Sherwin Pomerantz

Obama’s Jewish Point of Reference

One cannot help but wonder what it is about Obama that (a) makes him seemingly so hostile to Israel, (b) gives him so much trouble identifying killings such as that in the Hyper Cacher market in Paris last month and (c) impels him to give history lessons on the Crusades at a multicultural religious gathering as he did at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington last week? That last item was later referred to by an African-American author in attendance as “verbal rape.”

To begin to understand the President’s point of reference on these issues, one needs to understand who formed his vision of the world in general and, more importantly, his vision of Judaism and Israel.

In his Chicago days, the days he himself credits with being those where he had mostly Jewish friends, he lived on the south side of the city near the campus of the University of Chicago. And who were the people who had the most influence on his thinking during that period? Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf for his Jewish background and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright for his Christian values. One could not have described that volatile combination of extreme personalities as anything but the “perfect storm.”

Rabbi Wolf, a Reform rabbi, spent 20 years as the spiritual leader of K.A.M. Isaiah Israel Temple, located across the street from the Obama home. Rabbi Wolf, proudly anti-Zionist in his outlook, bought into the “blame Israel first” policy of American progressivism, and like Obama, was active with the Democratic Socialists of America.

Before he died, Rabbi Wolf spent a significant portion of his career leading organizations seeking to criticize, and even delegitimize, the Jewish State of Israel. For example, along with radical MIT professor Noam Chomsky, Rabbi Wolf helped found the Committee on New Alternatives in the Middle East (CONAME), a philosophical grandparent to today’s JStreet. The organization was described by TIME magazine as one of a number of Arab or pro-Arab organizations working in the US.  Among other activities they urged the US not to send arms to Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, a warning that President Nixon, to his credit, did not heed.

In 2000 Wolf labeled Israel as a human rights violator, and then joined Brit Tzedek V’Shalom which was one of the first groups to define “terrorist violence” by Arabs as part of a pattern of legitimate “Arab resistance.”

Wolf took credit for being one of the prime movers to get Obama into the Illinois Senate and suggested to him that someday he would be a good presidential candidate as well.  Now that Obama is president many of his positions relative to Israel can be seen as reflections of the writings of Rabbi Wolf.

As for the Rev. Wright, the Obamas met the Rev Wright in the 1980s, he officiated at their wedding and they remained loyal members of his church until 2008 when associating with him became politically damaging.

This is the Rev Wright who, after the September 11th attacks sermonized:  “We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye… and now we are indignant, because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought back into our own front yards. America’s chickens are coming home to roost.”

In a 2009 press interview asked if he’d spoken to his former parishioner (i.e. President Obama) since he became President, Wright told David Squires, “them Jews ain’t going to let him talk to me. I told my baby daughter that he’ll talk to me in five years when he’s a lame duck, or in eight years when he’s out of office.”  Wright said he would tell the president, if he could, to stay true to himself. “He’s gotta do what politicians do,” Wright said. “Ethnic cleansing is going on in Gaza. Ethnic cleansing by the Zionists is a sin and a crime against humanity, and they don’t want Barack talking like that because that’s anti-Israel.”

Rev. Wright also said that “the Jewish vote, the A-I-P-A-C vote, that’s controlling him, that would not let him send representation to the Darfur Review Conference, that’s talking this craziness on this trip, cause they’re Zionists, they would not let him talk to someone who calls a spade what it is. “

These were the people that formed the president’s mind set on such issues and which made it impossible for him to ever see the full truth even when it is staring him in the face.  For example, the White House scrambled to the defense Tuesday following a crush of criticism of President Barack Obama’s remarks about last month’s terrorist siege at a Kosher grocery in France.  Obama described the siege as one in which people “randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.”

Note the word “randomly.”  No, this was not a calculated attack against Jews but just some random act.  In a testy exchange posted by ABC News, White House press secretary Josh Earnest jousted with incredulous reporters who asked why the president didn’t characterize the deadly Jan. 9 attack as one that targeted Jews when he spoke with media outlet Vox on Monday.  “Does the president have any doubt that those terrorists attacked that deli because there would be Jews in that deli?” ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl asked, to which Earnest replied:  “It is clear from the terrorists and the writings that they put out afterward what their motivation was. The adverb that the president chose was used to indicate that the individuals who were killed in that terrible, tragic incident were killed not because of who they were but because of where they randomly happened to be.”  Really?

The failure by a US president to clearly identify something as anti-Semitic, or to lable Muslim extremism as just that, reflects the lessons he learned on the south side of Chicago in his formative years under the tutelage of Rabbi Wolf and the Rev Wright.  And sadly, we here in Israel as well as all of America are now paying the price for that incredibly restricted field of vision sitting in the west wing as the leader of the free world.

About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 32 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, regional entities and Invest Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Former Chairperson of the Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and a Board Member of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.