The Problem with “Jewish” Presidents

Jan. 20 2017

A prominent Jewish journalist once referred to Barack Obama as “the first Jewish president,” a comment Obama mentioned as having “flattered” him in a memorable speech he gave at a Washington, DC synagogue. More recently, a column at a conservative website made a similar claim about Donald Trump. Yossi Klein Halevi points to the dangers of this sort of thinking, from either side of the political aisle:

[H]ere is the catch in this crowning American Jewish moment: both Obama and Trump deeply identify with only one part of the Jewish community. And it is precisely that profound identification with “his” Jews that leads each man to resent those Jews in the opposing camp for betraying authentic Jewish values and interests. . . . In his speech at [the synagogue], Obama defined social justice as the core value of Judaism. Even more than laying claim to a shared set of values with Jewish liberals, Obama was in effect claiming the right to define Jewish values. Being pro-Palestinian, along with being pro-Israel, he insisted, was the most authentic expression of Judaism. For right-wing Jews, of course, other Jewish values—the historic Jewish claim to the land of Israel, the security needs of the Jewish state—supersede Palestinian claims. Taking Obama’s worldview to its inevitable conclusion, those Jews aren’t just wrong politically but “un-Jewish”—betrayers of Judaism.

My point here is not to determine whether right-wing or left-wing Jews more faithfully represent Jewish values, but to note that an American president saw fit to intervene in an internal Jewish argument and define “authentic” Jewishness. In the end, of course, neither Kerry nor Obama has a personal stake in the future of a Jewish and democratic Israel. Jews are permitted, perhaps obliged, to obsess about Israel’s soul. But when outsiders adopt that obsession the result can be deeply destructive. An “honorary member of the tribe” [as the president described himself], frustrated by the tribe’s failure to fulfill his highest expectations, may even, in a fit of pique, facilitate a UN resolution that transforms the Western Wall into occupied territory. . . .

American Jews need to resist the temptation of totally identifying their preferred president with Jewish interests and values. Revering any American president as an honorary member of the tribe risks debasing Jewish identity and communal discourse.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: American Jewry, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Philo-Semitism, Politics & Current Affairs, US-Israel relations

The U.S. Is Trying to Seduce Israel into Accepting a Bad Deal with Iran. Israel Should Say No

Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its quarterly report on the Iranian nuclear program. According to an analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security, the Islamic Republic can now produce enough weapons-grade uranium to manufacture “five nuclear weapons in one month, seven in two months, and a total of eight in three months.” The IAEA also has reason to believe that Tehran has further nuclear capabilities that it has successfully hidden from inspectors. David M. Weinberg is concerned about Washington’s response:

Believe it or not, the Biden administration apparently is once again offering the mullahs of Tehran a sweetheart deal: the release of $10 billion or more in frozen Iranian assets and clemency for Iran’s near-breakout nuclear advances of recent years, in exchange for Iranian release of American hostages and warmed-over pious Iranian pledges to freeze the Shiite atomic-bomb program.

This month, intelligence photos showed Iran again digging tunnels at its Natanz nuclear site—supposedly deep enough to withstand an American or Israeli military strike. This tells us that Iran has something to hide, a clear sign that it has not given up on its quest for a nuclear bomb.

Meanwhile, Antony Blinken today completes a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, where he is reportedly pressing the kingdom to enter the Abraham Accords. This is no coincidence, for reasons Weinberg explains:

Washington expects Israeli acquiescence in the emerging U.S. surrender to Iran in exchange for a series of other things important to Israel. These include U.S. backing for Israel against escalated Palestinian assaults expected this fall in UN forums, toning down U.S. criticism regarding settlement and security matters (at a time when the IDF is going to have to intensify its anti-terrorist operations in Judea and Samaria), an easing of U.S. pressures on Israel in connection with domestic matters (like judicial reform), a warm Washington visit for Prime Minister Netanyahu (which is not just a political concession but is rather critical to Israel’s overall deterrent posture), and most of all, significant American moves towards reconciliation with Saudi Arabia (which is critical to driving a breakthrough in Israeli-Saudi ties).

[But] even an expensive package of U.S. “concessions” to Saudi Arabia will not truly compensate for U.S. capitulation to Iran (something we know from experience will only embolden the hegemonic ambitions of the mullahs). And this capitulation will make it more difficult for the Saudis to embrace Israel publicly.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Antony Blinken, Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship