What Do Glenn Beck and President Obama Have in Common?
Nothing, you say? Not quite.
In the way by which they address Jews, they both seem to define Jewish identity through the lens of victimhood.
I have been present on three occasions in the last twelve months where Beck was addressing a Jewish audience and each time I came away with the same impression; Beck views himself as some sort of guardian and ‘savior’ of the Jewish people.
I noted in a previous column that in a letter on Beck’s website posted last summer, that introduced his ‘Rumors of War’ documentary, he explained his support for Israel, opening with the words “never forget,” referring to the Holocaust. He then continued, “As the world spirals into financial chaos and conditions continue to worsen, fingers are already being pointed to determine a scapegoat. The nation dubbed ‘Little Satan’ is one obvious candidate to be on the receiving end of the blame.”
President Obama’s interactions with the Jewish community have of course been broader and more multidimensional, but following his visit on Monday to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D. C., I couldn’t help but notice a trend. Politics aside, when he addresses the Jewish community, it is through the lens of the Holocaust, and the Jewish icon that he has most publicly attached himself to – outside of a political setting – is Elie Wiesel.
Throughout his Presidency, Obama has presided over about ten public addresses to the U.S. Jewish community and some additional off the record meetings with communal leaders. Of those that were public, the two Jewish American Heritage Month events, two Rosh Hashanah phone calls with American Rabbis and various video messages for Jewish holidays were relatively insubstantive.
The speeches that were of most significance included the following: Two that were delivered before an AIPAC audience that focused on international politics specifically addressing Israel’s challenges with Iran and other belligerent neighbors. These speeches were essentially addressed to the entire pro-Israel community in the United States as well.
The President also spoke before the Union of Reform Judaism focusing on domestic politics and policies in working to energize his shrinking American Jewish liberal base.
The two remaining times that his message was directed towards the Jewish people exclusive of specific political motive were almost entirely Holocaust-centric.
The first was in 2009 on Obama’s journey back from addressing the Arab world in Cairo, where he referenced Jewish suffering as the root of “aspiration for a Jewish homeland,” he stopped in Buchenwald. His speech there, amounting to an extended tribute to Jewish victimhood, transitioned to reference Israel by saying, “They could not have known how the nation of Israel would rise out of the destruction of the Holocaust.” The world’s most famous survivor Elie Wiesel was by his side.
Monday’s message followed the same pattern. Much was said of the sorry history of Jewish suffering and the need to prevent further atrocities against other minorities. There Again, Wiesel accompanied him.
In no way do I wish to diminish the importance of this recognition and remembrance, but I know that not so far below the surface, America’s Jews would like to see the President connect to another dimension of the Jewish message to mankind as well.
On the very same day that Obama visited Buchenwald, The Algemeiner published an interview with Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, where he said, “If you tell a young generation of Jewish teenagers, we want you to know about Jewish history come to Auschwitz, Bergen Belsen and Treblinka and you’ll know what it is to be a Jew, then they will have 2 or 10 thoughts before marrying another Jew and having Jewish children. Who wants to confer the status of victimhood onto their children and grandchildren?”
He continued, “We have failed to connect with the positives and we have failed to connect with the message of Jews to humankind ‘through you will all the families of the earth be blessed'”.
The next time a President of the United States addresses the Jewish people, I have one request; let him stand beside a figure that represents the Jewish future, and pick a venue that highlights the gifts that our people have bestowed upon the nations of the world, a prestigious Jewish house of worship or of study, a museum documenting our illustrious history, or better yet, the Knesset.