Barack Obama held a conference call this week with more than 900 rabbis (does the Obama campaign do anything that is not on a grandiose scale?) to extend greetings to them and their congregants ahead of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I am unaware if he has ever held such a conference call before but he is in a tight Presidential race with the Jewish vote playing a key role in several battleground states. Many in the community have concerns about Barack Obama's support for Israel and the sincerity of the statements he has made on the campaign trail. Here is a quick fact-check after his latest expression of support for Israel:
He had this to say on the call:
It's important "to recognize that throughout my career in the State Legislature and now in the U.S. Senate, I have been a stalwart friend of Israel," said Obama. "On every single issue related to Israel's security, I have been unwavering, and will continue to be unwavering."
My belief is that Israel's security is sacrosanct and we have to ensure that as the sole democracy in the Middle East, one of our greatest allies in the world, one that shares a special relationship with us and shares our values, we have to make sure that they have the support whether its financial or military to sustain their security and the hostile environment.
On Friday, he went hyperbolic at a fundraiser in the key state of Florida, asking the Jewish people in the audience to go to their communities and say:
"This guy has always been a friend of Israel ."
To quote Pastor Jeremiah Wright, Jr -- Barack Obama's confidant and close friend for over twenty years -- about the Senator,
"Obama's a politician and he says what he has to say as a politician."
Let's see how what he says matches up with his record.
How about refusing to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a terror group (the Kyl-Lieberman Resolution? He did support designating them as a terror group at one time -- but then backed away from supporting the Kyl-Lieberman Resolution which would have actually designated the Revolutionary Guards a terror group.
Obama not only didn't support the bull, he went one step further and criticized Democrats who did vote for the Resolution, and offered a specious rationale for his position, one easily refuted by Eli Lake in the New York Sun. How about being the only Democratic Presidential aspirant to vote to ban the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas? That sounds worthy but when scrutinized, it would put Israel at a severe disadvantage. The definition of civilian areas in infinitely elastic; terrorists often operate in civilian areas, and cluster bombs are sometimes crucial defense items when the numerically inferior Israelis face swarms of attackers who often care little for their own lives, and nothing for Jewish lives. How about having had as his indisputably closest foreign policy adviser Samantha Power, who advocated the termination of ALL aid programs to Israel and the redirection of such aid to the Palestinians? Power has a long written record of hostility toward Israel. She was forced to leave the campaign in the wake of calling Hillary Clinton a monster, but has indicated at various times over the last few months that she will serve in a very high position in the Obama Administration. How about Obama's long relationship with Pastor Jeremiah Wright, Jr., a man he called his "moral compass", "sounding board" and "confidant", the man whose church received most of the Obamas' charitable contributions, and whose sermons their daughters have listened to from their very first church services until recently. Wright is filled with anti-Israel animus, and has the sermons to show it. He alluded to 9/11 being the consequence of American support for Israel and called Israel an apartheid state. He and Obama's two other religious mentors in Chicago, James Meeks and Father Pfelger, have high praise for Louis Farrakhan who called Jews "bloodsuckers' and called "Zionism (sic) a gutter religion). How about calling for the termination of the high-tech defense programs -- the very programs that help our allies (including Israel) have a qualitative edge over adversaries who are vastly wealthier and more populated? How about Obama's days back in Chicago as a state senator? As the Los Angeles Times reported, the "Allies of Palestinians see a Friend in Barack Obama". A close friendship with Rashid Khalidi -- formerly of the PLO -- whom Obama credited with affecting his views of the Middle East, might be a cause for concern. Obama's friendship with Ali Abunimah -- founder of the Electronic Intifada and a leading anti-Israel activist -- might also give people qualms. More significantly, Obama was one of the seven directors of the Woods Fund, a charity that was originally supposed to help poor people, but which ended up sending a boatload of money to Rashid Khalidi's wife's group -- the Arab American Action Network -- to pay for anti-Israel activities. Obama looked askance at the security barrier that Israel erected to prevent suicide bombings (at times he has called it a separation barrier, with obvious connotations of racism). When asked about the fence in 2004 he had this to say:
...the creation of a wall dividing the two nations is yet another example of the neglect of this Administration in brokering peace.
That is less than full-throated support for Israel's security needs.
Just in the past few moths Obama has said that Hezbollah and Hamas -- two terror groups who hate Jews (not just Israelis), Christians, and Americans -- have legitimate grievances. He has offered to sit down with all the leaders of Muslim nations at a summit to listen to their grievances.
Of course, their number one grievance is the existence of Israel, followed by American support for our embattled ally.
One could go on.
Hyperbole is nothing new for Barack Obama. That should be very clear by now, given the padding of his resume, the claiming of credit for the work of others, the serial violating of grand sounding promises that are abandoned when they no longer serve his purpose (the promise to hold townhall meetings, the promise to accept federal funding for elections, for example).
Barack Obama made a similar hyperbolic claim this past year when he claimed, "nobody has spoken out more fiercely on the issue of anti-Semitism than I have". This is a bold claim, widely ridiculed. There are certainly no signs of him ever speaking out on anti-Semitism before he started his Presidential run. And he has only done so sporadically since then. Why the hyperbole? Might this be a sign of overcompensating?
Did the rabbis on the call bother to fact-check Barack Obama on his claims about Israel?
Or do they just blindly offer to serve as his campaign surrogates or try to silence people who dare to scrutinize Barack Obama by insulting them as being akin to heretics . Are some of the rabbis who support Barack Obama hyper-critical of Israel? At least one in Chicago fits this profile. "Rabbi" is Hebrew for teacher. Do the rabbis on the conference call want to learn about Barack Obama before they talk to their congregants about the election? Or do they prefer to keep these inconvenient facts hidden from view as they sing high praises for Barack Obama?
Rabbis should be open to inquiry and debate; these are among the highest ideals of the Jewish community. Do rabbis honor their calling when they shun or virtually ex-communicate those in the community who have the safety of half the world's remaining Jews in mind and in their hearts?
Or, perhaps, rabbis should be cautious of being involved in partisan politics. Jewish intellectual tradition has a suspicion regarding political engagement. As Jacques Berlinerblau, associate professor of Jewish civilization at Georgetown University writes of a new group, Rabbis for Obama:
At the beginning of the Pirkei Avot tractate of the Mishna we come across the well known adage "Love work. Hate authority. Don't get friendly with the government." Shortly thereafter we read: "Be careful with the government, for they befriend a person only for their own needs. They appear to be friends when it is beneficial to them, but they do not stand by a person at the time of his distress."
...well-known lines such as these may account for the typical reluctance of the rabbinate to engage in ventures such as "Rabbis for Obama." Insofar as American Jews overwhelmingly favor separation of Church and State, this initiative marks a sharp break from existing views held by both clergy and laity.
To their credit the rabbis did not affix the names of their congregations to their signatures. They thus tried to speak as individuals, not communal leaders. I appreciate this gesture, but I think it does little to mitigate the politicization of their pulpits that their now public support for Obama will inevitably entail.
On the other hand, since these rabbis made time to be on the phone with Barack Obama one wonders if they would be similarly receptive to a message from John McCain? The answer would tell us a lot.
Ed Lasky is news editor of American Thinker.