An Interesting Exchange About Obama

letter-447577_1280

by Rabbi Elchonon Oberstein

Last year I wrote about Obama on Cross-Currents . I recently received an email from a friend, who wants me to publicly repudiate everything I wrote and admit that I was wrong. I am not as scared as some that Obama is selling Israel down the river. I do think he is pressuring Israel more strongly than Bush Jr. ,but so did other Presidents and Israel is still around. I share this with the lively experts of Cross- Currents. On matters such as these, we truly live up to the phrase in the Hagada “Kulanu chachamim,Kulanu nevonim…” (We are all wise, we are all insightful) What do you think?


Dear Rabbi,

Another day, another indication that your Messiah’s “strong support” of Israel isn’t quite what you were hoping for. To be quite honest, I find your silence on this matter quite disturbing and wholly inappropriate. You predicted last year that Obama would be a strong supporter of Israel. You had nothing, absolutely nothing to base it on and no evidence to back it up; now that the opposite seems clearer and clearer every day, all you can say is, “The jury is still out”.

It’s not right, it’s not intellectually honest and I’m sorry to say, it’s a little arrogant. A heartfelt apology is in order.


My response:

Since you asked, I will answer, but I make no claim to correctness. There have been numerous American governments which have opposed settler activity. The Bush — Baker administration was very vigorous in its efforts and Israel is still around and has built many more settlements. The previous Israeli government was for a two state solution. It is not anti-Israel for the US to have the same position as Kadima and Labor.

In reality, there is no possibility of a two state solution at this time, because the Arabs are too inept. They could have had a state a long time ago if they knew how to play the game, but they can’t say the right words and be on good behavior long enough. I do not see that changing, as it is part of their mentality.

There are crucial issues that require more cooperation between the US and the rest of the world, and it is in Israel’s interests that the US have better relationships with countries that surround Israel.

Sometimes, one says something but doesn’t actually do it and that has been true of all sides in this saga for many years. As one Israeli politician said, ” I know I promised, but I didn’t promise to keep my promise” (Levi Eshkol).

So, don’t sit Shiva for Israel. There is a lot going on under the radar and the security relationship has never been stronger. Israel is most probably sharing information and trading with Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries and a lot of what you hear if for the Arab Street. Israel is very strong and feared by its neighbors. It is not on the verge of destruction.

I find the loyalty of some of my colleagues to the Rush Limbaugh wing of the Republican Party ironic. We have to do what is in our long term interests. Being opposed to everything the President does and constantly looking for enemies is a sign of our insecurity and doesn’t help us influence policy.

Netanyahu will work out something where he says something but doesn’t do it and everybody will know that and not care. Meanwhile, we need a good President to save our country in this time of great peril on all sides, and I certainly hope that Obama is a good President, for the sake of humanity.

The main point is that the One Above runs the world.

P.S. There has been much parsing of the President’s lengthy speech in Cairo. If we had written it, we would not have said it exactly that way. He chose to emphasize the truth of the Holocaust in a region where denial is wide spread. He tried to move away from rehashing conflicting claims and move on to a new beginning. I do not think that there is anything sinister in the omission of Israel’s historic claim to Eretz Yisrael or his comparison of black slavery to Palestinian suffering. Keep in mind that every word was sifted and weighed by his advisors. I am not aware of all of the calculations involved.

Is Obama bad for Israel? The people who opposed him from day one certainly think so. I think that he is trying to capitalize on his tremendous charisma and world wide support to move along a process that, in his mind and by his own statements, it is not in the long term interests of Israel or of the civilized world to allow this to fester forever.

The simple truth is that the parameters of the final settlement are well known by all parties. The majority of the Israeli people would gladly agree to these parameters if they believed that it would result in real peace. What has held this up for many years is not Israeli willingness to make” painful concessions,” but the inability of the Arabs to get their act together. What leads anyone to believe that the Arabs are able to change?

In the meantime, the United States of America is Israel’s one true friend among the nations of the world and President Obama has clearly enunciated his strong commitment that compromises must be”two-sided”.

This week’s shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum demonstrates that Holocaust Denial is a pernicious pestilence. It makes it even more meaningful that our President stood before the Arab world and denounced those who would deny the Shoah. His words at Buchenwald were from the heart and deeply moving. This is a good man and he is our friend.

Rabbi Elchonon Oberstein lives in Baltimore and admits to being a Democrat. The only native of Montgomery, Alabama to ever become a rabbi, he admires such Presidents as Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson.

Comments to this contribution are shared with those to “Unpleasantly Right” by Rabbi Yaakov Menken, providing an opposing perspective.

You may also like...

54 Responses

  1. aron feldman says:

    There may be coming changes in the Obama administration’s policies that do weaken the security of the Jewish state. Successful presidential candidates often soften their support for Israel once they are elected. So with Iran’s burgeoning nuclear threat, it’s important to be vigilant for any signs of weakening support for Israel’s security — and to criticize forcefully any such change. But getting tough on settlement expansion should not be confused with undercutting Israel’s security

    So what does Alan Dershowitz suggest we do? Sit on our hands and hope for the best?While he is no dummy,his views on BHO and his policies are almost as delusional as his views on Judaism

  2. Sam says:

    Leonard,

    “…Obama should make it clear to the Israelis that settlers should feel free to grow their families as long as their settlements grow vertically, and not horizontally”

    Why, that will solve the entire Arab-Israeli conflict! Why couldn’t the Israelis think of that? I think Yousef Munayyer should get the Noble Prize for Peace! Up and not out… Brilliant!

    “This is a disturbing linkage that should be disavowed by the Obama administration. Opposition to a nuclear Iran — which would endanger the entire world — should not be dependent in any way on the issue of settlement expansion.”

