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President Obama’s appalling silence on Syria

Here's what the leader of the free world should say when 80 students are blown to bits

Surely the first African-American president has a special responsibility to promote human freedom and the infinite worth of the human person. The same obligation would be incumbent upon the first Jewish President, whoever he or she may be. Two communities who have experienced wholesale decimation have a special responsibility to promote the infinite value of human life. 

Why is President Obama so silent on Syria? The report on Tuesday that 80 students were blown to smithereens was particularly appalling. President Obama taught at the University of Chicago. Having attended some of the world’s leading universities, he has a special feeling for academia, as indeed he should. So can he really turn a blind eye to the image of a female hand with a pen still in it, dismembered from the rest of her body?

I’m genuinely puzzled. Manhattan is a one hour flight from Washington. Can’t the President come up to the UN and deliver the following speech:

People of the world, I am here to discuss the greatest humanitarian tragedy in the world today. Our Arab brothers and sisters of Syria are being mowed down by machine-gun fire, slaughtered from the air by planes and helicopters, and murdered in their homes with gun shots at point blank range to the head. College students are being killed in their dorm rooms. Their crime? To wish to live as free men and women, which is their God-given right.


But standing in the way of that most basic of all human desires is a tyrant who will hold on to power at all costs. If it takes brutalizing small children and having them shot at the family dinner table, he will do that. If it means shooting pregnant women to enforce his brutal will, he will do that too. He will stop at nothing to hold on to the levers of power.

As the President of the United States I am here today to tell Mr. Assad – I will not call him President because any man who slaughters who is own people has lost all legitimacy to rule – that my nation regards him as a war criminal responsible for crimes against humanity. I am urging the United Nations to immediately pass a resolution proclaiming the same.


Mr. Assad, I’m here today to tell you that the long arm of international justice will catch up with you. Today you’re a brutal dictator killing men, women, and children in order to stay in power. But one day, in the not too distant future, we will catch up with you. You will be arrested for crimes against humanity and tried for your butchery and mass murder. It may not happen today or tomorrow. But I assure that you one day, in the not too distance future, in the dead of night when you least expect it, it will happen. Soldiers of civilized nations will apprehend you and take you to the International Court of Justice at The Hague where you will stand trial before the world for your cruelty. And you will be held accountable for your appalling crimes.


My country is right now engaged in a difficult war in Afghanistan. We are fighting terrorists with the help of Pakistan and other nations around the world and we still have not extricated ourselves fully from our decade-long war in Iraq. In short, we are overextended. And while we may not be able to act against you, Mr. Assad in the short term, I want you to know that the blood of so many innocents that you have spilled cry out for justice. And they will receive their justice.


Mr. Assad, the eyes of the world are upon you and brutal regime. You will not get away with it. I am personally telling you today that if it’s the last thing I do as President, I will ensure that you are arrested and tried for these unspeakable crimes. When we Americans say “Never Again” we mean every word. We will never allow unpunished, wholesale slaughter to transpire in the world ever again.


And to back up my  pledge, I am today putting a bounty of $25 million dollars on the head of Mr. Assad. We will pay this amount to the individual, or individuals, responsible for the arrest of Mr. Assad so that he can stand trial.

Atlantic columnist Jeffrey Goldberg recently reported that President Obama said that Israelis don’t know what’s good for them. Bibi wants to build in Jerusalem but doesn’t realize that he is isolating Israel further in the international community.

I appreciate the President’s concerns. No doubt Israelis are especially grateful for the American President’s ability to divine Israel’s security needs even better than their chosen leaders. But perhaps our President should focus less on construction of apartments and homes and do something instead about the bombs and rockets that are killings tents of thousands of innocent Arabs. Syria is arguably the greatest humanitarian crisis that President Obama has had on his watch and, with all due respect, he is failing miserably in doing anything about it.

Arabs are my brothers. Arabs are my sisters. I believe with all my heart that they will one day see the democracy of the State of Israel as the best friend they have in the Middle East, not the tyranny of Saudi Arabia or the murderous designs of Hamas and Hezbollah.

But regardless of my prediction for the future, I am today calling upon the President of the United States to employ his considerable mastery of words to take up the mantle of Martin Luther King and be a drum major for justice, a beacon for freedom. Sound the clarion call for liberty, Mr. President.

In the book of Genesis God asks Cain where his brother Abel is. Cain has just killed him and, in an effort to protect himself, famously asks, “Am I brother’s keeper?” God’s response is ferocious. “What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”

We who witnessed the repeated genocides of the twentieth century – from Armenia and the Holocaust to Cambodia and Rwanda – will one day be called to account for our silence in the face of dead students and children.

Get off the fence, Mr. President, and stand up for Arab life and liberty. Stop the slaughter in Syria. You owe it to the brave African-Americans who died yearning and fighting for equality and liberty. You owe it to American patriots who founded the first modern Republic by casting off British tyranny. And you owe it to the people of the world who look to America for leadership, hope, and change.

About the Author
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the founder of This World: The Values Network. He is the author of Judaism for Everyone and 30 other books, including his most recent, Kosher Lust. Follow him on Twitter@RabbiShmuley.