Oy-Bama – Where’s the Love?

July 1, 2011 12:17 pm 5 comments

President Obama meets with Jewish leaders. Photo: The White House.

Upon returning from this year’s AIPAC convention Rabbi David Wolpe ascended the pulpit at the Sinai Temple in Beverly Hills to give his impressions of President Obama. He began by praising Caesar and then took a little time to bury him. First, in Obama’s defense, he stated that the facts -military aid and military cooperation is greater than at any time in history – do not support the charge that Obama is anti-Israel.

He further noted that Obama’s formulation “1967 borders with mutually agreed swaps” has been the official joint position “word-for-word” of the U.S. State Department and the Israeli Foreign Ministry for two years now. Lastly, in almost every other aspect of his speech- President Obama endorsed nearly all of the Netanyahu Administration’s positions. Rabbi Wolpe then asked,“Why is the Jewish reaction to Obama so virulent? And why are many Jews convinced that the president is anti-Israel?”

Rabbi Wolpe’s answer, simply put, is because President Obama does not show any love for the State of Israel. “With President Reagan, President Clinton, President Bush… you felt that they loved Israel and felt deeply the remarkable promise that it held. It came off of them in waves of warmth. Not with this President. If you ask me, ‘Is Obama anti-Israel?’Absolutely not, I believe he’s pro-Israel. If you ask me if he’s a lover of Israel – there I stop.”

This “lover of Israel” test may be a new one in foreign policy circles, but in a sense it’s the old kishkes test my grandfather used when assessing judges in court. As in, “He has a Jewish last name, but does he have ‘Yiddisheh kishkes?’” In judging the judges, it seems that for some the form is more important than the substance. The fact that President Obama has not made any substantial policy shifts regarding Israel is irrelevant. The fact that Obama is the first president to hold a Seder in the White House is seen by some as a sham. The note he put in the Western Wall is political posturing. He is not a lover of Zion – he is a man we can’t trust.

Before we get to Obama’s love or lack thereof, let us recall our previous presidents’ warmth for Israel. We sensed George Bush’s love for Israel – didn’t we? Yet, as Rabbi Wolpe noted, the President that first declared a “two-state solution” as U.S. policy was none other than George W. Bush. “Can you imagine if President Obama had said that? The Jewish community would have gone ballistic,” added Rabbi Wolpe.

His father, George Bush Sr. went further with “his love,”cutting off loan guarantees to Israel when Prime Minister Shamir refused to suspend settlement activity. The dynamic sounds familiar in 2011. Yet the Obama administration, despite asking Israel to suspend settlements, has never stopped aid; in fact it was never even threatened. The most critical thing President Obama ever said about continued settlement activity was that it was “unhelpful”to the peace process. “Unhelpful?”

Politicians don’t love people; they love their votes and maybe, in some cases, some of their more attractive constituents. The truth is we can probably do just fine without the “waves of warmth” from politicians. Nevertheless, Jewish anxiety is understandable in the face of an unloving president, and is in fact shared by other, less vociferous constituencies. This love deficit is not reserved for the Jews or Israel but is a fair criticism of the president that has been voiced by critics and supporters alike.

It is perhaps the greatest failing of the Obama Presidency that the man whose campaign energized millions of Americans with passionate messages of hope and change has been unable to tap into that passion as President. The man who embodied empathy on the campaign trail, who exuded waves of warmth as a candidate, has become a cold hard man as President. In a telling example, upon killing Osama bin Laden President Obama was asked on 60 Minutes to recount what he was thinking at that moment. His reply “We got him.” No emotion. No love. No hate.

In fact this is probably a bigger problem for the President domestically than in foreign affairs. In the midst of a traumatic economic downturn, President Obama has not found the language or emotion to connect with ordinary Americans and feel their pain. The man who campaigned as Captain Kirk has governed as Mr. Spock.

It is understandable that Jews, who are emotionally invested in the State of Israel, would react harshly to a man who views the problem as one that can be solved through the application of cold logic. For Jews this is not a math problem of percentages and ratios; it is an emotional issue that is tied to two millennia of suffering in exile. But in reality – do we need the love of a President? or do we need an honest broker? Until he has proven otherwise in word or deed perhaps the President deserves our trust, if not our love.

5 Comments

  • Joseph Schick

    The problem with Obama is not his lack of love for Israel, but his complete disinterest in its existential security challenges which will require it to maintain more than two or three percent of Judea and Samaria – and his repeated expressions of disdain and contempt toward Israel’s prime minister.

    As Elliott Abrams recently wrote, Obama views Israel not as a friend and an ally, but a problem that he will solve.

    Rabbi Wolpe’s statement that “Obama’s formulation “1967 borders with mutually agreed swaps” has been the official joint position ‘word-for-word’ of the U.S. State Department and the Israeli Foreign Ministry for two years now” is completely baseless, and indeed absurd. This was a marked shift in U.S. policy, as the Obama administration itself stated to the New York Times.

  • “Obama’s formulation “1967 borders with mutually agreed swaps” has been the official joint position “word-for-word” of the U.S. State Department and the Israeli Foreign Ministry for two years now”.

    It wasn’t. The rabbi lied.

  • It seems the extremist reaction is that anyone who does not LOVE Israel is automatically judged to HATE Israel! If a US President does not blindly and unconditionally support Israel with taxpayer dollars and UN vetoes, he will be condemned hysterically by the extremists of the pro-Israeli right, and by that I mean the members of the Israel lobby right here in the US, as well as 95% of the members of the US Congress. It is the more openminded masses, the majority of the INFORMED citizens of the US and even of Israel, who can look objectively at the reasons why every nation in the UN seems to be against Israel except for the US! Israel’s extremist government is their own WORST enemy!

  • yes, the senior Pres. Bush was not a particularly good friend of israel. His son endorsed a 2 state solution when he was surprised by Sharon making this idiotic and false idea Israeli policy. Obama wants a solution to the middle east conflict and since Israel has been so incredibly irrational in its own policies he sees only Israel as the one who can be pressured. Indeed, the enemy is the Israeli govt that has brought its nation to pariah status in the world by not solving the “problem” militarily. All military conflicts in Israel’s history share the same unfortunate characteristic: the govt forbids the miilitary to achieve its objectives. Israel craves acceptance by the world to the extent of self-destruction. Obama is not a successful president but the fault, as far as Israeli policy goes, is Israel’s.

  • I side with the Rabbi… Obama’s an empty suit, very unnatural (as an empty suit that moves and talks would be). I don’t see what he loves, I suppose, he loves nothing. Golf? He’s devouring it like a beggar at the table who doesn’t know where he’ll eat for the next month.

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