...Obama is speaking softly about Israel, and hiding the stick – for the time being. But the stick sticks out. If the deal with Iran fails to materialize – if Israel becomes too disruptive, or when the deal is signed and making nice is no longer necessary – Obama’s misgivings will show more than they show today. Yet even today, Obama is quite clear. His frustration with Israel is out in the open. Obama is frustrated because Israel isn’t following his script of proper behavior. Alas, his script is corrupt. It is a script based on fiction. The fictional narrative of Israel and of Judaism that the President wrote for himself.
26 May '15..
President Barack Obama does not understand Israel. He never has, and at this point in time one suspects that he never will.
This does not make him an enemy of Israel. I see no reason not to believe that Obama means what he says – that he does care about Israel. That even when he criticizes Israel it is because he cares about Israel. As he framed it last Friday, in his celebrated talk at the Washington Adas Israel synagogue: “It’s precisely because I care so deeply… that I feel a responsibility to speak out honestly about what I feel”.
Caring made Obama say some positive things about Israel in the past few days. As Yair Rosenberg dutifully chronicled in Tablet Magazine, Obama, by saying that Israel should not be denied its right "to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people", "defined anti-Zionism – as distinct from sharp, public criticism of Israel and its policies – as anti-Semitism".
Alas, caring, or having positive thoughts about Israel does not make Obama a reliable interpreter of Israel's motivations, actions, and character. In fact, the combination of his supposed care with an unsubstantiated assumption of understanding can be quite dangerous. Obama is not an enemy of Israel, but his current state of mind could still be dangerous for Israel.
In the past week, Obama publicly demonstrated this problematic state of mind – twice. Once when he spoke to journalist Jeff Goldberg of The Atlantic, and the second time in his address at the synagogue. In both cases, he catered to a receptive audience of like-minded Americans. In both cases, it is clear that he had political goals in mind – to eliminate, or at least reduce, an obstacle that could complicate his rush to sign a deal with Iran. Obama is speaking softly about Israel, and hiding the stick – for the time being. But the stick sticks out. If the deal with Iran fails to materialize – if Israel becomes too disruptive, or when the deal is signed and making nice is no longer necessary – Obama’s misgivings will show more than they show today.
Yet even today, Obama is quite clear. His frustration with Israel is out in the open.
Obama is frustrated because Israel isn’t following his script of proper behavior. Alas, his script is corrupt. It is a script based on fiction. The fictional narrative of Israel and of Judaism that the President wrote for himself.
Obama says that what Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel did on Election Day – that is, Netanyahu’s crude warnings about Arabs’ going to the polls – is “contrary to the very language of the Israeli Declaration of Independence”.
That is both chutzpah and nonsense.
It is not Obama’s (or any other foreign leader's) place to lecture Israel’s Prime Minister about Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Can you imagine the response if Netanyahu – or Merkel, or Erdogan, or Putin – would claim that Obama’s statements on this or that contradict the US Constitution?
Besides, Obama is hardly a reliable interpreter of the language of Israel’s Declaration of Independence – and Netanyahu did nothing that “explicitly” contradicts the language of the Declaration. Yes - he used an ugly political tactic. Yes, Israelis would be justified in being disappointed with him because of that (I manifested my own disappointment with him because of that statement more than once). But he did not try to block Arabs from voting, he did not try to prevent them from taking part in the democratic political process, he did not deny them equality.
Obama pretends to interpret not just core Israeli documents, but also Jewish theology. In his address to the Adas Israel congregation, the word “values” appears 19 times. In all cases, befittingly, the values the President talks about are his own values, and in all of them, also befittingly, the President mistakes his own “values” to be Jewish “values”. How very convenient.
Obama has values. He shares these values with the Jewish community because these – so he believes – are Jewish values. By the way, Obama cites the same list of values for every religion. Look it up and see for yourself, for him all are one and the same – all religions conveniently coincide with the Obama religion.
Talking about values in such a way is really the oldest trick in any spin-book: make your views seem like “values” and your opponents’ view seems like a breach of “values”. Make your views seem like “values” and your threat of retribution suddenly seems noble. If Israel is punished it is not for having a different opinion, but rather for lacking in “values”.
Obama does not have the ability to speak intelligently about Israel and about Judaism. Eli Lake demonstrated this by nitpicking over Obama’s ridiculous fascination with Golda Meir. Others would surely take issue with his no less ridiculous reference to the Judeo-Christian tradition. There are many examples that could be used to demonstrate this fact just by looking at his statements in the past few days
And yet – Obama does speak about both Israel and Judaism. Unintelligently. And dangerously.
Of course, President Obama is not under any obligation to understand Israel. Or Judaism. He is a President of another country, on another continent. He is a politician, not a philosopher, not a rabbi (not that all rabbis can speak with authority about Jewish values).
It is important, though, for a President to have a realistic view of what he does and does not understand. When a President does not understand something yet assumes that he does – in fact, assumes that he is an expert, or pretends to be an expert on something – the result can be dangerously negative.
Obama claims to be a friend of Israel and a friend of the Jews. I see no reason to doubt his sincerity in wanting to be a friend of both. But what happens if he discovers that his Israel is an imaginary Israel and that his Judaism is an imaginary Judaism?
Here is what happens: Obama paints Israel's true character in a certain manner, and paints Judaism’s true character in a certain manner. Then he expects Israel to behave in ways that befit his faulty characterization of the country and the Jewish culture that it claims to represent. Then he is frustrated when Israel goes in a different direction. Then he wants to reeducate Israel and put it back on course – the path of Israeliness and Jewishness as the President understands them.
There is an irony in this approach that was vivid when Obama, yet again, for the thousand time, complained to Goldberg about the “concerted effort on the part of some political forces to equate being pro-Israel, and hence being supportive of the Jewish people, with a rubber stamp on a particular set of policies coming out of the Israeli government”. We heard these words from Obama before. We heard them from him before he was even President. He was right then and he is right today. There is such an effort. But for him to complain about such an effort is hardly justified when the President himself engages in the exact same type of effort: Obama also wants “to equate” being really pro-Israel, and having real Jewish values, with “a rubber stamp on a particular set of policies”. Only for him, these are not the policies “coming out of the Israeli government”, but rather the policies coming out of the Obama administration.
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