The Jewish leaders who met with Obama at the White House last week complained that his talk about the inevitability of war if the Iran deal is rejected, his noting that Israel is the only country openly opposing the deal and his citing the role of billionaires in fueling opposition to the deal were making American Jews uncomfortable. Yet all the President’s points are demonstrably true. Israel is not only openly opposing the deal but for a year or more has been doing so in ways that constitute an unprecedented level of intrusion into American politics. Absent diplomacy — especially if, as the critics claim, Iran is so dedicated to its goals — an Iranian sprint to the bomb, with nothing to stop it but military action, is a likely outcome of killing this deal. And billionaires in both parties — e.g., Adelson and Saban — are energizing and paying for much of the opposition.
Our fellow Jews in Israel and here are committing two acts of chutzpah. Their over-the-top interference in American politics and near-demonization of the President is chutzpadik. But, in addition, they now demand that no one talk about it. The editors of Tablet Magazine are aghast at linking opponents of the deal with the likelihood of war. (Meanwhile, a relative of mine just whispered into my ear at a family gathering that Obama “is a black anti-Semite.”)
Are these linkages uncomfortable for some? Could they lead to a weakening of Israel’s status in this country and to the weakening of American Jewry’s position? Yes. The solution, however, is not to suppress discussion but to cease the problematic behavior.
It is a sad, very dysfunctional thing when Jews cannot tell friend from foe. Not only is Obama not an anti-Semite, he is arguably a philo-Semite. He may have more direct experience with and knowledge of Judaism and Jewish life than any President in history–and has positive attitudes about it.
We used to have a traditional Jewish appreciation of the US as the goldeneh medinah, a grateful wonder at things like the Marine Band playing Maoz Tsur at the White House Hannukah party last December that brought tears to my eyes. Jews used to say “only in America” about such things; but this is being replaced by a rigid, tone deaf, factually oblivious attitude that says America is never good enough if it is not doing exactly and everything that the Israeli government — at least a right-wing Israeli government — wants.
The critics of the deal are prepared to call Obama a bigot. I detect no upset amongst them at the intrusiveness of Israel’s involvement in this political struggle; I hear no concern among them about the strong possibility that their advocacy, if successful, will get American servicemen and women killed in war, or will bring them home impaired, often for life, with the US taxpayer shelling out new trillions to pay for a war that became inevitable because the diplomatic option was foreclosed.
Many of our fellow Jews seem to have the same attitude towards America and their fellow Americans as embodied in the late Rav Ovadiah Yosef’s notorious comment that “the goyim exist so that they may serve us.”
We are wearing out our welcome in the Democratic party and African-American community. We are probably doing likewise within other sectors of the population. It is hard to believe that some GOP office holders are not also sick of AIPAC’s heavy-handed methods, although they feel themselves less at liberty than Democrats to say or do anything about it.
The day may come, however, especially if we go to war against Iran, when these resentments spill out in public in new attitudes and behavior towards the Israel Lobby, Israel and Jews. We may rue the day Bibi gave the word and AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee, some Jewish community Federations, and such Jewish community leaders as Malcolm Hoenlein (executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations) robotically swung into action. Such an emerging new Jewish relationship to America is mistaken and unwarranted. It may also prove harmful to all concerned.