This Sunday, at the West Side Institutional Synagogue in Manhattan, I will lead a conversation between Michael Steinhardt, the co-founder of Birthright Israel, and Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, on “Obama, Israel, and how Jewish values can be used to renew America.” Michael was one of the founders of the Democratic Leadership Council. Indeed, it was once a given that nearly all Jews would vote Democrat. Times are changing, however, as Jews witness the unshakable commitment of leaders such as Eric on Israel vs. President Barack Obama’s obviously tenuous record.
Truth regardless of consequencesTo be sure, the president deserves high marks for enhancing America’s military cooperation with Israel and especially his rejection of unilateral Palestinian statehood at the United Nations. Those who say that Obama is anti-Israel malign him against the facts and those who say he is anti-Semitic are guilty of character assassination.
What is undoubtedly true, however, is that Obama cannot be trusted on Israel – not because of any inner prejudice against the Jewish state, but because he believes that pressuring Israel is the royal road to Middle East peace. Whether calling for a settlement freeze without making reciprocal demands of the Palestinians, or demonstrating disrespect for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the White House in March 2010, or provocatively invoking Israel’s 1967 lines in his May 2011 speech that was supposed to be about the Arabs and their spring, the president has shown a resolute conviction that putting the screws on Israel will produce broader results.
Cantor, the leader of the House Republicans, sees it differently, as do I. What will lead to peace is for the Arabs to forego their decades-long hatred of Israel. They also must give up their belief that the Jewish state is a transient entity that can be eliminated through war, terrorism, or disastrous territorial concessions. The war between the Palestinians and Jews is not one primarily of land but of values. Our brothers the Palestinians tragically embrace a culture of death that glorifies martyrdom and violence. Israel embraces a culture of life and a commitment to democracy and it values every citizen.
Yes, Obama stood firmly with Israel at the U.N., but is this change of heart sincere, or is it a calculated move to win back the Jewish vote in 2012?
At Cairo in June 2009, the president analogized the Holocaust to Arab “dislocation” that resulted from Israel’s creation: True, he said, six million Jews were killed in an “unprecedented Holocaust,” but “it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland.”
This ignorant conclusion not only equates two utterly incomparable tragedies, but it overlooks the fact that Israel has absorbed millions of Jewish refugees while the Arab nations have used the Palestinian refugees as pawns in their never-ending war of annihilation against Israel. And who is to say that once Obama wins reelection and is no longer dependent on Jewish money or votes, he will revert to a policy based on these erroneous observations?
Particularly troubling is Obama’s continued silence in the face of the growing fountain of anti-Israel invective spewing forth from our NATO ally Turkey via the mouth of its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The Jewish debt to the Turks goes back centuries when the Ottomans took in Jewish refugees after the Spanish and Portuguese expulsions. Erdogan, however, has destroyed that relationship. Last week, on CNN, he called Israel “cruelâ€¦, showing no mercy” to the Palestinians. Not only did he trivialize Jewish suffering at the hands of thousands of Hamas rockets, he offered a blood libel of staggering proportions when he claimed that “hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were killed” by Israel.
The U.N. and various human rights groups put the number of Palestinian casualties in the first intifada (1987-1993) at 1,376 by Israeli security forces and 1,000 murdered by the Palestinians themselves. The second Intifada (2000-the present) so far has seen 4,850 Palestinians who were killed by Israeli security forces and 594 who were killed by other Palestinians. During this time, 1,062 Israelis died at Palestinian terrorist hands. According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, in Gaza, Hamas has killed and tortured thousands of other Palestinians who oppose their rule.
It is not grotesque exaggeration that makes Erdogan’s comments so offensive. Rather, it is his attempt to decontextualize Palestinian deaths by ignoring the non-stop war of extinction against Israel that has been waged since its inception. Hamas’s 1988 charter not only calls for the obliteration of Israel, but for the murder of Jews wherever they may be found:
“The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews; until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him.”
It goes on to call Jews “Nazis” who kill women and children, and says that “Jews control the world media [and use their] wealth to stir revolutionsâ€¦.There was no war that broke out anywhere without their [Jews’] fingerprints on it.”
Hamas Imam Sheikh Yunus al-Astal talked about a verse from the Koran that suggests that “suffering by fire is the Jews’ destiny in this world and the nextâ€¦.Therefore we are sure that the Holocaust is still to come upon the Jews.”
Erdogan ignores such incitement, calling Israel’s raid on the ships supplying Hamas “savagery.”
Will Erdogan next condemn the United States for the thousands of Taliban fighters it has killed in Afghanistan? Will he deplore American Predator strikes against al-Qaida in Pakistan as murder? Does Erdogan indeed see a moral equivalence between the taking of a life in self-defense and the taking of a life in an act of murder?
America is the very anchor of the NATO alliance, but Obama ignores an ostensible ally that daily demonizes Israel and accuses it of murder in genocidal proportions.
This week, country music superstar Hank Williams Jr. analogized Obama to Hitler, a disgusting and loathsome comment that was rightly condemned. Surely the president, in experiencing such vile attacks, knows what it is like to be viciously defamed. He should stand up to protect America’s most trusted ally, regardless of whether there is an election coming.