Playing politics with the US Holocaust Museum

I trust the administration will be much more careful in future pronouncements.

DIARY on display at the US Holocaust Museum (photo credit: REUTERS)
DIARY on display at the US Holocaust Museum
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Over the weekend the Trump administration faced justified criticism over its statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day which did not reference the centrality of Jewish mass murder to the German genocide. The Holocaust references the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis, something that President Trump did not expressly mention in a statement that should have been corrected. Trump, who is a strong friend of Israel and is extremely devoted to his Jewish daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, no doubt did not mean to cause offense. But in something as serious as the Holocaust intention is not what matters but action.
I trust the administration will be much more careful in future pronouncements.
The same is true of the president’s temporary ban on refugees coming into the United States. Yes, the case can be made that extreme vetting is necessary in an age of widespread Islamic terrorism. But the president must demonstrate a simultaneous commitment to saving innocent Arab lives in Syria and Yemen by establishing safe zones where refugees can find immediate sanctuary. The Jewish community should be at the forefront of calling on the president to safeguard the lives of refugees even as he acts to protect the American people against possible infiltration by terrorist elements. And whatever new procedures the president seeks to put in place to properly vet refugees must be done in great haste so that America’s gates do not remain closed and innocent lives are not lost. America is and must remain a haven for refugees. No-one knows this better, and no-one’s voice should be heard more passionately on refugees than the Jewish community.
It would also behoove President Trump to likewise correct an affront to Holocaust memory that was committed by president Obama just days before he left office. In a brazen act of contempt for the Jewish and pro-Israel community Obama appointed Ben Rhodes, the chief Iran nuclear deal messenger, to the US Holocaust Memorial Commission.
According to The New York Times, as the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, Rhodes wrote the president’s speeches, planned his trips abroad and developed the White House communications strategy.
He was “the single most influential voice shaping American foreign policy aside from POTUS himself.” His influence, the article said, was a function of his “mind meld” with the president. Translated, this means Rhodes shares accountability for the disastrous foreign policies of the administration.
The most damaging policy Rhodes supported was the catastrophic nuclear deal with Iran that has allowed the Iranians to blackmail the US; act with impunity in pursuing its hegemonic goals in the Middle East; expand its support for global terrorism; finance and arm Hezbollah and Hamas for a future conflict with Israel; develop ballistic missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads; and which allows Iran to build nuclear weapons when the deal expires, if not before.
The Times profile highlighted “Rhodes’s innovative campaign to sell the Iran deal.” He presented the deal as a way to take advantage of a “new political reality in Iran, which came about because of elections that brought moderates to power in that country.” This was patently false, but the argument was “manufactured for the purpose for selling the deal” and “even where the particulars of that story are true, the implications that readers and viewers are encouraged to take away from those particulars are often misleading or false.” Rhodes, like others in the Obama administration, exemplified the definition of diplomacy as the patriotic art of lying for one’s country.
“We created an echo chamber,” he told the Times, when asked to explain how he organized experts to endorse the deal. “They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.” The tactics were effective and Rhodes proudly said he drove the deal’s critics crazy.
“Rhodes is not bragging about being a master of political spin,” Jeff Dunetz observed in a blog for The Lid. “He is bragging about being a ventriloquist for the media. What he writes comes out of the mouths of ‘the columnists and reporters.’” Rhodes also mounted a campaign to demean Israel’s concerns about the nuclear deal. A senior administration official, now widely believed to be Rhodes, suggested that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s warnings about Israel resorting to military force to stop the Iranians were mere bluster. The official told Jeffrey Goldberg, “The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickenshit” – an ironic comment from someone representing an American leader who never served in the military about a man who served in Israel’s special forces in two wars.
The official went on to intimate that relations with Israel would get worse after the midterm elections and that the administration might withdraw diplomatic cover for Israel at the United Nations. It did not happen in 2014, when such a betrayal of Israel would have cost Obama and the Democrats votes, instead, he waited until after the 2016 election when he no longer was running and Clinton had already lost.
In defending Obama’s vote at the UN, Rhodes blatantly lied to Judy Woodruff when he claimed that Israel has built “thousands of new settlements.” First, the total number of settlements, according to Peace Now, is 228, including “illegal” outposts. No new settlements have been built in years. Rhodes’ tendency to use “alternative facts” to feed the echo chamber is why Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer called him “a master of fiction.”
Rhodes’ credibility was further called into question when reports recently surfaced that the FBI denied Rhodes, or was going to deny, an interim security clearance during President Obama’s transition. If true, Rhodes had no business taking part in sensitive discussions about issues such as Iran.
Membership on the board of the US Holocaust Memorial Council carries with it a weighty responsibility of honoring the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and speaking out against modern-day genocides. Rhodes is a man whose disrespect for the truth and the homeland of the Jewish people, and excuses for Iran’s genocidal threats against Israel mirrors the callousness of State Department officials who sought to prevent European Jews from escaping Hitler and later sought to sabotage the establishment of Israel.
Rhodes undermined Israeli concerns about Iran’s threat of destroying Israel, insulted Israel’s prime minister, and used the “echo chamber” to lie to the American people about the nuclear deal and justify the reversal of decades of US policy supporting Israel at the UN.
The gravest sin he committed, however, one which should disqualify him for any association with the Holocaust Museum, is his complicity in the genocide in Syria.
Like Nero, Obama has figuratively fiddled while Syria burned. After stating that Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his opponents would cross a red line that would trigger a US military response, Obama failed to back up his threat. This cowardly act was universally viewed by friends and foes alike in the Middle East as a sign of weakness, and left allies, including Israel, questioning whether they could depend on the US to protect their interests.
Fortunately for Obama, he had Rhodes to manipulate the “echo chamber” and sell the amoral narrative that America could not act to stop war crimes and genocide in Syria because it would jeopardize nuclear talks with Iran.
A bystander to genocide has no business in a position of honor or responsibility at an institution devoted to documenting past genocides and preventing future ones.
Rhodes was worse than a bystander, he was an active participant in the decision not to act to prevent the slaughter.
President Trump should call for Rhodes’ immediate resignation. In addition, a campaign should be conducted through the echo chamber calling on the chairman and the rest of the museum’s council to remove Rhodes forthwith to prevent his presence from tarnishing the reputation and mission of this vital institution.
The author, “America’s rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” has just published The Israel Warrior: Standing Up for the Jewish State from Campus to Street Corner. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.