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January 13, 2015 3:53 pm

President Obama’s Divided Loyalty Dilemma

avatar by Jerold Auerbach

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama, on March 17, 2014. Photo: Screenshot.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama, on March 17, 2014. Photo: Screenshot.

With its Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen in 1789, France emancipated its Jews. But there was a price: Jews were immediately tormented by the dilemma of divided loyalty. “Must one admit into the family,” inquired the Bishop of Nancy in the French National Assembly during the debate on the eligibility of Jews for citizenship,  “a tribe that is a stranger to oneself that constantly turns its eyes toward [another] homeland”? One answer came a century later, when Captain Alfred Dreyfus, an assimilated Jew, was tried, found guilty of espionage and dispatched to Devil’s Island.

For many assimilated Jews in other countries in the modern era – the United States conspicuous among them – Zionism provoked acute loyalty concerns. Where was their homeland? The very prospect of a Jewish state, to say nothing of the birth of Israel in 1948, tied many Reform Jews (including, most conspicuously, generations of Sulzberger publishers of The New York Times) into knots of discomfort over divided loyalty.

Who would have imagined that the first African-American president of the United States would be so acutely torn by his own divided loyalties that he would decline to attend the Sunday rally in Paris that drew leaders from all over the world and millions of French citizens determined to affirm their unity following yet another horrific outburst of Muslim terrorism? “America and Islam,” Obama declared in his Cairo speech (2009), “share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.” But after Muslim terrorists had slaughtered a dozen journalists whose cartoons offended them, and four Jews whose Judaism offended them, such shared principles no longer seemed evident.

Instead, President Obama remained in the White House on Sunday, preferring – according to some reports – to watch football games. Even his strong supporters were astonished. “I had previously thought we had seen the absolute peak of badly conceived public relations,” wrote Rick Ungar ( “when the president elected to play golf immediately following his somber statement on the beheading of James Foley by ISIL.” The excuses were flimsy: too short notice; concerns for presidential safety. But it is not “poor judgments in communications strategy,” as Ungar claimed, that require scrutiny.

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Rather, it is the divided loyalty embedded in the son of a father who converted to Islam and a Christian mother. “I am a Christian,” Obama proclaimed in his Cairo speech, “but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims.” Never in six years of his presidency has that internal conflict played out so publicly as it did when he stayed home on Sunday.  It was, to be sure, a shared Obama administration public relations disaster. Vice President Biden also stayed home and Secretary of State Kerry preferred to remain in India. So the United States was represented at the massive gathering in Paris by its unknown ambassador to France.

It was not merely a presidential “snub” or “gaffe,” as some claimed. Or even, declared CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, “pathetic.” It was a highly revealing glimpse – not of botched public relations but of Obama’s internal conflict, torn between his American and Muslim identities. “Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance,” he claimed in 2009. But that is hardly what Islam has displayed to Americans since September 11, 2001.

To be sure, not all the forty world leaders who marched with more than three million French citizens on Sunday to defend freedom and protest against Islamic terrorism had clean hands. Especially those from Algeria, Russia and Turkey – to say nothing of the conspicuous front-row presence of Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, desperately in need of public approval wherever he can get it.

But President Obama’s absence was deeply revealing. Consider his previous statements about the “peaceful religion” of Islam; his self-proclaimed presidential responsibility “to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear”; his preposterous insistence in 2012 after the murder by Islamist terrorists of four Americans (including the Ambassador) at Benghazi that the “outrage throughout the Muslim world” was sparked by a YouTube filmmaker; his statement of “understanding” why “people take offense at this” (film);  and his insistence that “the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.”

It exposes a president torn by competing loyalties, who bends over backward to appease Muslims and cannot bring himself to stand with those who defend freedom against its brutal perversions by demented Muslim zealots.

Jerold S. Auerbach is a frequent contributor to The Algemeiner

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