A Second Opinion

Evidence supports the opinion that many in the frum community are not exactly fans of President Obama.

The 2012 election results make this clear when analyzed, with The New York Times pointing out in their post-election map that, “In a few precincts in Borough Park, Brooklyn, Mr. Romney won more than 90 percent of the vote.”

The question not often asked is why this is so. And while many are content not to give this any thought, a recent column by Rabbi Avi Shafran in Haaretz did just that. Rabbi Shafran puts forth a theory that would explain “the refusal to give the man any credit” for all that he has done for Israel over the course of his presidency.

To be clear, there are things that President Obama has done that he does deserve to be lauded for. Among them are the things that Rabbi Shafran writes when he says that the president “dared to address the Arab world in Cairo and stated clearly that America’s ‘strong bond’ with Israel is ‘unbreakable,’ and that the Jewish ‘aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied’… [his] withdrawal from the Durban Conference, his rejection of the Goldstone report, his refusal to participate in joint military exercises with Turkey unless Israel was included, his pushing of Iron Dome…[and] his threat…of severe consequences if Egyptian authorities didn’t act to protect Israeli embassy guards besieged by a mob, which they did…”

All of those are true, and I will concede that they are to the president’s credit. But what I will not concede is that the vast majority of the president’s detractors are antagonistic toward him because of what Shafran says is simply that “we humans don’t like to admit that we were wrong.”

There is a legitimate basis for the sentiment of animus most frum Jews feel toward this administration.

Rabbi Shafran, while trying to figure out what exactly may be the real reason behind this, writes a few things that, in his opinion, are little more than justifications.

“His uneasiness with Prime Minister Netanyahu (shared by a good piece of the Israeli citizenship, as it happens, and fueled in Mr. Obama’s circumstance by the Israeli’s unwarranted and insolent lecturing of the American in the spring of 2011) was seen as a rejection of Israel, which clearly was not, and has been proven not to be, the case. His every appointee (like mortal threats Chuck Hagel, Susan Rice and Hannah Rosenthal) was mindlessly rumored to be a stealth bomb aimed at Israel.

“And more recently, instead of admitting that Mr. Obama’s dogged commitment to an international boycott of Iran brought its malevolent leaders to the negotiating table, many have pilloried the president for his judgment that the best path toward defanging Iran lies in allowing the mullahs to save some face rather than pushing them into a corner and risking a new terrorism campaign born of desperation.”

Shafran’s argument boils down to dismissing these concerns (and the social conservative concerns of frum Jews) and pointing out that the debt we owe the president for the above-mentioned good he has done vis-à-vis Israel necessitates an expression of hakaras hatov. But the argument is flawed.

To begin, his “uneasiness” with Netanyahu (which is shared by this writer as well) was not fueled by his “insolent lecturing” at the 2011 meeting, where Netanyahu insisted that any peace deal must be based in “reality.” That only came after the president announced that his position, unlike that of the previous administration, was that the 1967 borders be the “starting line” for peace talks. And that itself had come over a year after the now-infamous meeting where the president walked out and let Netanyahu wait for an hour because he would not agree to halt all new “settlement” building — even in places like Yerushalayim.

It is his policy vis-à-vis Israel and the Palestinians that gives us pause.

Rabbi Shafran cites the president’s appointees, lumping Chuck Hagel with Susan Rice and Hannah Rosenthal. Conspicuously absent is the ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power. Power, in a 2002 discussion in Berkeley, accused Israel of “major human rights abuses” and called for “sacrificing — or investing I think more than sacrificing — literally billions of dollars, not in servicing Israel’s military, but actually investing in the new state of Palestine.” And Chuck Hagel, who in 2006 famously said, “The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here. … I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator,” belongs in the Power category, not with Rice and Rosenthal.

And an Iran policy that has been panned by politicians on both sides of the aisle — specifically due to how it has an effect on Israel — is probably not the place to make a strong case for the president.

New York’s senior senator (who does deserve, and rightfully receives, our hakaras hatov), Charles Schumer, has clashed with the president’s administration on all of the Israel issues mentioned in the article. Schumer, in a 2010 interview with Nachum Segal (again, before the 2011 “scolding”), said that he “… told the president … that I thought the policy they took to try to bring about negotiations is counter-productive … because it’s encouraging the Palestinians not to sit down” and that “right now there is a battle going on inside the administration. One side agrees with us, one side doesn’t, and we’re pushing hard to make sure the right side wins…”

On Hagel’s nomination, Senator Schumer publicly expressed his doubts — and only backed his nomination after he had a private meeting with the now-secretary of defense, who provided him with assurances on many issues that affect Israel. Schumer has been a tireless advocate for Israeli security (among all the other things he has done for the community) and his backing more or less quieted the concerns over Hagel. (It must be added, that while the crowd on the left — which doesn’t value Israeli security as much as others do — initially cheered the Hagel pick, after the Schumer statement, they conceded that the “pro-Israel lobby” won due to the senator’s intervention.)

Again, that is not much of a reason to say that concerns over the president’s policies were wrong.

And when Schumer, along with close to 60 senators from both sides of the aisle, feel the need to co-sponsor a bill that adds new sanction threats to Iran at a time when the administration is loosening them, it doesn’t bolster the argument that it is the administration’s approach that is responsible for any progress.

Put simply, there is a reason to dislike President Obama’s policies. And it isn’t because “we don’t like to admit we were wrong.” It is because we weren’t wrong.