n lately, President Barack Obama has been making greater attempts to demonstrate just how dedicated he is to Israel and therefore, to Jews in America. Among some, and not that it really matters, a debate rages as to whether Obama has been the best or the worst president for Jews, and in this election year we can be assured of one certainty; both sides will make the claim that benefits their own candidate for the White House, but what is the truth and what is hyperbole?
To best answer the question, first we need to define how good Obama is for the Jews as how good he might be for Israel. The two are not distinctive, as without Israel, Jews have little else to set themselves apart as Americans and voters than any religious group or any national group within our union.
Jews, like Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, Moslems and all others, want religious freedoms. As a community, Jews seek social justice just as many advocate groups do, advocating for laws regarding welfare, education, and similar matters.
Jews seek public acknowledgment, much like the Irish, Italians, West Indians, and just about every group that chooses a day each year to march down public thoroughfares across the country in celebration of their heritage.
Basically, Jews are not so unique to the American experience, and therefore have common preferences or antipathy for any presidential candidate and essentially all public officials that can be aligned with any number of other religious or national voting groups. Therefore, the essence of “Jewish support” or lack thereof for Obama would be defined by the president’s position on Israel. After all, Obama was the first U.S. President to declare a month of the year as Jewish History Month, but that would not impress those who believe Obama is weak on Israel. Apples and oranges.
For the record, the most avid supporter of Israel in our nation’s history could arguably be Harry S. Truman. Best known for the Fair Deal and the Marshall Plan, Truman’s “proclamation of May 14, 1948” officially recognized Israel as an independent state just moments after the announcement of the U.N. proclamation. He was the first among nations to do so, and the first president to take the leap into the history of American support for Israel.
For Obama, in certain action he has been fairly friendly, while in his rhetoric and on “real” issues, the naysayers find their fodder. Obama has been a strong supporter of keeping and even building on Israel’s military might, particularly with his support for the Iron Dome. He even worked for and signed legislation assuring Israel of American aid through 2018.
Then, at the United Nations this year, the president pushed hard against the Palestinian bid for independent statehood and is still holding the line in pushing back against Abu Mazen’s drive for U.N. recognition.
So what is the question as far as “Obama and the Jews” is concerned?
It’s partly in his rhetoric, but mostly in his actions on two of the most critical issues to the State of Israel: Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the Palestinian peace initiative. With his right hand he would offer more money and strength to Israel and its security needs, while with his left, he would compromise its very existence.
In response to what he perceived as heavy handedness of the Bush administration’s policies that created a worldwide hatred of America, Obama pledged to engage Iran using “aggressive, principled diplomacy without self-defeating preconditions.” Instead, Iran’s regime took advantage of this appearance of leniency and aggressively worked to develop its nuclear capability while assuring world leaders that it was for domestic consumption and not foreign hostilities.
Meanwhile, Congress just voted for the harshest sanctions against Iran yet, but the Obama administration was a staunch opponent of sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran, its primary apparatus for funding worldwide terror. It feared sanctions would only help enrich Iran by driving oil prices high. Most experts believe it’s the only real show of force left short of military action.
Then there is the Palestinian question. For all of the money the U.S. spends on Israel’s security efforts, Obama pressured Israel to compromise on its borders and Jerusalem. It was just about six months ago when he stated that Israel needed to return to its pre-’67 borders. Some debate what he may have meant and what he believes in regards to land swaps, but the essence is that Israel is an occupier and needs to relent. Then Obama was overheard with the French president whispering about frustration with Bibi Netanyahu’s “lies” over the construction in the West Bank.
As a result of feeling emboldened, Abu Mazen will not work towards normalization unless Israel stops every building project in the West Bank, even in areas that would remain under Israel’s flag as part of Obama’s presumed “land swaps.”
It is on these two issues where Israel stands the most to lose, and where the critics of Obama say that the platitudes he tenders are just window dressing for public consumption. The emptiness of his actions is more telling. We are nowhere with a peace offering between the Palestinians and Israel, and perhaps now on the brink of opening an old-new front on the Egyptian border, and Iran will likely realize nuclear weaponry capabilities within the coming year.
Obama’s legacy to Jews might see his newly instituted Jewish Heritage Month one day recalling and celebrating the short lived, controversial, yet feisty Jewish State.
For what it is worth, Obama has ratcheted up his tough talk against Iran, declaring to a Jewish audience two weeks ago that the U.S. will not accept a nuclear weapon in Iranian hands and alluded to military action to prevent it. Then on “60 Minutes” one week ago, Leon Panetta, the secretary of defense, backed that up with the same allusion.
There is one more theory that few people consider when assessing how good Obama is for the Jews and that is the impact this president’s actions and policies have had on Israel itself. Talking to a Washington insider who recently made Alliyah, but still maintains his government-related business in D.C., it was suggested that Obama is in a very meaningful way “good for Israel.”
He said that Israel had always relied on America and its allies in the west to give it permission to make its moves, to protect it, feed it, to essentially be its parent. Obama has put Israel in a position where it has to grow up and be a nation unto itself, to make decisions, take action and do what it needs to do regardless of world “approval”.
He said, “Obama has truly given Israel its independence, and for that, he is the best president the Jews have had.”
Few will argue that Israel is best represented when it stands as a strong nation without relying on America for approval, yet having it come because it cannot rely on the American president to have its back when its existence is hanging in the balance leaves us to wonder what kind of friend President Obama truly is.