The Problem with “Jewish” Presidents

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

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy