“Why does it seem to a growing number of people that an [Obama] administration professing…to understand Jewish anxieties about the consequences of anti-Semitism in the Middle East does not appear to understand that the way some of its advocates…are framing the Iran-deal fight—as one between Jewish special interests, on the one hand, and the entire rest of the world, on the other—may empower actual anti-Semites not only in the Middle East, but at home as well?” – Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic, Aug. 11, 2015.
“Let’s be quite clear about this. Obama, with extreme irresponsibility, is licensing a new wave of global anti-Semitism. And he knows exactly what he is doing … ” – Greg Sheridan, The Australian, Dec. 27, 2016.
The scathing appraisal of the Barack Obama presidency—echoing the concerns of unequivocally pro-Obama Jeffery Goldberg—was published in Australia’s biggest-selling national newspaper and authored by its foreign editor, one of the country’s most influential commentators on international affairs.
For some reason, probably the overwhelming support of U.S. Jewry for Obama, I was reminded of both these excerpts when, earlier this week, I met a neighbor of mine in our local grocery store.
He was someone who until recently, held and openly articulated radical left-wing views, both on socio-economic issues and on the Israel-Arab conflict, which, as an Israeli citizen, came perilously close to sedition.
Since then, however, there seems to have been a dramatic metamorphosis in his political perspectives—arguably in light of the horrific meltdown across the Middle East, with the gory failure of the perversely named “Arab Spring” in general and the Syrian civil war in particular. Indeed, today he appears to be firmly “right of center.”
Clearly highly agitated, he approached me as I was leaving the dairy section for the cashier’s till to pay for my purchases, blurting out his shock and dismay at the calls from some of the Jewish community to President Donald Trump not to visit the scene of the gruesome synagogue massacre last Sunday in Pittsburgh to pay his respects to the victims, declaring his presence unwelcome.
The only explanation he could muster for what he perceived as otherwise incomprehensible behavior was a “genetic defect” that afflicted his Jewish kinfolk. Flummoxed by Jewish hostility towards the president and coupled with his wish to extend his condolences to the bereaved community, my distraught neighbor concluded that Jews must be cursed with some inborn propensity for self-destruction to behave so ungraciously and ungratefully towards someone he considered the greatest supporter of Jewish people and the Jewish state.
There has never been, he exclaimed, nor is there likely to be, an American president so unabashedly pro-Israel and pro-Jewish as Trump.
An unlikely xenophobe
Although many Israelis may reject the “genetic defect” explanation, they certainly would share his profound sense of concern and confusion at the vehemence of the anti-Trump sentiment displayed by portions of the Jewish community in America.
Much of the recent acrimony has focused on accusations that during his incumbency, his abrasive rhetoric has constituted a “dog-whistle” to foment division and animosity towards “minorities” and to encourage hate-mongers to act on their prejudices.
Of course, not even the most fervent Trump enthusiasts could claim that he has enhanced the refinement of the political discourse in the United States. Indeed, some of his public pronouncements have ranged from the ill-considered to the downright obnoxious. But as regrettable and injudicious as some of his outbursts have been, only a convoluted and partisan interpretation could impart any hint of anti-Semitism to them.
After all, as many have pointed out, not only are his daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren Jewish, as are some of his closest advisers. With regard to other minorities, his wife is an immigrant (whose accent has been cruelly mocked by an anti-Trump comedian), his cabinet and cabinet level officials span the full range of American ethno-cultural diversity—Jewish, black, Latino, Asian and immigrant.
Despite accusations of misogyny, Trump has elevated women to positions of power both domestically and internationally. Three of his cabinet members are women. He appointed the first women to head the CIA, and chose women to serve as Secretary of Homeland Security and as ambassador to the United Nations.
When it comes to actions rather than words, none of these seem to corroborate the dark allegations against him.
If anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism …
There is a wide body of opinion that plausibly perceives of anti-Zionism as a new mutation of anti-Semitism with the former substituting the Jewish state for the Jewish people as the focus of Judeophobic animus and Judeocidal action.
Judged by this criterion, it would of course, be preposterous to consider Trump “anti-Semitic.” For his actions have been hugely supportive of the Jewish state in the face of withering criticism. As opposed to his predecessor, he has acted with unprecedented resolve against Israel’s enemies.
Despite warnings that the sky would fall, he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the Israel—breaking the anti-Semitic taboo that the Jewish state was the only one in the world that could not decide where its capital should be—and moved the U.S. embassy to that city, the center of Jewish culture and heritage for centuries—recognizing realities that none of his predecessors dared to.
He exposed the myth of the “Palestinian refugees,” which threatened to inundate the Jewish state with millions of Muslim descendants of those who fled the land seven decades ago, by cutting the funding to the pernicious organization, UNRWA that perpetuated the hope of “the right of return,” which is a euphemism for the elimination of Jewish Israel.
He defunded the recalcitrant Palestinian Authority and shuttered the PLO offices in Washington, significantly weakening one of Israel’s most troublesome detractors.
Disturbing double standard
But above all, he called out the infamous 2015 Iran nuclear deal, brokered by the Obama administration, for the scandalous sham it really was. Trump exposed the appalling mendacity of the false choices presented by Obama (“the deal or war”) by re-imposing sanctions that are crippling one of the most insidious and overtly Judeocidal regimes in modern history—a regime that the previous administration so assiduously strove to enrich, entrench and empower.
Obama attempted to portray the pro-Israel Jewish lobby, together with the Netanyahu government, as the only source of opposition to the deal. He thereby implied that the Jews and the Jewish state were undermining U.S. national interests and the safety of American citizens. This, of course, was a grave—and arguably, calculated—misrepresentation of the facts. For apart from Israel, the deal was also opposed by most of America’s Sunni allies across the Middle East without similarly inflammatory allegations being leveled at them.
Thus, there seems to be a sharp double standard of the Jewish community towards the current president. Indeed, as one White House official muttered bitterly: “We can take justified criticism, but if Obama had transferred the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, the American Jewish community would have been united in applauding him!”
Sadly, it is difficult to disagree.
Damned if he is and damned if he doesn’t
Indeed, under the circumstances, it is difficult not to recall the caustic assessment (May 7, 2015) of well-known British commentator Douglas Murray, who remarked: “One of the false presumptions of our time is that people on the political left are motivated by good intentions even when they do bad things, while people on the political right are motivated by bad intentions even when they do good things.”
In large measure, this seems to define the attitude of U.S. Jewry towards Trump on the one hand and Obama on the other.
After all, compare Trump’s fierce condemnation of anti-Semitism following the Pittsburgh massacre at the hands of a white extremist with Obama’s humming and hawing over the anti-Semitic motivations of the massacre in a kosher deli in Paris at the hands of a Muslim terrorist.
Indeed, for all his rhetorical shortcomings, Trump’s policies have greatly benefited the very minorities he is accused of despising, with black and Hispanic unemployment at historic lows.
Sadly, it would seem that the president is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.
After all, just imagine if he had not made the visit to Pittsburgh to pay his respects to the victims. There is little doubt that he would have been accused of anything and everything from crass insensitivity to condoning the atrocity!
In many ways, Trump is the creation of Obama.
The divisions in American society he is accused of exacerbating are ones largely precipitated by his predecessor’s policies and prejudices. By their irrational assault on him, his detractors, including American Jews, are preserving the very fissures they demand he bridge.
U.S. Jewry would do well to remember this. At least that’s what many of us here in the Jewish state think.
Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.
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