Last week’s four day joint US-Israel naval exercises in the Mediterranean Sea, which were boycotted by Turkey and included the sort of guided-missile destroyers that could theoretically help defend Israel against Iranian missiles, formed an interesting backdrop for the latest attempt by my dear friend Chanan Gordon to besmirch President Obama.
Chanan, in Ami Magazine, was responding to a recent column of mine in that periodical, itself a response to an interview there in which he claimed that Mr. Obama is psychologically troubled, ideologically radical and dangerous to Israel.
I pointed out in my column that Chanan’s judgment was based on unnamed “reliable sources,” wild speculation and was largely informed, it seemed, by some inexplicable animus he harbors, for no justifiable reason, for Mr. Obama.
Last week, Ami provided Chanan four pages of the magazine to present a more cogent argument for his accusations.
What those pages offered were the following revelations:
1) Chanan lived in a Harvard dorm whose other residents included people who would come, years later, to play roles in Mr. Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. And one fellow who taught Chanan about a radical professor whom Mr. Obama once introduced at a rally about diversity at Harvard.
2) When President Obama famously said that two-state Israel-Palestinian negotiations should be based on “the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states,” he didn’t really mean anything after the word “lines”; and that only those lacking “seasoned and trained ears” could possibly imagine the rest of the president’s statement as somehow meaningful.
3) UN High Commissioner for Human Rights “Mr. Nadi Pillay” – actually, Ms. – addressed the members of the UN Security Council on the Israel-Palestinian issue, and the US did not prevent Ms. Pillay, a long-time critic of Israel, from doing so.
4) A lengthy list of unarguable actions that the administration has taken to empower Israel and defend her – including, but not limited to, its boycott of the Durban Conference, its rejection of the Goldstone Report, its backing of the Iron Shield and David’s Sling programs (to the tune of $315 million—beyond the $3 billion the US has given Israel annually), Mr. Obama’s blunt informing of the Arab world (twice) that it needs to accept Israel as a Jewish state, his alacrity in rescuing endangered Israeli embassy guards in Cairo, his condemnation of the Palestinian Authority’s denial of the Kosel Maaravi’s connection to the Jewish people, and his conducting of the largest joint American-Israeli military exercise in history – are unworthy of note. They are “a floor, not a ceiling,” a “bare minimum of friendship with Israel.”
Through some odd alchemy, Chanan combines the above points to yield what he claims is sufficient justification to consider Mr. Obama a dangerous man. (He also uses some of his Ami space to try to change the topic, to Mr. Obama’s domestic social policies, characterizing the president as bent on “impos[ing] a secular agenda upon a nation that is deeply rooted in religious principles.” It is (at least worded less heatedly) an arguable charge, but never one I chose to criticize. My objection was only to Chanan’s unreasoned demonization of the president on the issue of Israel, and nothing else. And I’d like to maintain that focus here.)
And so, for the record:
1) Who lived in a Harvard dorm when Chanan did would seem to have limited pertinence to whether Mr. Obama is, as Chanan has judged him, an “intellectual lightweight,” “arrogant,” possessive of “a grandiose sense of self-importance” and “a sense of entitlement”; and someone whose reelection would be a “tragedy.”
2) “Secure and recognized borders” are actual words, with actual meanings. In fact they have been part of the US’s policy toward the resolution of the Israel-Palestinian issue over several administrations.
3) Ms. Pillay’s appointment to her position was strongly opposed by the Obama administration, precisely because of her anti-Israel views. Once she was appointed over the US’s objections, however, she, like every UN functionary, for better or worse, can be expected to occasionally address the Security Council on any issue that the majority of its members choose.
4) The Obama administration’s actual actions regarding Israel’s security needs, international terrorism and homeland security are unarguably and deeply impressive, not some bare-minimum of support. Every objective observer knows that. And that is why so many erstwhile pro-Palestinian and pro-“human rights” supporters of Mr. Obama have severely criticized, or outright abandoned him. Facts are stubborn things; calling them a “floor” doesn’t change them.
There is another, entirely independent, issue here that I have not addressed to date but feel I should: The wrongness of portraying any occupant of the Oval Office – whatever one may, justifiably or not, think of him – in a negative way. The Jewish path in golus, laid out over the centuries and held fast by contemporary Gedolim, has always been to treat political leaders with deference. Policies, at least in a country like the US, can be opposed, but leaders are not to be vilified. With all the gleeful, unbridled ill will and hatred that regularly spews forth from the American political theater, in partisan ads, on talk shows and in newspaper columns, it’s not surprising that some Jews might think it unobjectionable to jump on this or that boisterous bandwagon and label this or that elected official evil incarnate. But it is in fact objectionable. Deeply so. And all of us need to ponder that well.
There is, moreover, at least an even chance that Mr. Obama will be our president for four more years. Do any Jewish-minded Jews – even those who hold a sincere, if unfounded, conviction that the president is a dangerous, Israel-hating man – really want to publicly proclaim that belief in the pages of periodicals? Could anyone really feel that a benefit for Klal Yisrael, rather than, chas visholom, the opposite, lies in their doing so?
Chanan writes at some length about the possible impact the “Jewish vote” could have in several key states in November. But he glosses over the fact that Orthodox Jews – the only readers he can possibly reach through Ami and Mishpacha (to which he also wrote a letter vilifying Mr. Obama) – are insignificant portions of every one of those states. The “Jewish vote” in all of them will unquestionably go to Mr. Obama. So all the name calling and unfounded speculations about Mr. Obama in the Orthodox world, simply put, can have no possible impact on the election. The only impact it could have would be on how a second Obama administration might regard the Orthodox community.
It may surprise some, but I honestly haven’t myself decided for whom to vote. My defense of Mr. Obama was simply to fight false portrayals. It had and has nothing to do with supporting the president in the upcoming elections. While I feel somewhat well-versed in geopolitical issues, and am comfortable with Mr. Obama in that realm, I do not feel sufficiently knowledgeable at present to judge economic policies; and the president’s positions on some social issues trouble me.
So I certainly have no negative feelings toward anyone who may choose to vote for Mr. Romney. I just hope that, in the event he is elected, he will prove as supportive, in actions, of Israel’s needs as is our current president.