Is US President Barack Obama an anti-Semite?
This question has lingered in the air since his first presidential bid in 2008. It first arose due to the anti-Semitic sermons that Jeremiah Wright, his pastor for more than 20 years, made as Obama and his family sat in the pews.
Throughout the six-and-a-half years of his presidency, Obama has laughed off the concerns.
But he has not dispelled them. And this failure has hurt him.
So last week, Obama went to significant lengths to answer the question about his feelings toward Israel and the Jewish people once and for all.
The timing of his charm offensive wasn’t coincidental.
Obama clearly believes he has to dispel doubts about his intentions toward Jews and Israel in order to implement the central policy of his second term in office. That policy of course is his nuclear deal with Iran.
Obama’s agreement with the mullahs is supposed to be concluded by the end of next month.
Obama argues that his deal will prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. But as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explained in his address before the joint houses of Congress in March, from what has already been revealed about the nuclear deal Obama seeks to conclude, far from preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear arms, the deal will provide several pathways for Iran to at a minimum become a threshold nuclear state, capable of developing nuclear weapons at the drop of a hat. If Iran cheats on the deal, it can develop nuclear weapons while the agreement is still in force. If it abides by the agreement, it can develop nuclear weapons as soon as the agreement expires.
Beyond his desire to conclude a nuclear deal that will empower a regime that has pledged to destroy Israel, there are Obama’s reported plans for changing the way the US relates to Israel at the UN Security Council.
For the past half-century, the US has used its veto power at the Security Council to prevent substantive anti-Israel draft resolutions from passing. But Obama and his top advisers have hinted and media reports have provided details about his intention to end this 50-year policy.
Obama reportedly intends to enable the passage of a French draft resolution that would require Israel to withdraw to the indefensible 1949 armistice lines.
As these two policies, which bear directly on Israel’s ability to defend itself and indeed, to survive, near implementation, Obama is faced with the fact that he has a credibility problem when it comes to issues related to the survival and existence of the Jewish state.
In a bid to address this credibility problem, last week he invested significant time and effort in building up his credibility on Jewish issues. To this end, he gave an extensive interview to Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic, and he gave a speech before Adas Israel, a large, liberal Conservative synagogue in Washington, DC.
To a degree, Obama was successful. He did put to bed the question of whether or not he is anti-Semitic.
In his interview with Goldberg, Obama gave a reasonable if incomplete definition of what anti-Semitism is. Obama said that an anti-Semite is someone who refuses to recognize the 3,000-year connection between the Jews and the Land of Israel. An anti-Semite is also someone who refuses to recognize the long history of persecution that the Jewish people suffered in the Diaspora.
According to Obama, an anti-Semite is someone who refuses to understand that this history of persecution together with the Jews’ millennial connection to the Land of Israel is what justifies the existence of Israel in the Land of Israel.
Moreover, according to Obama, anti-Semites refuse to understand that Israel remains in mortal danger due to the continued existence of anti-Semitic forces that seek its destruction.
And that isn’t all. As he sees it, even if you do understand the legitimacy of Israel’s existence and recognize the continued threats to its survival, you could still be an anti-Semite.
As Obama explained to Goldberg, there is still the problem of double standards.
In his words, “If you acknowledge those things, then you should be able to align yourself with Israel where its security is at stake, you should be able to align yourself with Israel when it comes to making sure that it is not held to a double standard in international fora, you should align yourself with Israel when it comes to making sure that it is not isolated.”
To his credit, Obama provided a clear, well-argued and constructive definition of anti-Semitism.
But there’s a bit of a problem. Right after Obama provided us with his definition of anti-Semitism, he endorsed and indeed engaged in the very anti-Semitism he had just defined.
As Goldberg, who is sympathetically inclined toward Obama, put it, Obama “holds Israel to a higher standard than he does other countries.”
Both in his interview with Goldberg and in his speech at the synagogue, Obama judged Israel in accordance to what he defined as Jewish values.
According to Obama, Jewish values require Jews to prefer the interests of others over their own interests in order to “repair the world.”
As Obama reads Israeli history, the state’s founders didn’t only seek to build a Jewish state.
They set out to build Utopia.
Obama explained, “I care deeply about preserving that Jewish democracy, because when I think about how I came to know Israel, it was based on images of… kibbutzim, and Moshe Dayan, and Golda Meir, and the sense that not only are we creating a safe Jewish homeland, but also we are remaking the world. We’re repairing it. We are going to do it the right way. We are going to make sure that the lessons we’ve learned from our hardships and our persecutions are applied to how we govern and how we treat others. And it goes back to the values questions that we talked about earlier – those are the values that helped to nurture me and my political beliefs.”
In his address at the synagogue, Obama made his expectations of Israel explicit. As he sees it, Israel’s concerns for Palestinians should outweigh its concerns for itself.
“The rights of the Jewish people… compel me to think about a Palestinian child in Ramallah that feels trapped without opportunity. That’s what Jewish values teach me.”
In other words, when Obama thinks about Israel, he cannot avoid blaming Israel for the feelings he assumes Palestinian children feel.
It is important to mention that in neither of his attempts to address concerns about his perceived biases regarding Jews did Obama note the behavior of the Palestinian Authority. He ignored its endemic corruption and authoritarianism.
He ignored the wild anti-Semitic incitement and indoctrination practiced at all levels of the Palestinian governing authority. He ignored the longstanding Palestinian refusal to accept an independent state that would peacefully coexist with the Jewish state.
So in the end, Obama’s charm offensive did provide a clear answer to the question of whether he is anti-Semitic.
It bears noting that the fact that Obama failed his own test of anti-Semitism doesn’t necessarily mean that he hates Jews. It is certainly possible that he likes Jews.
But loving Jews and being an anti-Semite are not mutually exclusive.
Consider anti-black bigots. Over the years, plenty of racists have professed, and perhaps even felt, love for black people.
They discriminated against blacks not because they hated them but because they believed that blacks were inferior to whites. It was due to their “love” for blacks that they insisted on holding them to lower standards than whites, or on segregating them from whites, lest they be embarrassed or set up for failure.
In other words, the fact of their “love” didn’t make them less bigoted.
Likewise, the possibility that Obama loves Jews doesn’t make his compulsion to judge Israel by a separate standard from other states and nations, including the Palestinians, any less bigoted.
On the other hand, both in his interview with Goldberg and in his speech at Adas Israel, Obama gave reason for concern that he harbors little goodwill for Jews or sensitivity to the unique dangers they face.
Goldberg raised the concern that the anti-Semitism at the heart of the world view of Iran’s dictator Ali Khamenei makes him irrational. Obama didn’t merely reject the notion, while denying the long history of eliminationist anti-Semitism, Obama rejected the notion that anti-Semitism can outweigh rational interests like regime survival and economic prosperity.
In his words, “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.”
If that wasn’t enough to show that Obama rejects the notion that anti-Semitism can and often does serve as the deranged anchor of policy- making by anti-Semites, he proceeded to equate Iran’s annihilationist anti-Semitism with the country club anti-Semitism American Jews once were subjected to by their fellow Americans.
“If you look at the history of anti-Semitism…there were deep strains of anti-Semitism in this country,” he said.
By rejecting the policy significance of anti-Semitism for the Iranian regime, Obama exhibited yet another anti-Semitic behavior. Obama asserted that if you fail to recognize the danger that anti-Semitism constitutes for Israel’s survival, then you are an anti-Semite.
Obama’s statements about the Palestinians also indicate that he feels little love for Jews. As has been his consistent practice since assuming office, in his charm offensive last week, Obama continued to ignore the fact that if the Palestinians were primarily interested in a state, rather than in the destruction of the Jewish state, they could have had one at almost any time since the release of the Peel Commission report in 1937 that first suggested partitioning the land west of the Jordan River between a Jewish and an Arab state. His consistent refusal to deal with this simple fact, and his insistence on blaming Israel for the Palestinians’ expressed misery despite Israel’s repeated offers to partition the land in exchange for peace raise serious questions about his intentions toward the Jewish state.
As Obama rightly understands, in the coming months, as he tries to sell his nuclear deal with Iran and his anti-Israel positions at the UN to the American public, the question of whether or not he is an anti-Semite will become more salient than ever before.
Now that he has answered the question, Israel needs to act in accordance with Jewish values, and choose life even at the expense of good relations with the Obama administration.