Larry Snider

Rabbi Obama

The President is well-intentioned but simply out of synch with Iran's intransigence and Abbas's hostile moves

On Tuesday May 19th Jeffrey Goldberg released an interview in the Atlantic in which he stated that “[m]any Reform and Conservative rabbis (and some Orthodox rabbis as well) find themselves anguishing — usually before the High Holidays — about how to present Israel’s complex and sometimes unpalatable reality to their congregants. (I refer to this sermon generically as the “How to Love a Difficult Israel” sermon.) Obama, when he talks about Israel, often sounds to me like one of these rabbis.”

“My hope is that over time [the] debate gets back on a path where there’s some semblance of hope and not simply fear, because it feels to me as if…all we are talking about is based from fear,” he said. “Over the short term that may seem wise—cynicism always seems a little wise—but it may lead Israel down a path in which it’s very hard to protect itself [as] a Jewish-majority democracy. And I care deeply about preserving that Jewish democracy, because when I think about how I came to know Israel, it was based on images of … kibbutzim, and Moshe Dayan, and Golda Meir, and the sense that not only are we creating a safe Jewish homeland, but also we are remaking the world. We’re repairing it. We are going to do it the right way. We are going to make sure that the lessons we’ve learned from our hardships and our persecutions are applied to how we govern and how we treat others.”

If only it were that simple. I am liberal, have voted twice for Barack Obama and yet I worry not only about the choices he has made in the Middle East, but those as well that he didn’t make. He managed to let the clock run out on America’s military involvement in Iraq, (with no small amount of assistance from the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who would not extend the US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement beyond December 18, 2011). The President decided not to commit US forces in an effort to halt the Syrian Civil War and today over 200,000 Syrians are dead and there are roughly 4 million refugees. The President has actively pursued a policy of utilizing an international sanction regime to convince the Islamic Republic of Iran to suspend its development of a nuclear weapon. The Framework Agreement to be translated on paper and signed by the P5 + 1 nations and Iran by June 30, 2015 is highly controversial. President Obama has led two formal attempts to initiate peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and has suggested that it might not act to prevent an upcoming vote in the United Nations Security Council promoted by the French.

The fear of many Israelis and numerous Jewish constituencies around the world is that the Palestinian Authority that launched the Second Intifada is not trustworthy, that Hamas which has fired thousands upon thousands of rockets from the Gaza Strip, (that was unilaterally returned to the Palestinians on September 12, 2005), remains a terrorist organization and that Hezbollah who kidnapped and ultimately murdered Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev engineered the War between Israel and Lebanon in 2006 and have managed through the auspices of Iran to rearm with over 100,000 missiles. The fear extends to Iran whose leaders regularly threatens to eliminate the state of Israel even as it negotiates a nuclear limitation agreement with the United States, the others permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany.

There is little doubt that the world has grown tired of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and is not satisfied with the 47 year occupation of the West Bank, the continuing encroachments of settlers in East Jerusalem and the siege of Gaza in spite of the elements that explain, promote and on certain levels require Israeli military/security control over these areas. The United States has upheld its belief that the conflict can only be solved through direct negotiations and not as a result of international fiat. But the clock is ticking, the settlements are growing and the patience of ‘Rabbi Obama’ may finally be wearing thin. After the appearance of Prime Minister Netanyahu before Congress, Robert Malley a divisive figure in Middle East diplomacy was moved on March 6, 2015 from the Iran/Iraq Desk at the National Security Council to the Israel Desk, (a move that may well signal a more aggressive American effort to promote peace).

The President has tried to repair the breach in US-Israel relations that accompanied his dispute with the Israeli Prime Minister over Iran by meeting for an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg and speaking at Adas Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Washington Friday ostensibly to honor Jewish American Heritage Month.

The President told the congregation and the media three things:

1) He was delighted to be “an honorary member of the tribe,” Obama said “my commitment to Israel’s security is and always will be unshakeable.” “The people of Israel must always know America has its back, and America will always have its back.”

2) “I’m interested in a deal that blocks every single one of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon — every single path.” “In other words, a deal that makes the world and the region — including Israel — more secure. That’s how I define a good deal.”

3) “I feel a responsibility to speak out honestly about what I think will lead to long-term security and to the preservation of a true democracy in the Jewish homeland,” he said to rapturous applause.
“And I believe that’s two states for two peoples, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people on their land, as well.”

The words are good, the sentiments are even better. But Iran says no one will inspect its military facilities, (such as Parchin). President Abbas has taken Israel to the International Criminal Court to charge it with war crimes. Maybe something’s gotten lost in translation?

About the Author
Larry Snider was President of the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace a non-profit based in suburban Philadelphia. Today he lives in New Jersey and is a Board Member of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Southern New Jersey.