August 9, 2009
Why does Obama stick a finger in the eye of the Jewish community?
Is the honeymoon over between American Jews and Barack Obama over? Not by a long shot, though there have been some ripples buffeting the relationship. His approach toward Israel (hostile) and the wider Middle East (ineffectual at best; damaging at worst) has begun to affect his ratings among even Jewish Democrats.
He seems to have a proclivity to pick fights with the Jewish community. He or his team have chosen people like Samantha Power, Chas Freeman, Mary Robinson, and Bishop Desmond Tutu to either occupy important positions in the policy apparatus or receive prestigious awards. They all have long histories of anti-Israel activism. When problems arose, they have taken the anti-Semitic track of blaming Jews in America for problems regarding their candidate (Power said criticism of Barack Obama during the campaign all amounted to "what was good for the Jews"), or for their own candidacy (Freeman) or for their nomination to receive awards (Robinson).
As for Tutu, he did not even need to wait for pressure to unleash his feelings toward Jews; his statements against Jews (here is a greatest hit collection have been going on for years. The fact that Jews were in the vanguard of the anti-apartheid movement here and in South Africa seems to have escaped his attention.
Of course, the Jewish community is loath to challenge the Tutu nomination over concern that it might stoke tension with the African-American community. The irony is that when questions arose over Obama's support for Israel and his relationship with Jeremiah Wright* and Louis Farrakhan, Barack Obama had this to say during a debate between him and Hillary Clinton: he would "not tolerate anti-Semitism in any form" and that he would "rebuild what I consider to be a historic relationship between the African-American community and the Jewish community".
Any of these problematic nominations would clearly show that he has violated his pledge (broken promises are his modus operandi, after all).
But why pick needless fights?
I think he is trying to split the Jewish community as a way to weaken support for the America-Israel relationship. This was the roadmap for him laid out by both Daniel Kurtzer and Robert Malley, advisers of his during the campaign, who have written that the way to weaken Israel is to work on diminishing support for that nation in America (including among Jewish groups).
On the one hand, he empowers groups such as J Street, Israel Policy Forum, and Americans for Peace Now, all groups highly critical of Israel, by granting them access to the White House; perhaps he hopes he can weaken the power of other lobbying groups by peeling some support away from them and toward these alternative groups instead. At the same time, he has been challenging American Jews to either support him or our ally, Israel. He is pushing and seeing how far he can do so before he suffers political damage.
He is taking a measure of the Jewish community. Is he also testing the waters for even more bullying of Israel in the days ahead? Will the Jewish community take the bait, will they pass his test?
The jury is still out.
*Wright bullied Israel from his pulpit, consorts with anti-Semitic figures such as Louis Farrakhan; Wright also said during the campaign that support for Obama from the Jewish community would "melt like a snowball in hell" had Wright's views towards Israel become better known; he recently blamed Jews for keeping him away from Obama)