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The coming storm

There's a storm coming. It will pit a well-organized community of substantial resources but also substantial insecurity - particularly when it comes to charges of dual loyalty - against a popular president of considerable eloquence but misguided policies that identify Israeli settlements as the main obstacle to Middle East peace. The inevitable clash will separate sunshine Jewish patriots who back Israel when convenient against those who stand with Israel even when it means losing their invitation to the White House Hanukka party.

The bogus issue of settlements is already being swallowed whole by many well-meaning Jews. Last week Dan Fleshler, a leader of Americans for Peace Now, wrote in the New Jersey Jewish Standard that Obama has no choice but to pressure Israel because "it is fruitless for a well-armed, occupying power to negotiate the terms of a viable settlement with an almost defenseless occupied people unless a third party mediates and presses both sides."

In reading Fleshler one wonders whether he has been himself occupied with building a settlement on the moon with no knowledge of events on Earth. Is he seriously suggesting that the thousands of Katyusha rockets and nonstop suicide bombers that have killed more than a thousand Israelis (the equivalent of 30,000 dead Americans) have come from a "defenseless" foe? Would Fleshler likewise argue that the US ought to have pressure from, say, Russia or China to make peace with the terrorists in Afghanistan, seeing that America now represents a "well-armed, occupying power" against the comparatively defenseless Taliban? Or is it only Israel that is forbidden from defending itself.

Sorry Mr. Fleshler, but Jewish values do not dictate that the only moral Jew is a dead one who refuses to fight in the face of a 60-year terror onslaught.

Any return to the 1967 borders, which is what Obama's attack on the settlements represents, is simply suicide for Israel. The borders are utterly indefensible. The Arabs know it, which is why they press for it. Had Israel not dismantled its settlements in Gush Katif, Gaza would not have become a terrorist state ruled by Hamas, an organization that kills even more Palestinians than it does Israelis.

BUT MISGUIDED Jewish apologists aside, are the rest of us prepared to speak up against the policies of the administration? By this I do not mean the drunken racist rants of the American Jewish hooligans who got attention disgracing themselves on YouTube last week; their bigoted drivel against our democratically elected president represents an abomination to Judaism. I have already written several columns lamenting how a small minority of the large and praiseworthy contingent of Jewish youth who go to Israel from the US after high school ostensibly to study in yeshivot end up instead hanging out on Rehov Ben Yehuda making asses of themselves. That they have no proper supervision and that they are allowed to go through their year in a drunken stupor is an outrage that must be finally addressed by the institutions which host them.

Rather, I mean courageous and intelligent criticism that accepts the president's praiseworthy efforts in making peace but decries his soft posture on tyranny when he bows to an Arab potentate who oppresses women and warmly embraces the dictator of Venezuela.

Asher Lopatin was one of the first students I met at Oxford and the university's first Orthodox Rhodes scholar. Today he is the successful rabbi of one of Chicago's most youthful congregations. He is also Rahm Emanuel's rabbi. But that did not stop him from criticizing the White House chief of staff in Newsweek for his unfair pressure on Israel. Lopatin could easily have basked in the aura of being rabbi to one of the most influential men in the world. Instead, he spoke truth to power.

In promoting the new translation of his Hebrew prayer book, British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks constantly reminds us that he studies Bible with the prime minister of the United Kingdom. That's nice. But a few years ago Sacks spoke out publicly against Israel, telling London's Guardian newspaper, "There are things that happen on a daily basis which make me feel very uncomfortable as a Jew."

Sacks is a brilliant man but with a long history of pandering to whatever audience he happens to be addressing. He would do well to remember the admonishment of Mordechai to Esther on the responsibility of being close to political power: "If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place."

But while Europe and the UK are significant, the main battle lines will be here in the US and now is the time for American Jewry to organize. From schools to universities to synagogues and JCCs, we must make it clear that when 78 percent of Jews voted for Obama and filled his campaign coffers with cash it was not in the expectation of biased policies against Israel. We're upset, disappointed and we won't take it. We'll march in the streets, write op-eds and blogs, and publish ads making it clear that America should be standing with the Middle East's only democracy and America's most reliable ally.

As Charles Krauthammer pointed out, our president undermines his moral authority when he pledges that henceforth America will "forge partnerships as opposed to simply dictating solutions," but then only applies that pledge to Iran, Syria, Cuba and Venezuela, but not to Israel.

