What a far cry he is from his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. I cannot think of two more opposite ends of the pole with respect to their views on Israel and the Jewish people. The President has already amply shown his support for us in both word and deed. Financially, militarily and in the world of intelligence cooperation. That is old news. But with this visit he exceeded even my own optimistic expectations.
The President’s visit to Israel ended this morning as he continues on to Jordan. But he has left behind a far better understanding between himself and Israelis… and dare I say even many Jewish people who have been skeptical about his true support – suspect of his underlying motives. Unless one is completely detached from reality, I don’t see how anyone can come away with anything but appreciation for what the President has done and what he has further committed to.
I have been paying pretty close attention to what he has been saying over the last couple of days. I am now convinced that he understands what Israel is all about. He understands the biblical connection and the millennia of yearning to return to our homeland. Up until now that was not clear. He also still recognizes the additional imperatives of Israel as a Jewish homeland because of the Holocaust. Where ‘Never Again’ can be worked upon with the freedom it requires.
The President understands our need for security as well as anyone. He knows that Israel is surrounded by enemies that would destroy her if they could. He recognizes that many countries in the world unfairly criticize Israel. And perhaps most importantly, he recognizes that any peace deal must be predicated on security. One cannot move forward without insisting upon it.
He also recognizes the amazing contrasts of our ancient biblical homeland and its modern contributions to humanity in medicine, science and technology; business and the arts. Israel has given the world 10 Nobel Prize laureates.
He respects Judaism and has even incorporated a Pesach Seder into the White House. Not that it is an entirely Halachic Seder. But that he knows enough about it to think it a valuable addition to the White House and its message of freedom as a lesson for his daughters to experience.
There are those who might cynically say that he says and does all of this just to get Jewish support. But I truly believe that is not his reason. I think he is genuine in his expression of appreciation – and even admiration for the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
And yet there are those who still compare the President to his former Pastor, Jeremiah Wright. How, they say, could he be a part of that church for so many years and not share Wright’s negative extremist views of both Israel and the Jewish people?
I can’t answer that question. But I do not have scintilla of doubt in my mind. He does not share those views. He truly repudiates them. Those who somehow still think he does must have a mental block against reality when it comes to him. I can only speculate why… and won’t attempt to do so here.
The issues I did have with him in the past have mostly disappeared on this trip. I did not think he had any warm feelings for Israel… and that his support was based on an intellectual understanding of “the right thing to do.” Which is one reason why I supported Romney in the last election. I felt his relationship with Israel was a much warmer one.
The President’s cool relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu bothered me too. But I no longer feel that way. The relationship between the two leaders seems to have improved considerably. I never thought the two hated each other. But it seems from this visit that they might even like each other.
Not only that, but their positions on key issues are either identical or very close to it. They are on the same page with respect to Syria. They are nearly on the same page with respect to Iran. The President even went a step further than he has in the past supporting Israel’s right to act unilaterally against Iran. He understands that Israel’s proximity to Iran plus the constant threats to wipe it off the map pose a far more immediate and greater danger to Israel than the lesser but very real danger it poses to U.S. and the rest of the world.
Even his position opposing the settlements seems to have moderated a bit. Although he still opposes them – he seemed to understand the need for construction within established areas due to natural growth. His criticism in this respect was mild, but understandable as he still sees it as an obstacle to peace.
But he also understands that a bigger obstacle is the security that Israel requires before any peace deal can be achieved. A security that is far from being realized at the moment. The “Arab Spring” has toppled old despotic regimes but has caused instability. Egypt, the largest Arab nation has been replaced by Islamists far less sympathetic to Israel than the previous Egyptian government. That lessens – rather than increases security.
Barack Obama seeks peace in that region. He correctly says that peace is ultimately the only real way to achieve security. And he has repeatedly emphasized that to Israeli and Palestinian leaders. He also correctly says that there are many Palestinians who reject the violence of Hamas et al and their supporters. He feels that Abbas would be a partner for peace. I agree with him. Not that Abbas wouldn’t rather take over all of Israel and expel all the Jews if he could. But he knows he can’t. He is a realist. I think he would make peace if Hamas et al were not ‘players’ interested in undermining that goal.
My only difference with the President is that the religious fanaticism that has been driving much of the Arab Spring and has democratically elected an Islamist government in Egypt. It is the dominant force in the Middle East. Syria, Iran, Egypt, Gaza… all those places are governed and mostly populated by religious fanatics whose fanaticism outweighs common sense. Just yesterday in Syria 42 people were killed by a suicide bomber whose target was a cleric that supported Assad. Suicide bombers are what Israel sees when they think about security issues.
One cannot make peace with a realist like Abbas when the religious fanatics are in control. Increasingly so it seems. So the President’s idea about taking chances for peace are at best wishful thinking. But I agree with him in principle. If we could eliminate the Islamist terror, I think we could – and would – make peace very quickly. As of now. It is at best a pipe dream.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the President even understood that deep down – and only advocates “taking chances for peace” for political reasons. Secretary of State, John Kerry’s upcoming trip to “restart” peace negotiations is probably not going to produce anything. But it will at least send a message that the U.S. is trying.
The bottom line for me is that after this visit, the President leaves no doubt in my mind that he is a true friend of Israel and the Jewish people. Perhaps the best friend Israel has ever had. And I didn’t even vote for him. But I also know that there are those who refuse to believe it… and that they will always see him in a negative light.
Which is too bad. I think he deserves Hakoras HaTov for what he’s done, and what he has promised to do. Israel recognized that and that is why they presented him the Presidential Medal of Distinction – Israel’s highest honor… the first sitting President in history to ever receive it.
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About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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