Friday, May 22, 2015

Obama the Zionist, Part II

Back in 2008, I wrote a post noting how then-Senator Barack Obama was one of the few non-Jewish politicians who seemed to really "get it" with respect to Israel -- articulating the interest Jews have in an independent and sovereign homeland in language that resonates with how Jews understand our own situation. This is what convinced me that Obama was obviously a friend of Israel and a friend of the Jewish community, and nothing that has happened in the ensuing seven years has shaken that feeling.

Now, Jeffrey Goldberg recaps an interview with the President that reaffirms my instincts in stark terms. There is essentially nothing the President says here that I wouldn't endorse. Iran is indeed a radical anti-Semitic regime -- but that doesn't mean that they can't be engaged with and contained using the normal tools of statecraft. Netanyahu's warnings about the "horde" of Arabs voting in the elections was despicable and an abdication of the principles underlying Israel's founding charter -- and the President here does no more than echo Israel's own President. And he's right about this:
“Do you think that Israel has a right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people, and are you aware of the particular circumstances of Jewish history that might prompt that need and desire?” he said, in defining the questions that he believes should be asked. “And if your answer is no, if your notion is somehow that that history doesn’t matter, then that’s a problem, in my mind. If, on the other hand, you acknowledge the justness of the Jewish homeland, you acknowledge the active presence of anti-Semitism—that it’s not just something in the past, but it is current—if you acknowledge that there are people and nations that, if convenient, would do the Jewish people harm because of a warped ideology. If you acknowledge those things, then you should be able to align yourself with Israel where its security is at stake, you should be able to align yourself with Israel when it comes to making sure that it is not held to a double standard in international fora, you should align yourself with Israel when it comes to making sure that it is not isolated.”
These are the words of a man I'm proud to call an ally. A much better friend and ally, I'd say, then many others whose loud words about "supporting" Israel aren't grounded in concern about preserving its democratic character, much less in any general commitment to self-determination and political equality. As I observed quite some time ago, "Part of being an ally means sometimes taking your friends aside and telling them when they need to chill." That is a role that matters more, not less, because Israel is in a "bad neighborhood" and faces genuine dangers (and a not-insignificant number of people who think that there shouldn't be an Israel at all). Obama gets that and has done, in my view, a very good job in a very tough situation (including dealing with a Prime Minister who he clearly dislikes and who clearly dislikes him back).

So thank you, President Obama, for being a friend under a tough circumstances. Which, after all, is exactly when friends are needed the most.

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