What to make of the bizarre interview that Barack Obama gave to Jeffrey Goldberg recently, and his talk at a DC synagogue?
My wife thinks that I’m wasting my time. “Why do you take anything he says seriously?” she asks. And a little voice inside me, the voice of a respected teacher from the past, says: never pay attention to what someone says; look at what he does.
But even if his public statements are no more than palliatives designed to calm and distract us while he prepares to plunge the knife into our national back (that he claims to protect), there may be important clues in them to his worldview and the actions he is likely to take in the future.
His comment on the antisemitic nature of the Iranian regime is interesting because it displays an appalling ignorance of recent history:
Obama: Well the fact that you are anti-Semitic, or racist, doesn’t preclude you from being interested in survival. It doesn’t preclude you from being rational about the need to keep your economy afloat; it doesn’t preclude you from making strategic decisions about how you stay in power; and so the fact that the supreme leader is anti-Semitic doesn’t mean that this overrides all of his other considerations. You know, if you look at the history of anti-Semitism, Jeff, there were a whole lot of European leaders—and there were deep strains of anti-Semitism in this country—
Goldberg: And they make irrational decisions—
Obama: They may make irrational decisions with respect to discrimination, with respect to trying to use anti-Semitic rhetoric as an organizing tool. At the margins, where the costs are low, they may pursue policies based on hatred as opposed to self-interest. But the costs here are not low, and what we’ve been very clear [about] to the Iranian regime over the past six years is that we will continue to ratchet up the costs, not simply for their anti-Semitism, but also for whatever expansionist ambitions they may have.
Jew-hatred doesn’t cause leaders to make irrational decisions? Ask the ghosts of Hitler or Stalin! If there ever was a paradigm case of an irrational ideology that has caused irrational, nationally self-destructive actions, antisemitism is it.
Bret Stephens points out in the WSJ today that as a matter of fact Iran has been behaving irrationally ($) because of Jew-hatred since 1979:
Iran has no border, and no territorial dispute, with Israel. The two countries have a common enemy in Islamic State and other radical Sunni groups. Historically and religiously, Jews have always felt a special debt to Persia. Tehran and Jerusalem were de facto allies until 1979, when Ayatollah Khomeini came to power and 100,000 Jews still lived in Iran. Today, no more than 10,000 Jews are left.
So on the basis of what self-interest does Iran arm and subsidize Hamas, probably devoting more than $1 billion of (scarce) dollars to the effort? What’s the economic rationale for hosting conferences of Holocaust deniers in Tehran, thereby gratuitously damaging ties to otherwise eager economic partners such as Germany and France? What was the political logic to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s calls to wipe Israel off the map, which made it so much easier for the U.S. and Europe to impose sanctions? How does the regime shore up its domestic legitimacy by preaching a state ideology that makes the country a global pariah?
Obama claims that American policy has imposed a “cost” on Iran for its leaders’ anti-Jewish actions. This is emphatically not the case: when PM Netanyahu suggested a linkage between the nuclear deal with Iran and its threats to destroy Israel, US officials rejected the idea.
He makes another untrue and self-serving statement in a discussion of whether sanctions relief — and the billions of dollars in “signing bonus” — that Iran will get will be used to support terrorism, in particular to build up Hizballah’s offensive rocket system:
…the issue though with respect to rockets in south Lebanon is not whether [Iran has] enough money to do so. They’ve shown a commitment to doing that even when their economy is in the tank. The issue there is: Are we able to interdict those shipments more effectively than we do right now? And that’s the kind of thing that we have to continue to partner with Israel and other countries to stop.
The fact that the regime was prepared to sacrifice the well-being of its population in order to prepare for war against Israel means that it would be even more likely to build up Hizballah if more money were available. But more important, when has the US ever done anything to “interdict” Iranian shipments of weapons to Hizballah? Indeed, when Israel took action to do so by bombing depots in Syria, administration officials leaked information about those operations in order to embarrass Israel and entangle it with Syria!
…there has been a very concerted effort on the part of some political forces to equate being pro-Israel, and hence being supportive of the Jewish people, with a rubber stamp on a particular set of policies coming out of the Israeli government. So if you are questioning settlement policy, that indicates you’re anti-Israeli, or that indicates you’re anti-Jewish. If you express compassion or empathy towards Palestinian youth, who are dealing with checkpoints or restrictions on their ability to travel, then you are suspect in terms of your support of Israel. If you are willing to get into public disagreements with the Israeli government, then the notion is that you are being anti-Israel, and by extension, anti-Jewish. I completely reject that.
I’ve heard this before, the dishonest straw man argument. Who exactly are “some political forces” that would insist on “a rubber stamp?” Who says that his empathy for “Palestinian youth” make him anti-Israeli? Who says that his “public disagreements” with the government do?
Some of the reasons I and others find Obama anti-Israel are these:
1. His stubborn attempts to force Israel into a suicidal agreement with the Palestinians.
2. His acceptance (regardless of his words) of a nuclear-armed Iran, and his efforts to stop Israel from acting against it.