    Then why the linkage if they are such strong supporters? No previous government has ever even hinted at such a hardline diplomatic approach!

    “There may be coming changes in the Obama administration’s policies that do weaken the security of the Jewish state.”

    Given what we’ve seen over the past few months, there probably will be.

    Overall, a very weak defense by Dershowitz of a President that he “just knew in his kishkes” would be a strong supporter of Israel. I expected more from him…and from you!

  3. Reb Yid says:

    To Rabbi Oberstein:

    It’s a futile attempt to try to convince many of these posters. For them, Obama can do no right and Bush can do no wrong.

    Bush said and did many of the same things, and right wing Jews were by and large silent. One of the first things Sarah Palin said in her VP debate was that “a two state solution is the solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Again, if Obama or Biden had said this during the debates, we would have heard a lot of negative comments from some of these posters.

  4. L. Oberstein says:

    I have tried to make this point several times, but ,apparently without success. Perhaps this column can express it better. For those who want me to confess in public and do penance for daring to express an opinion that some do not agree with, I can only say. Thank G-d, we live in the USA, not in Iran.

    HAS OBAMA TURNED ON ISRAEL?
    ALAN M. DERSHOWITZ has written this in the Wall Street Journal.

    Many American supporters of Israel who voted for Barack Obama now suspect they may have been victims of a bait and switch. Jewish Americans voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Obama over John McCain in part because the Obama campaign went to great lengths to assure these voters that a President Obama would be supportive of Israel. This despite his friendships with rabidly anti-Israel characters like Rev. Jeremiah Wright and historian Rashid Khalidi.

    At the suggestion of Mr. Obama’s Jewish supporters — including me — the candidate visited the beleaguered town of Sderot, which had borne the brunt of thousands of rocket attacks by Hamas. Standing in front of the rocket shells, Mr. Obama declared: “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.” This heartfelt statement sealed the deal for many supporters of Israel.

    Now, some of them apparently have voters’ remorse. According to Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, “President Obama’s strongest supporters among Jewish leaders are deeply troubled by his recent Middle East initiatives, and some are questioning what he really believes.” I hear the same thing from rank-and-file supporters of Israel who voted for Mr. Obama.

    Are these fears justified? Rhetorically, the Obama team has definitely taken a harsher approach toward Israel compared to its tone during the campaign. But has there been a change in substance about Israel’s security? In answering this question, it is essential to distinguish between several aspects of American policy.

    First there are the settlements. The Bush administration was against expansion of West Bank settlements, but it was willing to accept a “natural growth” exception that implicitly permitted Israel to expand existing settlements in order to accommodate family growth. The Obama administration has so far shut the door on this exception.

    I believe there is a logical compromise on settlement growth that has been proposed by Yousef Munayyer, a leader of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination League. “Obama should make it clear to the Israelis that settlers should feel free to grow their families as long as their settlements grow vertically, and not horizontally,” he wrote last month in the Boston Globe. In other words, build “up” rather than “out.” This seems fair to both sides, since it would preserve the status quo for future negotiations that could lead to a demilitarized Palestinian state and Arab recognition of Israel as a Jewish one — results sought by both the Obama administration and Israel.

    A majority of American-Jewish supporters of Israel, as well as Israelis, do not favor settlement expansion. Thus the Obama position on settlement expansion, whether one agrees with it or not, is not at all inconsistent with support for Israel. It may be a different position from that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but it is not a difference that should matter to most Jewish voters who support both Mr. Obama and Israel.

    The differences that would matter are those — if they exist — that directly impact Israel’s security. And in terms of Israel’s security, nothing presents a greater threat than Iran.

    The Obama administration consistently says that Iran should not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. But prior to the current unrest in the Islamic Republic, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel frightened many supporters of Israel in May by appearing to link American efforts to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons to Israeli actions with regard to the settlements.

    This is a disturbing linkage that should be disavowed by the Obama administration. Opposition to a nuclear Iran — which would endanger the entire world — should not be dependent in any way on the issue of settlement expansion.

    The current turmoil in Iran may strengthen the Obama administration as it seeks to use diplomacy, sanctions and other nonmilitary means to prevent the development of nuclear weapons. But if these tactics fail, the military option, undesirable and dangerous as it is, must not be taken off the table. If the Obama administration were to shift toward learning to live with a nuclear Iran and attempt to deny Israel the painful option of attacking its nuclear targets as a last resort, that would be troubling indeed. Thankfully, the Obama administration’s point man on this issue, Dennis Ross, shows no signs of weakening American opposition to a nuclear-armed Iran.

    A related threat to Israeli security comes from Iran’s proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas. For years, these terrorist groups have disrupted life in Israel by firing rockets at civilians. The range of their weapons now extends to Israel’s heartland, including Tel Aviv. The Israeli Defense Forces must retain the ability to prevent and deter rocket fire, even if it comes from behind human shields as it did in southern Lebanon and Gaza. There is no evidence of any weakening of American support for Israel’s right to defend its children from the kind of rocket attacks candidate Obama commented on during his visit to Sderot.

    There may be coming changes in the Obama administration’s policies that do weaken the security of the Jewish state. Successful presidential candidates often soften their support for Israel once they are elected. So with Iran’s burgeoning nuclear threat, it’s important to be vigilant for any signs of weakening support for Israel’s security — and to criticize forcefully any such change. But getting tough on settlement expansion should not be confused with undercutting Israel’s security.

    Mr. Dershowitz is a law professor at Harvard. His latest book is “The Case for Moral Clarity” (Camera, 2009).