Last year, right after Obama captured the democratic nomination, I received a phone call from his campaign asking if I would serve as one of the national chairs of "Rabbis for Obama." It was a tempting offer. I was moved by the candidate's remarkable personal story, his iron discipline, his soaring oratory and, most of all, the fact that his victory would be the culmination of my hero Martin Luther King's dream of a man being judged by the content of his character rather than the color of his skin. In the end I declined because I feared that Obama would draw a moral equivalence between Israel and the Palestinians and pressure the former to appease the latter. But even I never suspected that it would happen so quickly and so lopsidedly.

The writer is the founder of This World: The Values Network. His upcoming book is The Blessing of Enough: Rejecting Material Greed, Embracing Spiritual Hunger


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Hilary and Hussein err in thinking that they are dealing with the dictator of a vassal state. Netanyahu has an electorate to answer to and that electorate demands that he not accede to the USA’s demands on security and vital interests, like maintaining control of Jerusalem. Israel cannot knuckle under without committing national suicide. Also, while Hussein’s administration thinks that it can buy influence in the Mohammedan umma by selling out Israel, he is so full of himself that he refuses to notice the reaction he got from Iran and in Cairo. He was applauded for showing himself to be Israel’s enemy, but he was shown hostility for the past and for not fully joining the jihad against Israel. Israel must stand firm and people who believe in justice must continue to point out Hussein’s stupidity and arrogance and in time voices of reason will make that opportunist change his tune if he wants a second term.

Posted by paul2 on 2009-06-21 15:20:45 GMT

I like to hear some strong, well deserved criticism. And I like how he describes the issue of settlements as "bogus" - I mean, if we are operating in the field of logic rather than politician prattle, I would say the main obstacle to peace is that the Arab nations refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state. With such an attitude, Israel can"t really do ANYTHING that might help OR further damage peace.

Posted by Hanna on 2009-06-20 10:28:57 GMT

Obama"s Administration is uniformly anti-Israel. Wazza (below) is wrong. American Jews are so under-educated and under-informed -because the Arab 24/7 p.r. is all that is heard. Most Jewish writers/newspapers go overboard to give everyone"s opinion equal weight. So, the Jews who believe the stupidity of "it"s the settlements" divert and distract from the drenching hatred of Arab schools, maps, and media - put their energy into "green causes" etc. The "smart Jews" don"t get the truth and so don"t know the truth.

Posted by Roberta E. Dzubow on 2009-06-19 19:06:29 GMT

boteach has eloquently and succinctly described the problem which is a return to the clinton years mantra: pressure israel to make concessions and the palestinians will give israel peace. it wont work

Posted by optionstrader on 2009-06-19 17:32:45 GMT

Rabbi Boteach initially calls Hussein Obama’s policies misguided, but in the end identifies them as wrong and unjustified. There is no need to excuse the Hussein/Hilary dual duplicity act. They are well informed with armies of advisors. They merely think that it is in the USA’s interest to sell out Israel, earn the gratitude of Mohammedans and turn Israel into a protectorate, which in turn can always be discarded. USA Jews are an intimidated lot who have two aims: to make life easy for themselves by being super-patriotic and to continue polishing their self-image as the most liberal of USA liberals. By being fair weather friends of Israel, Jews everywhere undermine their standing in their own communities. We must speak out forcefully for justice and the true liberal spirit of supporting Western democracy in Israel. We must in fact save the USA from the State Dept troglodytes who turn every Secretary to the “dark side”.

Posted by paul2 on 2009-06-19 15:53:07 GMT

Like Rabbi Boteach, I felt before the elections that candidate Obama was saying and doing the wrong things - both for the USA and for Israel. And like Rabbi Boteach, I was surprised that once in office, President Obama so quickly made all the wrong moves, and made them so strongly. As candidate, his middle name didn"t bother me. As president, now it does. From now on, just as Hillary is Secretary Rodham-Clinton, Barak is President Hussein-Obama to me. And it his words and actions that made it so. NB Why is it that Jews are routinely suspected and accused of "dual loyalties" but a reactionary former Muslim in the White House is not?

Posted by Jake in Jerusalem on 2009-06-19 14:09:05 GMT

I take exception to the statement by Boteach that seems to accuse a large segment of American Jews of being disloyal to Israel because they do not back the settlement issue 100%. If it wasn"t for the American Jewish Community"s dedication to Israel, it would not have been in the situation of strength that it is today! It may be better if Boteach saved his salvos for our enemies rather than our friends!

Posted by Wazza the Yank on 2009-06-19 06:52:14 GMT