3. His open contempt for our Prime Minister.
4. His taking the Turkish president’s side in the Mavi Marmara affair, and forcing PM Netanyahu to apologize to the Turks.
5. His acceptance of Hamas claims that the IDF acted ‘disproportionally’ in Gaza (as shown by his demand for an immediate cease-fire and imposition of an arms embargo during the recent war).
6. The aforementioned leaks about Israeli actions in Syria and elsewhere.
7. His acceptance of the anti-Israel narrative that Israel’s right to exist rests on the Holocaust and that it must be balanced against the rights of the ‘deserving’ Palestinians (as expressed in his 2009 Cairo speech).
8. His attempts to interfere in Israeli politics, including trying to defeat Netanyahu at the polls. It’s ironic that American money was used to help get out the presumably anti-Netanyahu Arab vote — and then Obama bitterly criticized Netanyahu for telling his supporters that they should get out and vote because the Arabs were!
9. The double standard he displays: compare his condemnation of the PM for his election-day remark with his lack of response to the daily barrage of Israel-hatred and veneration of terrorists coming from the official Palestinian media. Or look at his expressed concern for Palestinians suffering the indignities of checkpoints against his failure to mention the almost daily Jewish victims of Palestinian terrorism.
I could go on, but this should be enough to show that the belief that Obama is anti-Israel is substantive, not simply a political reflex as he suggests.
Obama’s words expose the roots of his anti-Israel attitude, even though they are intended to illustrate his reasons for supporting Israel:
I said in a previous interview and I meant it: I think it would be a moral failing for me as president of the United States, and a moral failing for America, and a moral failing for the world, if we did not protect Israel and stand up for its right to exist, because that would negate not just the history of the 20th century, it would negate the history of the past millennium. And it would violate what we have learned, what humanity should have learned, over that past millennium, which is that when you show intolerance and when you are persecuting minorities and when you are objectifying them and making them the Other, you are destroying something in yourself, and the world goes into a tailspin.
And so, to me, being pro-Israel and pro-Jewish is part and parcel with the values that I’ve been fighting for since I was politically conscious and started getting involved in politics. There’s a direct line between supporting the right of the Jewish people to have a homeland and to feel safe and free of discrimination and persecution, and the right of African Americans to vote and have equal protection under the law. These things are indivisible in my mind. But what is also true, by extension, is that I have to show that same kind of regard to other peoples. And I think it is true to Israel’s traditions and its values—its founding principles—that it has to care about those Palestinian kids.
Obama’s language (“objectifying them and making them the Other”) is reminiscent of Edward Said. Said, who taught at Columbia while Obama was a student there, saw the ‘objectification’ of third-world peoples by the West as a sin which rendered it morally despicable, and he viewed Israel’s relationship to the Palestinian Arabs as emblematic of that sin. Obama clearly has a vision like Said’s, in which the root cause of the Middle East’s problems is Western colonialism and imperialism.
While Obama says that he supports Israel because not to do so would be to favor “discrimination and persecution,” these principles also allow for the view that Israel, itself, is guilty of such crimes, something that Said (a member of the Palestinian National Council and an admirer of Arafat) strongly believed. And in the second paragraph I quoted, Obama makes it clear that he he does see Israel as persecuting “Palestinian kids.”
The implication is that he wants to support Israel, but that it must be true to its “founding principles,” which the government and especially the Prime Minister, he thinks, have lost sight of. If these moral principles are reasons to be pro-Israel, for Obama they are also reasons to be anti-Israel.
The comparison to the American civil rights movement is typical Obama, and shows that he understands neither the Zionist struggle for self-determination nor the conflict between Jews and Arabs in the land of Israel. But it does explain his continued obsession with Netanyahu’s remark about Arabs voting, which he seems to see as equivalent to opposing the Arabs’ right to vote rather than an attempt to energize his own voters:
…when, going into an election, Prime Minister Netanyahu said a Palestinian state would not happen under his watch, or there [was] discussion in which it appeared that Arab-Israeli citizens were somehow portrayed as an invading force that might vote, and that this should be guarded against—this is contrary to the very language of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which explicitly states that all people regardless of race or religion are full participants in the democracy. When something like that happens, that has foreign-policy consequences, and precisely because we’re so close to Israel, for us to simply stand there and say nothing would have meant that this office, the Oval Office, lost credibility when it came to speaking out on these issues.
Either the President is misinterpreting what Netanyahu said because of the strength of the civil rights analogy for him, or he is deliberately lying in order to find a reason to impeach our Prime Minister with the most terrible character defect of the present era, the stain of racism.
Obama does not actually love Israel. Possibly he loves some kind of idealized version of Israel, in which Israelis behave like good Christians, turning the other cheek at terrorism and “taking risks” to the point of sainthood. Of course, such an Israel wouldn’t last two weeks in this Middle East.
What he does seem to believe is that the Palestinian Arabs, like American blacks, are denied civil rights. He believes that this is due to the racism of the Israeli government and Prime Minister; that this is a special case of Western colonialism a la Edward Said; and that Barack Obama ought to use his power to right this ‘wrong’.
For Obama, like Said, the Palestinian Cause is a moral crusade.