The news that Governor Chris Christie will be delivering the keynote speech at our upcoming gala dinner on Lag B’Omer – that’s May 18 this year – at Cipriani in New York City prompted one Jewish broadcaster to announce on his show that he is boycotting the dinner. Christie is no friend of Israel, he said, citing Christie’s recent comment about the “occupied territories” in the West Bank. For good measure he added that he would never break bread with one of our honorees, Sean Penn, either.
When I was asked by his listeners about his embargo, I said that I had never heard of someone boycotting a dinner to which they were not invited. I added that rather than people bloviating about how much they hate Sean Penn, if they got on a plane, traveled to Bolivia, and stuck their necks out to save a Jew who was rotting in prison on false charges, they too would receive an award as a champion of Jewish values. Sean Penn also saved tens of thousands of lives in Haiti. The fact that people may disagree with his politics is immaterial.
I hate it when we give people labels based on a single statement or action, reducing the sum total of their lives to one event. Both Democrats and Republicans are guilty.
I’ve heard many people tell me that President Obama is an anti-Semite. It’s deeply disturbing. Jews, who know what it’s like to be falsely maligned, can never engage in character assassination. I vehemently disagree with many of President Obama’s policies in the Middle East. His legitimizing of Iran. His pushing Israel to make peace with Palestinian leaders who name squares after terrorists. His seeming inability to fully embrace Israel’s democratically elected prime minister. His refusal to punish Syria for gassing innocent Arab children. But a man who does a Pesach seder in the White House, appoints Jews to the highest offices in the land, and significantly helps Israel with its military deterrence is no Jew-hater.
Christie misspoke when he said “occupied territories.” The West Bank was illegally annexed by Jordan in 1950 and was conquered by Israel in a defensive war in 1967. Even U.N. Resolution 242 says that Israel must relinquish “territories” – without specifying which one – in return for a comprehensive peace, which we are no way near. But to say that based on this, that Christie is an enemy of Israel is to take a man who has always shown nothing but friendship and warmth to the Jewish community and Israel and falsely blacken his name. I for one am very grateful to our governor for honoring us with his presence. And to the extent that we in the Jewish community have disagreements with him, they are disagreements among friends.
A leader has a right to have the public look at the fully body of his or her work. When President Obama intervened in Libya to stop children from being bombed from the air, he showed moral conviction and courage. It was a bold move, fighting evil, stopping that monster Kaddafi (my neighbor in Englewood!) from killing more innocent people. The same was true of President Obama’s gutsy call to kill Osama bin Laden deep in Pakistani territory. But President Obama’s incredibly weak response to Vladimir Putin biting off big chunks of Ukraine, his allowing Iran to maintain its nuclear program and unfreezing billions of dollars for the murderous mullahs, and his spinelessness in Syria has damaged his legacy and made his foreign policy a joke.
Did John Kerry say that Israel is an apartheid state? Well, he says he misspoke. He should be given the benefit of the doubt. But he does seem to have a propensity for painting doomsday scenarios for Israel’s morality whenever the Jewish state doesn’t succumb to his pressure to make what he calls peace. Kerry enjoys saying Israel either must allow a Palestinian state or be forced to compromise its soul. There is a third possibility. That if Israel allows another Palestinian terror state in the West Bank like it has in Gaza it might end up as all soul and no body.
And Governor Christie? He’s got his hands full just trying to fix New Jersey, which is only slightly less dysfunctional than the Middle East. Expecting him to have a mastery of foreign policy while he wrestles with a state that might go under due to decades of accumulated debt probably is unfair.
But should he pursue the presidency he will be expected to speak authoritatively on the world’s most troubled region. I sincerely hope that the principle that guides his policies will be a detestation of criminal regimes that are a menace to their neighbors and a danger to their own long-suffering citizens.