Avi Goldstein Responds
I was astonished by the tone of Saul Singer’s response to my defense of Barack Obama’s record vis-a-vis Jews (Letters, Dec. 10). Nonetheless, I will confine myself to the facts and avoid vitriol.
In his column on Jewish history (Oct. 29), Singer had labeled Obama an anti-Semite. I responded to this libelous charge by citing just a few of the former president’s philo-Semitic statements over the years.
Singer says that while I am entitled to my opinions, I am not entitled to my own facts. Well, let’s look at Singer’s facts. He implies that Obama called Israel “a constant wound” and “a constant sore.” This is an absolute distortion. Obama, in a 2008 interview with Atlantic Monthly, was asked if Israel is “a drag on America’s reputation overseas.” The future president responded, “No, no, no. But what I think is that this constant wound, this constant sore, does infect all of our foreign policy.” It is not Israel that was the object of Obama’s comment, but the general Middle East conflict, a far cry from the warped version that Singer reports. And even if Singer had accurately quoted Obama, the words would pertain to Israel, not to Jews.
Singer cites the notorious abstention on a United Nations anti-Israel resolution toward the end of Obama’s term. True, but that is not anti-Semitic. And what of Obama’s support for the Iron Dome defense system and his signing of a massive military aid bill for Israel?
Singer proceeds to quote John McCain, who said, “If Senator Obama is favored by Hamas, I think people can make judgments accordingly.” That is tantamount to the left’s assertion that Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke’s support of Donald Trump renders the latter a racist. Does Singer agree with the absurd notion that if an odious party supports a politician, this makes the politician himself odious?
Singer asserts that Obama never repudiated the anti-Semitism of Louis Farrakhan or Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Untrue. After Wright aligned himself with Farrakhan’s hate, Obama denounced Wright, calling his words “appalling’’ and stating that “they should be denounced.”
Singer references an obscure book by an equally obscure writer, a book that purports to prove Obama’s anti-Semitism. No, I will not do honor to that book or author by reading it. However, I believe that in our online-centric world, where one’s every comment is recorded for eternity, it is possible to unearth at least one inappropriate statement or act by most public figures. A prominent example is Donald Trump. Not only did he make offensive comments about Jews, blacks, Muslims, and others, but he trafficked in anti-Semitic tropes in front of Jewish audiences!
And yet, I would defend Trump against the (oft-made) charge that he is racist. During one’s life, he or she likely says regrettable things, but these do not necessarily define him. Abraham Lincoln held views about blacks that are lamentable. Yet it is only the radical left that seeks to undermine Lincoln’s remarkable presidency and his abolishing of slavery. The rest of us recognize his greatness.
I noted, in defense of Obama, his appointment of many Jewish figures to prominent government positions. Singer dismisses this as a version of the “many of my friends are Jewish” argument. However, there is a world of difference between having a Jewish friend and a president surrounding himself with trusted Jewish advisers. For that matter Donald Trump touted his Jewish family as evidence that he is not anti-Semitic, and I think his point was valid.
Singer reserves particular venom for my admission that I have not dissociated myself from rabbis who have made racist or anti-Arab comments. He asks if despite my disdain for these ideas, I allowed my children to be educated by these rabbis. I did not, and will not, identify the rabbanim of whom I wrote. However, I will note that in the cases that I have encountered racism, I have assayed to privately object to such views. And recently I did walk out on a drashah because I believed that an anti-Arab comment was made.
As for the chinuch of my children, I have spent my life as a father explaining to our sons and daughters that we brook no racism in my household. And again, an occasional biased comment does not necessarily define an individual, and this applies as well to rabbanim.
In last week’s Jewish Press (Dec. 17), several letter-writers critiqued my view. I will briefly respond. George Weiss wrote that “anti-Israel actions by an administration is anti-Semitism.” This is absurd. One can disagree with Israel, even on a matter as critical as the nuclear deal with Iran, without being an anti-Semite. I do agree, of course, that when Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is questioned (including by movements such as BDS), then anti-Semitism does come into play. Obama is a supporter of Israel as a Jewish state, as he reiterated in his 2014 State of the Union address.
Gerald Jacobs wrote that over the course of 50 years, he never heard any rabbi make an anti-black or anti-Arab statement. Jacobs must be sheltered, because unfortunately, even some of our gedolim have made egregious comments of this nature.
Max Wisotsky wrote, “Goldstein appears to be enamored with Barack Obama and insists that he is not an anti-Semite.” This comment precisely captures the polarization about which I wrote. In other words, either one loves Obama, or Obama must be an anti-Semite! How sad that we have stooped to this level. (For the record, I did not vote for Obama.)
