I don’t believe that any other American president has spent so much time talking to and about Jews as Obama. It all began in the very first months of his presidency — in August, 2009 — when he called 1000 rabbis, lobbying for support for Obamacare. It was a full month before the High Holy Days, when Jews pray for a year of life and good health, and the president remarked that “we are God’s partners in matters of life and death.”
That was a considerable misstatement, for in these matters, Jews are supplicants, not partners. Two months earlier, Obama had similarly distorted the nature of Zionism. In his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, he maintained that Israel’s right to exist derived from the oppression of Jews for many centuries. But Zionist leaders always insisted that modern Israel’s legitimacy rests on millennia of history: it is the restoration of a Jewish state that was promised by the Almighty to Abraham, entrusted to Moses, conquered by Joshua, and ruled by David, Solomon, and their successors.
So the president isn’t very well informed about Judaism or Zionism, yet he is forever lecturing Jews and Israelis about what is really best for them, as if he had some special insight. It is no accident that Obama is the only American president to write an introduction to the official military Jewish prayer book, prepared by U.S. chaplains. All previous presidents had left such matters up to the rabbinate.
He is forever presenting himself as a great friend of the Jews and a fervent supporter of Israel, Zionism and Judaism. But the “Zionism” he praises is a left-wing version of the original movement, and he chose to give a speech about it at a decidedly leftist synagogue in Washington, whose rabbi — a recently self-proclaimed gay whose wife swiftly divorced him — conveniently blessed Obamazionism: “While he doesn’t speak as a Jew, his progressive values flow directly out of the core messages of Torah, and so he is deeply in touch with the heart and spirit of the Jewish people.”
Obama’s supporters swallow it with hardly a demurral. Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic has called him “the first Jewish president,” and seems to think that Obama’s “Zionism” is heartfelt. Yet when Obama speaks of the Israel that inspires him, it’s clear that his parameters are not religious at all, but either purely political (as when he praises the kibbutzim, a failed agrarian socialist experiment that produced many of the early Israeli leaders), very controversial (Moshe Dayan, who was not religious, who referred to himself as a “Mesopotamian,” and was a celebrated thief of artifacts from the Israel Museum), or totally misunderstood by the president, as Eli Lake has pointed out in the case of Golda Meir.
He isn’t very good on Islam and Muslims either, and he’s positively weird on anti-Semitism. His June, 2009 speech to the “Muslim world” in Cairo praised Islam’s tradition of tolerance, a tradition that doesn’t exist. He does not seem to know about the doctrine of dhimmitude, which at best relegates non-Muslims to second-class status, and levies special taxes on them. His complaints about Israeli security measures that annoy the Palestinians aren’t matched by complaints about Palestinians murdering Jews. His Orwellian instructions to avoid saying things like “radical Islam” and his frequent reference to the “Holy Koran” (with no corresponding adjective for the Christian Bible or the Torah) suggest intellectual ignorance and political/religious bias.
Antisemitism is either ignored or “explained away.” When Jews were gunned down in a kosher market in Paris by outspoken Jew-haters, the president’s gut reaction was to call it “random.” And his disquisition about Iranian anti-Semitism defies deconstruction.
Well the fact that you are anti-Semitic, or racist, doesn’t preclude you from being interested in survival. It doesn’t preclude you from being rational about the need to keep your economy afloat; it doesn’t preclude you from making strategic decisions about how you stay in power; and so the fact that the supreme leader is anti-Semitic doesn’t mean that this overrides all of his other considerations. You know, if you look at the history of anti-Semitism, Jeff, there were a whole lot of European leaders — and there were deep strains of anti-Semitism in this country –
How to parse all that? The whole point of Jew-hatred is that its believers are convinced that the Jews are a threat to their survival. Antisemitism has often overwhelmed “all other considerations.” He badly needs some remedial reading in this area, as the last sentence demonstrates. He trots out the old nonsense about moral equivalency, equating Khamenei with “a whole lot of European leaders” and (never to let the Americans off hook) “deep strains of anti-Semitism in this country.”
Maybe we should just sum it up as “yes, there are antisemites and I don’t like them, but in the Iranian case it doesn’t matter all that much because it’s really marginal. So don’t worry, be happy, we’re making a good deal.”
Or, as the New York Sun puts it, if he has his way, “great sums of money will be flowing into an Iran run by anti-Semites who will then be our contract partners.” That’s not the sort of policy one would expect from our first Jewish president.
Finally, there’s his endless snit with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. Once again, Obama’s version of reality is at odds with the known facts. Obama speaks as if his disagreement with Netanyahu was simply a reaction to Bibi’s campaign warning that large numbers of Arabs were going to vote, and so Israeli Jews had better do the same. He also said that there would be no Palestinian state while he was PM (there is disagreement about whether he intended this as a promise or a warning). Obama says he just couldn’t let such inflammatory statements go by without a strong reaction.
But Obama’s political operatives had long since gone to Israel to work for Netanyahu’s defeat. His denunciations of Netanyahu were part of a campaign already underway, he was just seizing on opportunities to up the ante.
No surprise, then, that the Israelis don’t trust him (whatever they think about the Palestinians or the prime minister), nor that the Muslims don’t trust him either. He makes so many outrageous statements that no sensible person could.
Let me just leave you with my favorite Obama gambit in Jeffrey Goldberg’s long interview. Goldberg says that the Jewish community is deeply divided about Obama, to which the president responds: “Let me depersonalize it a little bit. First of all, there’s not really a bifurcation with respect to the attitudes of the Jewish American community about me.”
He can’t depersonalize it, not even for one sentence. His world consists of whatever he’s got on his very own mind, and he expects us all to believe whatever that may be. He does, and he’s the smartest guy in the room. Just ask him.