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Fearing that the Jewish community now perceives him as hopelessly unsympathetic to Israel, President Obama has launched a Jewish charm offensive. Last week alone 15 rabbis and 37 Jewish members of Congress were invited to the White House.
An invitation to the White House is a big deal and can play all kinds of tricks on people’s convictions, which might explain why so many of those who visited emerged with newfound praise for the president even though the administration has changed none of its positions on Israel. The president is still demanding that Jews build no new homes in Ramat Shlomo, a neighborhood that is entirely Jewish. He has yet to repudiate his administration’s position that the Arab-Israeli conflict – and by implication Israeli intransigence – fuels Arab extremism. And he has yet to apologize to Prime Minister Netanyahu for the humiliating treatment he dished out to him in March.
Most of all, the president has not reversed his biased policy of apportioning the blame for lack of movement in the peace process squarely on Israeli settlements rather than the decades-old Arab refusal to accept Israel as a permanent and legitimate fact. We have yet to hear the president forcefully condemn the Hamas charter calling for the destruction of Israel or the Palestinian Authority’s recent naming of a public square after Dalal Mughrabi, who led the 1978 Coastal Road terrorist massacre that killed 37 Israelis.
Still, some rabbis seemed quite swayed. Aaron Rubinger, for example, who runs a Conservative Synagogue in Orlando, said, “Our president is every bit as committed to Israel’s safety and security as any previous administration.” But those of us who have not yet curried enough favor with the president to be invited before his august presence can but wonder what secrets were shared that might have won these leaders over as enthusiastic endorsers of Obama as Israel’s friend-in-chief when there has been no discernable change in policy.
But even Rubinger’s praise pales beside the truly bizarre comments that came from Congressman Steve Rothman of New Jersey’s Ninth District. Rothman began by blaming the Republicans for misrepresenting Obama on Israel: “We discussed Iran, the situation in the Middle East, the efforts of the Republican Party to distort President Obama’s positions on Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
So the president’s contemptible treatment of Israel’s prime minister, which earned universal scorn from virtually every corner of the American Jewish leadership, turned out to be, according to Rothman, just a canard dreamed up by the Republicans.
But Rothman went further. Obama, Rothman maintained, is “the best president on U.S.-Israel military and intelligence cooperation in American history.” No doubt even Obama, who has done his utmost to demonstrate to the Arabs that he repudiates George W. Bush’s unconditional support for Israel, was scratching his head over that claim. One wonders whom the good congressman would name as first runner-up. Jimmy Carter, perhaps?
Rothman would have been better off following the wise example of Senators Lieberman and Schumer who attended the president’s meeting but issued no statements afterward. They understood that issuing knee-jerk declarations of support would cost them credibility in the pro-Israel community across the United States.
Rothman is the same lawmaker, now running for reelection, who urged me publicly to accept the presence of the Libyan ambassador to the United Nations living tax-free next door to me, saying, “I hope everyone will be appropriately good neighbors.”
Just recently, Libya was elected to the United Nations Council on Human Rights, making the council as big a joke as its predecessor from which the Bush administration courageously withdrew to protest the inclusion of repressive states.
The Obama administration’s reaction was a little bit different. Asked by the media to comment on the stomach-turning spectacle of one of the world’s most brutal regimes being elected to a body meant to supervise other nations’ conduct on human rights, Ambassador Susan Rice said it would be unhelpful to condemn Libya.
And therein lies the problem with Obama. Simply stated, the man does not seem to hate evil. He continues to believe he can charm wicked regimes into doing good – that personal charisma can persuade tyrants to lay down their arms and beat their swords into ploughshares. This was the policy the president first pursued with Iran and Ahmadinejad. It of course yielded no results other than to embolden a vile regime that promptly stole an election and began to slaughter its own people it the streets. The president turned up the charm with Hugo Chavez with the result that the Venezuelan dictator has now become one of Obama’s most strident critics.
Will the president and his advisers learn that charm offensives can never take the place of moral policy? All the smiles, hugs, and bows in the world are never going to soften the hearts of tyrants.
The American Jewish community should not be so na?ve as be charmed by words that are not matched by changes in policy. If the president wishes to win over American Jewry, he should know ours is a religion that places action before speech and character before personality. It is not charm that moves us but a robust, moral posture.
Equating a thriving and free democracy like Israel with the Arab tyrannies that surround it is a misguided policy that even a White House invitation cannot obscure.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is founder of This World: The Values Network. He has just published “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.” His website is www.shmuley.com.