When news outlets reported that the owner of the Atlanta Jewish Times had published an opinion column seemingly suggesting that Israel might be wise to assassinate President Barack Obama, the response from prominent American Jews was fast and furious.
Here was a Jewish newspaper publisher providing fodder for something the Anti-Defamation League regularly deplores as a pernicious anti-Semitic canard: that Jews are more loyal to Israel than the United States.
In his Jan. 13 column, Andrew Adler outlined what he said were three possible responses by Israel to Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon: a pre-emptive strike against Hamas and Hezbollah; a direct strike on Iran; or “three, give the go-ahead for U.S.-based Mossad agents to take out a president deemed unfriendly to Israel in order for the current vice president to take his place, and forcefully dictate that the United States policy includes its helping the Jewish state obliterate its enemies.”
He continued, “Yes, you read ‘three’ correctly. Order a hit on a president in order to preserve Israel’s existence.”
Condemnations poured in from every corner, and Adler quickly apologized. By the following Monday, he announced that he was resigning his position and putting up his newspaper for sale.
As outrageous and unforgivable as Adler’s column was, it was an extreme expression of a viewpoint that carries great currency among Obama’s Jewish critics: that the president represents a serious danger to Jews and to Israel.
While few of those critics might go as far as Adler, it does not take much discussion in certain Jewish circles to find those who see something far more sinister in Obama than a president whose policies are bad for the Jews and Israel.
“I think Obama’s overriding goal is to have Israel destroyed,” said Randy Silver, a businessman from Glenview, Ill. “He puts steps in motion to bring about the destruction of the State of Israel.”
One New Yorker, who insisted on anonymity, said, “He’s not a Hitler in the sense that he’s anti-Semitic and wants to put every Jew into a concentration camp – at least not as we see things right now.” On the other hand, he said, if Obama hangs on for a second term, he will find a way to stay in the White House beyond that, even though the Constitution bars a president from serving a third term.
A Westchester man, who asked to be identified only as “Noah,” told JTA: “I will admit to serious questions about whether he’s a Muslim and whether he hates Jews. It’s a possibility. I’m very uncomfortable with him.”
To be sure, such views constitute a minority viewpoint even among Obama’s Jewish detractors, and the American Jewish community has been – and largely remains – a stronghold of support for Obama. In 2008, he won an estimated 78 percent of the Jewish vote, and although his popularity in the Jewish community has dwindled during his Oval Office tenure, it has declined far less among Jews than among the general U.S. population. A Gallup poll released four months ago showed Obama with a 55 percent approval rating among Jews, although an American Jewish Committee poll released at approximately the same time showed the president with a 45 percent approval rating. Still, the AJCommittee poll also showed that Obama would win the Jewish vote against any hypothetical Republican candidate by at least 18 percentage points.
Obama is hardly the first president to be called an anti-Semite or to be labeled as hostile to Israel. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush found himself the subject of withering Jewish criticism when he sought to delay $10 billion in loan guarantees for Israel unless Jerusalem agreed to a settlement freeze in the west bank and Gaza Strip.
The rhetoric and conspiracy theories against Obama seem to constitute an unprecedented level of vitriol, say many longtime observers of the Jewish political scene.
The national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, said he remembers holding a news conference at the time to denounce Jewish characterizations of Bush as Satan and evil.
Foxman says that extreme hatred of Obama is not so much about the president’s policies as it is a combination of factors: the economic troubles facing the United States; the perception of a growing existential threat facing Israel; and the Internet, which amplifies and spreads radical voices and conspiracy theories with viral intensity.
“All of these add an anxiety element that intensifies fear and anxiety,” Foxman told JTA. “Attitudes have intensified.”
Then there is Obama himself – a black president with a Muslim name, including the middle name Hussein, who has been accused even by some Jewish Democrats of not being able to show sympathy for Israel, suggesting that he has no such sympathy.
“Here’s a president who doesn’t show emotion on anything, and the Jewish community is used to emotion,” Foxman said.
Democrats blame the Republicans for the vitriol; Republicans say Democrats are practicing divisive politics.
Obama’s most vehement Jewish critics are not the only ones who accuse him of being a secret Muslim, a socialist, or a threat to the American way of life. Many Tea Party activists have sounded similar themes, with some going so far as to decry his adminsitration as pursuing Nazi-like policies.
Obama’s most extreme Jewish critics, however, also accuse him of seeking to erase the Jewish character of the Jewish state, and plotting to wage war against Israel or the Jews. They see anti-Semitic overtones even in Obama’s hiring of Jewish advisers.
“A Jacob Lew or a Rahm Emanuel is a danger to the Jewish people because they make treif look kosher,” said Silver, the Illinois businessman, referring to the current and former Obama chiefs of staff. “I think these are anti-Jewish Jews. They make Obama look like he’s not a threat, but he’s a clear and present danger to Israel.”
A Jewish New Yorker named Clive said of Lew’s appointment, “We know that Pharaoh hired Joseph because it suited him, but down the road when it didn’t suit him he made his family slaves.”
Pamela Geller, a Jewish writer whose blog, “Atlas Shrugs,” is a popular source of information for anti-Obama conspiracy theorists, says Obama is trying to stir up Muslim enmity toward Jews.
“The President of the United States is advancing jihad against the oath of office that he took,” Geller wrote in April 2010. “If he is agitating Muslims against Jews, will he declare war on Israel?”
Obama administration officials repeatedly have denounced such accusations as patently false. They have waged a campaign in the Jewish community to highlight the president’s record on issues of Jewish concern, ranging from domestic issues to Obama’s pushes for Iran sanctions and endorsement of unprecedented U.S.-Israel military cooperation.
Ultimately, however, for that subset of the Jewish community that sees ominous signs in Obama’s record, the concern is not so much what Obama has done until now as it is what he might do in the future.
“He takes baby steps and is slowly putting things in play to do Israel damage in the long run,” Silver said. “There’s a strategy behind this.”
JTA Wire Service