Reading between the lines of Obama’s Jewish and Muslim holiday messages

President Barack Obama. Credit: Pete Souza/White House.

In a recent statement, Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) President Morton A. Klein noted what he perceived to be a discrepancy between President Barack Obama’s holiday messages to Jews and Muslims.

For Rosh Hashanah this month, Klein believes Obama “lectured” the Jewish people on the Palestinian issue, stating, “We are required to atone where we have fallen short. And to do whatever we can to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. And to love the stranger and treat him as we would want to be treated….These things are not easy…Peace is hard…Let’s write the next chapter in a way that speaks to the best of our traditions and the highest of our ideals.”

For July’s marking of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, Obama limited his comments to praise, particularly lauding “the diversity of traditions” that “paint the vibrant images we see from around the world capturing the spirit and excitement of Eid—colorful dresses or white garments decorating the masses of people standing in lines for prayer, lanterns and ornaments lighting up bazaars and neighborhoods, intricate henna designs painted on hands of young girls and women, and an abundance of delectable foods and aromatic cuisines.” 

Yom Kippur came a day after Klein’s Sept. 22 statement. Obama said regarding the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, “The Day of Atonement is a time for humility, reflection and repentance, a chance to be honest with ourselves and one another about our shortcomings. Yet Yom Kippur is also a day of hope.  Through our prayers and through our actions, as individuals and as a community, we can better bridge the realities of our world with the ideals and values we share. On this special day, may our common humanity unite us, and may our common faith in a better future inspire us to continue healing our world. G’mar Chatimah Tovah.”

Coinciding with Yom Kippur this year was the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. On the heels of his 124-word Yom Kippur statement, Obama conveyed a 271-word Eid al-Adha greeting. He said, among other things, that the holiday “is about sacrifice, almsgiving, and equality. Thousands of Muslims around the world travel to Mecca and Medina, leaving behind all that is valuable and dressed in a simple white cloth—all standing shoulder-to-shoulder and equal before God. This experience signifies that no single person is more worthy than another. It is reminiscent of the principle upon which this country is built: e pluribus unum—out of many, one. Regardless of race, religion, and gender we are reminded that our rich diversity is what strengthens our Nation.”

While the Eid al-Fitr message from July noted how “millions of Muslim Americans enrich our nation everyday—serving in our government, leading scientific breakthroughs, generating jobs, and caring for our neighbors in need,” ZOA’s Klein had noted that Obama’s Rosh Hashanah message “neglected to mention the generous help that Jews have given to the church, or the strong support from Jewish groups for rescuing Syrian refugees, or the enormous philanthropy of Jews in support of African American causes, including initiating and funding the NAACP and supporting African American colleges and the civil rights movement, as well as medical research, universities, the arts, etc. In fact, Jews give charity at ten times the rate of the typical American.”

Posted on September 24, 2015 .