are neither dependent on, nor dissipated by, the identity of the individuals proposing them – whether they be “Obama, liberals, peace talks [or] even Israel’s generals.”
To paraphrase Goldberg’s noxious indictment: “There’s only so many times that political pundits and public figures can advocate fatally flawed formulae and endorse hazardous hallucinations before the witches’ brew blows up in our collective face.”
Neither Bibi-philic nor Obama-phobic
As I mentioned earlier, the brouhaha at the Jerusalem Post Conference served to obscure the fact that, recently, there has been a growing chorus of criticism of Obama’s Israel and Iran policies – some of it decidedly brusque – from a variety of sources other than “radical right-wing rednecks” and readers of “incendiary incitement” on the opinion pages of the Post.
Thus, this week at the 2015 Herzliya Conference, former head of Mossad Shabtai Shavit, who excoriated Benjamin Netanyahu during the recent election campaign, warned that Iran will exploit Obama’s desperation to conclude a deal as part of his legacy to their advantage. In stark contrast to Lew’s reassuring assessment, Shavit foresaw Tehran leveraging Obama’s enthusiasm for such a deal to extract even more concessions. With Western resolve fading over time, he cautioned of the dire situation likely to arise from this: “As time goes by and the world is busy with other problems, there will be less attention paid to them... A radical Shi’ite leader with his hand on the nuclear trigger is a mind-boggling proposition.” (Jerusalem Post, June 9) Also this week, at an event held by B’nai B’rith at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem, Prof. Alan Dershowitz, who twice supported Obama’s election, castigated his attitude to Israel and Iran. While Dershowitz admitted he agreed with most of the president’s domestic agenda, he accused him of gross ignorance when it comes to Israel, and on previous occasions warned that his Iran policy will lead to his being remembered as the “Chamberlain of the 21st century.”
In addition, David Horovitz, editor of The Times of Israel, who explicitly dissociates himself from the “zealots... who want to annex the West Bank,” wrote a scathing indictment of the Obama outreach initiative (see introductory excerpt), demolishing every tenet of it with methodical thoroughness, and stripping it of any vestige of validity.
One can only hope that folk like Goldberg don’t attribute these less than flattering assessments to the dastardly influence of the Post’s “lineup of incendiary hard-right columnists” and their “constant stream of vitriolic, over-the-top, ad hominem attacks on Obama...”
Obama’s detached nostalgia
Obama’s recent Jewish “outreach” initiative had three major thrusts: (a) his May 21 interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic (not to be confused with the previously mentioned J.J. Goldberg); (b) his May 22 address at Washington’s Adas Israel synagogue; and (c) his interview on Israeli’s Channel 2 on June 2.
They all had similar emotive themes, invoking humanistic “Jewish values” that supposedly symbolized the founding of Israel, and characterized its existence in its pre-Likud or at least its pre-Netanyahu years. The clear implication is that it is incumbent on Israel to be understanding of the sufferings of the “Other” and make the appropriate concessions to accommodate them.
There was an accompanying, thinly veiled threat that if such concessions were not forthcoming, this will indicate Israel no longer is true to the values it once embodied and hence would no longer be worthy of support it won because of those values.
In a perceptive opinion piece in The Washington Post (May 22), law professor David Bernstein echoes Dershowitz’s accusation of ignorance on the part of Obama regarding Israel. “Obama is nostalgic for ‘white’ Israel” and seems be yearning “for the days when a minority Ashkenazic secular elite dominated Israel in every sphere,” he contends.
Detached nostalgia (cont.) Yet, today Israel is immeasurably closer to the tolerant, liberal society that Obama allegedly longs for. He invokes the Israel of Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan, seemingly ignorant that under their party, the near hegemonic Mapai, much of the Arab population of Israel, despite being granted citizenship, was until 1966 under military rule.
By contrast, as Bernstein points out, today, “Israeli Arabs have never been more integrated into Israeli society, or made more rapid economic and social progress, than...
under Netanyahu...”
Bernstein concludes his realistic appraisal of Obama’s unrealistic nostalgia as follows: “... surrounded by hostile enemies, absorbing about four times its original population in refugees, very few of whom came from countries with a longstanding liberal or democratic traditions, expecting a progressive utopia to emerge was ridiculous. Creating a reasonably liberal, multiethnic, democratic state with religious freedom in a region where there aren’t any others should be more than enough to satisfy all but the most starry-eyed idealists.”
This last sentence of Bernstein’s is the key to exposing the soft, but pronounced, bigotry in Obama’s latest Jewish outreach, which consists of invoking an imaginary, idealized past which obliges the Jewish state to live up to unattainable utopian standards, while exempting its adversaries for living up to any standards at all.
Soft bigotry of low expectations?
Jeffrey Goldberg is considered by many to be the White House’s court journalist through whom Obama often conveys messages to the public when more official channels might be inappropriate. So it is interesting to note that in the commentary to his last interview Goldberg admits: “...
he [Obama] holds Israel to a higher standard than he does other countries because of the respect he has for Jewish values and Jewish teachings, and for the role Jewish mentors and teachers have played in his life.”
(As an aside, it is difficult not to wonder as to the relative weight of the role played in Obama’s life by his “Jewish mentors,” who have apparently induced him to judge the Jewish state more harshly than others, and that played by the rabidly anti-Semitic Reverend Jeremiah Wright, his pastor for 20 years.) Holding Israel to a higher standard is all well and good – but how about the standard he applies to its Muslim adversaries? From the outset of his incumbency, Obama has been quick to extol the lofty virtues of Islam and the benefits it has bestowed on humanity. Yet curiously, when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict, he never seems to appeal to the Arabs’ Islamic values or Muslim morals in an effort to arrive at a resolution.
Why should Jewish morality be invoked to resolve conflicts and not the morality of its adversaries? Is it bias against the Jews or the soft bigotry of low expectations of the Arabs?
Moralist hypocrisy
Obama regularly invokes emotive themes, typically focusing on Palestinian children. In his Goldberg interview: “I think it is true to Israel’s traditions and its values – its founding principles – that it has to care about... Palestinian kids.”
And in this Channel 2 interview: “... the truth as I see it is that the very moral imperatives that led to the founding of Israel... those things also require me from my perspective to say clearly that a Palestinian youth in Ramallah who feels their possibilities constrained by the status quo, that they have a claim on us, that they have a claim not just on Palestinian leaders, they have a claim on Israeli leaders.”
But don’t Israeli children huddling in bomb shelters have a claim on Palestinian leaders? Israel has shown unprecedented concern for the children of its adversaries – and often paid dearly for it. Perhaps the most searing example is that of Wafa al-Bass, the young girl from Gaza who, after her life was saved by Israeli doctors at Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, attempted to return to the hospital she was treated in with a 10 kg. bomb strapped to her leg, to murder the very people who cared for her. Since her release from prison in the Schalit prisoner exchange, Bass has been urging young Gazans to engage in terrorism against Israel.
A yawning moral chasm separates Israel and the Muslim world, in general, and the Palestinians in particular.
Until Obama addresses that honestly, all his heart-wrenching expression of concern for the welfare of Palestinian kids will be nothing more than moralistic hypocrisy.
If it looks like ‘taqiya’…
We are told regularly that under the Obama administration, the level of military and intelligence cooperation with the US is unprecedented. I am unable to assess the accuracy of those claims. But what I can say with certainly is that no matter how much equipment is supplied or intelligence is shared, if under Obama, a Palestinian state is established and a path to a nuclear Iran is laid down, none of that unprecedented cooperation will mean a thing.
So best remember: If it looks like taqiya (the Muslim doctrine of deception), if it sounds like taqiya, it probably is taqiya.
Martin Sherman ( is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.