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.