I find it astonishing that Saul Singer and these writers seem to subscribe to the very methodology that the left uses to undo American exceptionalism! We are great despite our mistakes; we are not evil because we err here and there. I humbly submit that we all should re-read Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s remarkable March on Washington speech, in which this great man (yes, a flawed man, but a great one nonetheless) called upon us to judge every human being by the content of his or her character. The world would be a much better place if we heeded King’s sage advice.
Far Rockaway, NY
Hakaras HaTov For Eric Adams
Because I was Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s chief spokesperson for most of his time in office, I know firsthand that being shomer Shabbos in city government sometimes means having to miss important events on Friday nights and Saturdays. That’s why it’s so exciting that our incoming mayor, Eric Adams, proactively moved his inauguration to motzei Shabbos on January 1. This is a very good sign, and I want to give Hakaras HaTov to a mayor who is setting out to govern for all New Yorkers.
For New York City 2006-2012
Trump’s Other Side?
Last week, it was revealed that the past and potentially future president of the United States, Donald Trump, said some deplorable things about Israel.
On tape, his feelings for former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? A vulgar profanity, on account of Netanyahu’s having had the nerve to be the “first person to congratulate” Trump’s elected successor. In fact, Netanyahu was among the later of world leaders congratulating Joe Biden, even though he long before called him a personal friend of three decades.
Trump’s assessment of the Israeli leader’s trustworthiness and interest in peace? “I don’t think Bibi ever wanted to make peace. I think he just tapped us along. Just tap, tap, tap, you know? … I said, ‘Bibi, you don’t want to make a deal. Do you?’ And he said, ‘Well, uh, uh, uh’ – and the fact is, I don’t think Bibi ever wanted to make a deal.”
Of Netanyahu’s interest in annexing land: “I got angry and I stopped it, because that was really going too far. That was going way too far, you know, when he did the big ‘Let’s build. Let’s take everything and just start building on it.’ We were not happy about that.”
Trump’s view, by contrast, of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas: “I thought he was terrific… It was almost like a father. Couldn’t have been nicer. I thought he wanted to make a deal more than Netanyahu.” Yet Abbas had cut off all ties with the Trump administration, and said “Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ will go to hell.”
Trump, though, doesn’t limit his ire to Netanyahu, saying of Israel: “I [had] thought the Palestinians were impossible, and the Israelis would do anything to make peace and a deal. I found that not to be true.”
Also of Israelis, who, at some 80 percent, have among the world’s highest levels of favorable outlook on Trump: “Who are the 20 percent that are so ungrateful? They are bad people.”
And of Israel’s contribution to a strike on a top Iranian commander: “Israel did not do the right thing” and “I was very disappointed in Israel having to do with that event.”
Yet The Jewish Press has not reported any of this. Instead, your letters pages remain full of screeds obsessively caricaturing ex-President Barack Obama as an “anti-Semite” guilty of “unprecedented” hostility to Israel.
It was none other than Netanyahu who, their famous disagreements aside, said of Obama: “In each of those moments, I called the president, and he was there. And some of what the president has done for Israel might never be known, because it touches on some of the most sensitive and strategic issues that arise between an American president and an Israeli prime minister. But I know it, and I will always be grateful to President Obama for that support.”
If Obama, or Jimmy Carter, or Biden had said the things about Israel that Trump has, would these be omitted from your paper?
Please report the facts without favor to one political party or personality.
How Other Countries Treat Terrorists
The killing of a Palestinian terrorist by police was condemned by some Arab MKs as an ”execution” (”The Shooting Of An Arab Terrorist At The Damascus Gate,” editorial, Dec. 10), which Israel denies. Consider how other liberal democracies confront terrorists. In 1977, when Moluccan terrorists who sought independence for the Moluccas – a group of islands in the former Dutch colony of Indonesia – hijacked a train in the Netherlands, it was reported that Dries van Agt, the minister of justice, ordered that the terrorists must not be taken alive. Six of the nine hijackers were killed. A Dutch human rights lawyer claimed two of them were executed as the outcome of a court case that wound up a few months ago. Moreover, the Dutch soldiers, unlike Israeli police, did not have to fear that the terrorists had suicide vests.
The Jerusalem incident came to light because an individual had filmed it. Perhaps Israel should learn from many police forces in Canada and the U.S., which try to confiscate films of confrontations between them and civilians.