The Subtext of the Obama-Israel Dispute
President Obama has consistently stated that the Jewish state should not expand the so-called settlements beyond the Green Line even for natural growth. Today is the second day of the Jewish month of Nissan -- in two weeks, the Jewish people will celebrate the holiday of Passover, commemorating the Exodus from Egypt, when God liberated the Israelites from slavery. Pharaoh had tried to end "natural growth" of the Children of Israel by killing all of the Jewish newborn boys, but Moses escaped to become God's vehicle for salvation. Two weeks ago, Jews celebrated Purim, the holiday that commemorates the Jewish people's salvation from Haman's attempts to annihilate them throughout the Persian Empire (today's Iran), by retelling the story of Queen Esther.
Throughout history, non-Jewish leaders have locked Jewish communities into ghettos in an attempt to limit natural growth through hardship and disease. Just seventy-five years ago, Hitler rounded up Jews, ghettoized them, and finally murdered six million of them in Europe in an attempt to destroy the entire people. Just a few days after the eight-day Passover holiday, the Jewish people will remember the Holocaust on Yom Ha-Shoah, a day when all Israeli citizens stand silent in memory of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. Throughout the world, Jewish communities gather to remember, recite the names of those murdered, and light candles in memory of those whose names we still do not know.
Jews are particularly sensitive to attempts to limit their "natural growth" and the area in which they can live. President Obama continues to hit that nerve -- whether it is intentional or not.
Moreover, there is the issue of Jerusalem. For over 3,000 years, Jerusalem has been both the political and spiritual capital of the Jewish people. There has never been another. Despite their understanding this, the Palestinians have engaged in a concerted effort to undermine the world's recognition of the Jewish tie to Jerusalem, calling it a lie and stating that the Jewish Temples actually were in Yemen. Just to be clear, this insidious rhetoric seeks to undermine the basis of not only Judaism, but also Christianity. If there was no Jewish Temple in Jerusalem (even though there is ample archeological evidence), then where did Jesus walk? Where did he overturn the moneylenders' tables? Where did he confront the Sadduces and Pharisees? Where was the Last Supper? Christians will soon celebrate Easter -- the holiest day of the year -- but if there was no Temple in Jerusalem, then where did the Holy Week's events take place?
By trying to limit Jewish residency in Jerusalem, President Obama plays into this de-Judification of Jerusalem and poses a threat to both Judaism and Christianity.
Ramat Shlomo is located between the two sections of Jerusalem that were in Israeli hands when the 1948 ceasefire was signed. It is on the way to Mt. Scopus, which includes Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital. Moreover, if the administration is declaring Ramat Shlomo to be "beyond the Pale" for Jewish settlement -- as the Czar once declared Mother Russia off-limits to Jewish settlement and restricted Jews to the Pale of Settlement -- then the administration is implying that all Jewish neighborhoods in that area are illegitimate (Ramat Eshkol, French Hill, and others that are integral parts of the city and where tens of thousands of people live). It also is implying that the Jewish people do not have the right to control their holy places in the Old City.
Over the weekend, the rebuilt Hurva Synagogue was dedicated. Why was this synagogue in need of rebuilding? Because when the Jews were driven out of the Old City and the Arab armies took control, they expelled the Jewish residents and destroyed this synagogue and 57 others in the Jewish quarter. However, the Old City is also "beyond the Pale" of the Green Line. Do the Jewish people not have the right to control their own holy places, wherever they might be -- Jerusalem, Hebron, or elsewhere?
Perhaps the underlying problem of this administration's policy toward Israel is a matter of profound tone-deafness and ignorance. That would be the best scenario. The worst would be an intentional attempt to re-ghettoize the Jews and de-Judify Jerusalem and other areas of historic significance to the Jewish people. Regardless of the intent, the Obama administration's policy pronouncements have a religious and historic subtext that activates long-silent fears harbored by the Jewish people in Israel, the United States, and around the world. This policy ultimately will erode the sense of security that the Jewish people have enjoyed in America -- something secured most remarkably by Presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. Some presidents even sought to extend this protection to Jews in other countries, such as the former Soviet Union.
In two weeks, Jews throughout the world will sit together and recount the story of slavery and freedom from Egypt. On March 27, 2002, the Jewish people was shocked by a suicide bombing at a Seder in Netanya that killed 250 people. Sitting down to their own family Seders, the mood was subdued -- and even those Jews who were not religious felt as if their personal security was threatened. The State of Israel is supposed to guarantee the ability to practice Jewish religion free from the threat of attack -- and on that year, it couldn't. Stories abound from Jewish history in Europe about the dangers of anti-Jewish riots (pogroms) on Passover, and it seemed in 2002 like those days had returned.
This year, as Jews sit down to their Passover Seders, the Jewish people's sense of security could once again be at risk -- this time by the government of the United States. It's up to the Obama administration to ensure that this doesn't happen by turning its attention away from limiting the Jewish people's "natural growth." Let the Obama administration focus instead on Iran, which is threatening the existence of the Jewish State and seeking the weapons to fulfill this mission -- which will include the murder of another six million Jews who live in Israel.